Five ideas: Constructive engagement in destructive times

constructive engagement

By Mars Dorian, {grow} Contributing Columnist

I’m not a kind man.

It’s hard for me to easily connect with people, as I prefer to live & work inside my creative cave. But whenever I hear about a tragedy and the killing of innocent people, no matter their ethnicity or job, it makes me hold still and ponder. With all the destruction going on in the world, am I fueling the hatred online or is there a way I can somehow add value?

I believe it’s simplistic … even pretentious … to tell people to “be kind” to each other in the (online) world. But I have found some approaches to constructive engagement that can result in win-win situations — even when hate is spewing from people on the other side of the screen.

Here are my approaches to constructive engagement in the online world…

1) You don’t need to comment on THAT

Every major social media platform is free, which means users feel free to share everything. It seduces our self-inflated ego, because we believe all of our opinions matter. We overproduce content and comment as much as possible, without wondering whether it’s truly valuable.

This All-You-Can-Share desire can lead to Content Shock, or worse, flame wars, where we hatefully “debate” our issues with superficial knowledge.

With the recent shootings going on in the United States, my Facebook timeline became flooded with comments and remarks. One group blamed the police violence against African-Americans, the others blamed the violence against the police officers.

I was tempted to add my own two cents. But I realized I’m not American, I’m not black, and I’m definitely not informed enough to make any valuable contribution.

So I didn’t.

Every time I’m ‘triggered’ to produce content or a comment, I ask myself: am I really adding value, or am I just spamming the web with needless clutter? This question alone can change the quality of your work & interactions.

2) Remember the differences

I’m German and I find the stereotypes people have about about Germans … are mostly true. No, not the one where we all carry Lederhosen and consume beer & sausages while driving BMWs through our castles financed by Nazi gold.

The one about us being damn direct.

When I launched my digital illustration career and hooked my first North American clients years ago, I screwed up because of cultural insensitiveness.

My two favorite phrases back then were “What do you want?” and “What’s your problem?”… which seem harsh and offensive in English, but are perfectly reasonable in German.

I’ve since learned the nuances of email conversations by looking at how my North American friends interacted with their clients.

If you’re dealing with clients from different (cultural) backgrounds, it’s helpful to google their etiquette.

3) Consuming knowledge, not news

I had always believed knowing as much as possible was the way to go, but there’s ‘wrong’ information.

Most news businesses around the world depend on selling advertising space, and to achieve that, they need the most eyeballs. Which means they produce emotionally stirring snippets that hook the consumer without enlightening him.

Good for them, bad for you. Because bite-sized info about complex issues leads to simplified thoughts, which can fuel hatred. And nothing constructive comes out of anger, at least in my opinion.

Some of my friends have thus completely ignored the news and choose to focus on acquiring knowledge instead. Learning from insightful podcasts, reading well-written blog posts or watching YouTube tutorials instead of getting hooked on clickbait news channels.

Mind nutrition is similar to a physical diet. If you consume trash you produce trash; either through bad talking or toxic comments. Be watchful over what you feed to your mind.

4) Constructive engagement through questions

A buddy of mine partakes in controversial discussions about race, politics and the future of humanity. But instead of throwing out ready-made answers slash opinions, he asks rarely-posed questions to trigger new ways of thinking.

For example, if someone would claim that unconditional basic income should be mandatory, he would ask: “But wouldn’t that lead to (wage) slavery, as some people would be required by law to work to provide the necessary funds?”

Smart questions can steer a conversation in constructive ways.

That’s also why the best coaches and mentors pose insightful questions so their clients actually find the answer within themselves.

5) Listen. Show genuine interest

A lot of misunderstanding comes through lack of connection.

When I’m looking at my social media newsfeeds and glance over the updates from my friends and peers, I fool myself into believing I’m still connected to them, even though I haven’t spoken to some in years, or even a DECADE.

Engagement equals connection. Let me add to that— genuine engagement equals genuine connection.

Being a Facebook friend or a Twitter follower doesn’t mean shaz if there isn’t an actual exchange happening. Acknowledging your bond through active caring is my way to go.

That’s why every single day, I randomly hit a key on my board. When it turns out to be “Z”, I see all my friends/peer starting with that letter. I then pick the one I haven’t written to in ages and reconnect.

The message has to be specific or else it’s useless. A simple “how are you” won’t suffice, because it sounds like an automatic response, like clutter from a spambot. That’s why I often refer to my friends’ latest shared problem or accomplishment.

The simple act of showing genuine interest for someone can lead to a constructive outcome.


In a world where tragedy and hatred is only a click away, it’s tempting to share your ready-made answers and fuel the fire. That’s why I follow the tips above and try to bring value, no matter how difficult or controversial the situation.

What’s your number one tip with constructive engagement?

mars dorian
Mars Dorian
draws funky illustrations and pens sci-fi thrillers for the Internet Generation. His latest novel is available on Amazon for just $2.99! Consider his artwork for your next project:

Original illustration by the author.

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