The Un-Bullies of Social Media

Words of encouragement can make all the difference in the world.

I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a teen or preteen these days. School drama must take on a whole new dimension when it follows you home on your smart phone. Nowadays the haters have a cyber loudspeaker.

At least when people bullied me and treated me horribly back in the 70’s, I could leave school and get a break from it. I could bury myself in a book or a TV show. While the pain was still there, and the damage to my self-esteem was still being done, at least I could come up for air. Not so in the present day. These kids are in it every single waking moment.

Fortunately, through it all, I see a constant, if faint, drumbeat of what I call Un-Bullies. For example, there was a young man being bullied in his school for his love of books. His mother helped him create a Little Free Library, and put it out on a LFL Stewards forum that she wanted us to send postcards of encouragement to her son, and dozens of us did. I don’t know what other people said, but I told that amazing young man that I thought he was the coolest kid ever! I wish someone had told me that when I was his age.

I’ve also noticed that for every troll that says something cruel on a public forum, there seem to be ten people who step up and say, “No, you’re wrong.” They are the ones who reassure people that they’re beautiful, strong, outstanding, amazing, talented.

It takes courage to stand up to bullies. I admire anyone who takes the time and makes the effort to do so. And every person who takes that step empowers others to follow suit.

It may not seem like much, but words of encouragement can make all the difference in the world.


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Human Contact

The other night I had sort of a girls’ night out with a new friend. We had dinner, and then went to a storytelling/music event. I had a wonderful time. It was nice to talk to someone face to face who wasn’t a coworker. It’s been a long time. I’ve been entirely too isolated.

It was a beautiful evening, and we ate at a sidewalk café, and then went to a broiling hot venue to hear really good stories and really horrible music. The heat was so oppressive that I nearly passed out, but you know what? It was worth it.

There’s a lot to be said for human contact. It’s nice to have a touch stone, someone with whom to share your opinions, get feedback, and hear new perspectives. It’s also great to get out of your head for a while, and hear someone else’s stories and experiences. You can learn a lot that way.

It’s very easy, in this cyber world, to go for long stretches of time talking to people only via e-mail or Facebook or whatever. It’s contact, yes, but it’s an illusion. It can’t replace looking someone in the eye, or hearing someone’s voice, or sharing a plate of fried broccoli as you watch people walk by.

It’s easy to take the internet shortcut. We are all so busy and the world is so fast-paced. It takes a lot less effort to reach out in a virtual way. I’m not saying that you should stop your on-line activities, but if you take the time to have real contact, you reap many rewards. So maybe it’s time to turn off your computer and pick up the phone and invite someone for coffee. Just a thought.

by Carole Spandau at
by Carole Spandau at

What do YOU Search For?

After that uncharacteristically upbeat blog entry yesterday, it occurred to me that if I were just randomly searching for stuff to read on the internet, I would never ever find that entry with all its positive tags. Not in a million years. The thing about the internet is that your experience therein is entirely shaped by what you search for.

For example, when I go to Youtube, do I search for love stories and happiness and hearts and flowers? Not really. Sick puppy that I am, I’ll type in stuff like, “Serial Killers”, “Cults”, “True Crime” or things of that nature. Aside from the occasional cute kitten video I see when I click on a Facebook link, Youtube for me is a source of warped and twisted behavior.

On Google, I’ll search for things I’m interested in, of course. But I suppose that means I’m not exposed to things I could very well become interested in, but have yet to hear about. I find that to be kind of sad.

I also notice that I tend to gravitate toward about 10 sites that I’ve come to know and trust over the years. So a lot of my internet experience is shaped by their bias as well as my own. I’ve found a cyber comfort zone. I’ve created my own little cyber reality.

But that makes me wonder . At what point will my creation turn around and start shaping who I am? Maybe it already has. Dun dun dunnnnnn…

Everyone’s internet encounter is completely unique to his or her personality. I don’t know about you, but that makes me wonder what it is that I might be missing.

Like yesterday’s blog entry.


Social Identity: Tribalism meets Individualism

After the most profound heartbreak of my life several years ago, I decided to go on the most bizarre rebound I could conceive in this electronic age of ours. I went into the virtual world of Second Life, found the one person who was as unlike me (and as unlike the person who had broken my heart) as humanly possible, and threw myself headlong into an unexplainable cyber affair that lasted a couple of months.

Even at the time I knew it was a Kafkaesque venture along the lines of a bad LSD trip, but I can only plead temporary insanity to explain it. I was hurting with no healing in sight, and so I wanted something to distract me from completely losing the few marbles I had left.

So I found myself a Maori from New Zealand. He was a good guy, don’t get me wrong, and devastatingly handsome at that, but sometimes I felt like we were not only from different sides of the world, but also from different planets.

We looked at life in completely different ways. I would be sitting here in Florida on my drawbridge doing my best to be left alone by the world, and he’d be off gathering sea urchins with his family. We would be chatting on Skype and he’d have to hop up and usher a large bird and her chicks out of the house as the doors were left wide open. No air conditioning. Never crossed his mind to have it.

More often than not, large groups of his family members would show up unannounced and stay for, oh, weeks at a time. This bothered him not at all. I once explained to him that in my stiff Anglo-Saxon family, we even get pissed off if people call us on the phone after 9 pm, let alone show up unexpectedly at the door. And by the third day of a visit we are practically gnawing our arms off to get out of the social bear trap we feel we’ve been stuck in. He found that exceedingly strange and said he’d feel quite lonely living like that.

That’s the difference between a communal mindset and a ruggedly individualist one. The lack of understanding between the two groups, and the historically stubborn desire to keep it that way, is why the colonial occupations of natives never succeeded. (And in retrospect explains why I did not thrive living in a dorm in college.)

It’s all in your upbringing, I suppose. Try as you might, if you’re brought up in one system you’ll never truly feel at home in the other. In a perfect world I’d love to be surrounded by a large, noisy, supportive family, constantly caught up in a bustle of activity, but in reality I know it would drive me absolutely nuts and I’d constantly be seeking an empty room where I could read a book.

I was faced with this situation on a smaller scale during my study abroad in Mexico. My desire to have alone time now and then in a community where people spent all their free time in the public square interacting with their neighbors was viewed as a cause for concern.

The upshot is I knew I couldn’t live my gorgeous Maori man’s life, and he knew he couldn’t live mine. As expected, the relationship died a natural death and I’m not sure which of us was more relieved. No hard feelings on either side. Regardless, I’m glad I experienced it. For a time it allowed me to look into a completely different world, one which is every bit as valid as my own. I came away with a greater appreciation of what I have, but a broader concept of the many ways one can walk through this world.

Oh, and he taught me how to do the Maori Haka, which always comes in handy.


Maori women performing the Haka

[Image credit:]