Social media gurus and the elusive state of forgiveness


By Mark Schaefer

This is one of the most unusual posts I’ve ever written because it was inspired entirely by the photo above. Look at that shirt, that sign, that face.

I was scanning through some photos on the Unsplash site and I just fell in love with this picture by Felix Koutchinski. It came at a good time. Within the past few days I had no fewer than three conversations with people who were having some sort of social media feud with people who had once been their friends.

Perhaps forgiveness seems like a weird topic on a digital marketing blog … or maybe it is the conversation that we need most of all right now. Let’s get to it.

Forgiveness is hard

In my personal life I have experienced unspeakable pain and have not always been a role model for demonstrating forgiveness. I say the words … but not really. Psychologically and spiritually, I know it’s an important life skill if I want to achieve peace in my heart. Perhaps I will never completely have peace in my heart. That is a stark possibility.

But in the normal course of business, forgiveness is somewhat easier to attain because we only have two choices:

Choice One — You have to be intellectually honest and reflect on whether it is likely that a person is sincerely evil and intentionally tried to hurt you. Normally, that is not the case. More than 95 percent of the time there is a rational explanation for the problem, a misunderstanding.

The problem is, it usually takes a personal conversation to discover that misunderstanding and resolve the problem, even in the social media world. Increasingly, actually “talking” is a communication mode we avoid. Social media is a big contributor to the grudges of the world.

I don’t have any data on this, but I think that much of the toxicity in our world comes from the fact that we don’t talk any more. If you’re in pain with another person, have you tried talking instead of texting?

And by the way, when you do that, don’t blame or accuse. Lead with your feelings. You can’t really argue about a feeling. You feel how you feel.

The second issue

Choice two — The other scenario is that indeed, a person is out to get you. There is a small minority of the human race who receive a psychological benefit from putting others down or going out of their way to attack another human being. I suppose that is an unfortunate part of our human diversity.

Here is the psychological trick I use to put myself in a place of forgiveness in that extreme case.

I think of the person as a newborn baby.

Yup. Seems a little weird. But hear me out.

We are all born in a state of innocence and purity. Then over time, life pounds us. Maybe we were bullied, abused, abandoned, betrayed. Maybe we experienced severe loss, chronic health problems, relentless evil.

All that pounding, pounding, pounding  eliminates that innocence and purity and forges us into something else.

Many people can transcend all that pounding and find a way to cope and show a civil face to the world.

But some people can’t. The pounding broke something deep inside and they are suffering in a way that shows up as bitterness. Maybe they can’t even fully understand it themselves.

When I encounter those seething people who are so broken and miserable, I think of them as a baby, full of innocence and potential, and wonder … “You poor little child. What has happened to you? How you must have suffered to be who you are today.”

These are the people who are out to get me but I can try to forgive them any way because we only know a tiny tip of the human being we see online or even in a professional business setting. All that suffering has gone on behind the scenes. We just don’t know the story … but there is a tragic story.

Forgive me, too

And oh by the way, here is a picture of me as a baby. You can see my mom added “7 mo” for the historical record. No doubt she knew I would need this for my blog one day.

Here I am in my innocent state, but the pounding had already started. There was something wrong with my legs when I was a baby and I had to wear braces until I was two. I cried every night I had them on. Like us all, it was just the beginning of a lifetime of pain that plays a role in making us who we are.

If I have ever hurt you or have seemed rude or impatient, well … think of me as a baby, too, and please forgive me because sometimes I transcend the pounding and sometimes the pounding gets the best of me.

It is never my intention to hurt any one but I also know that sometimes words don’t work like they’re supposed to on social media.

And if I’ve hurt you, or there is somebody else out there who you avoid in the web, pick up the phone and have a talk. Life’s too short to hold on to toxicity.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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