Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Hitler Card, Godwin's Law, and Why the Future is Bright

If you have been in an argument on the internet you've almost certainly encountered the Hitler Card (or Nazi Card or reductio ad Hitlerum). There's even Godwin's Law which states "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazism or Hitler approaches 1."

The form is simple:
Person 1: We should do X.
Person 2: You know who else wanted to do X? The Nazis/Hitler! 
And the argument is effectively over, not because anyone won, but because everyone lost.

The First Hitler Card

I was watching Ken Burns' documentary The National Parks recently and I came across, what might be the very first instance of the Hitler Card being played. I had to pause the show and research for a bit. Sure enough, it was a straight-up Hitler comparison in an argument about national parks.

Here's the short version: Wyoming politicians didn't want to give up land around Jackson Hole to an expanded Grand Teton national park. The president wanted to preserve the land and so used the Antiquities Act to name the land (much of it donated) as a national monument. Locals were upset because they wanted to use the land for grazing and other commercial enterprises. A part of the opposition was an opinion piece written by journalist Westbrook Pegler (who had opposed many of the president's policies).

Pegler said:
"President Roosevelt and Harold Ickes have recently perpetuated in the state of Wyoming an act of annexation which follows the general lines of Adolf Hitler's seizure of Austria." -- "Fair Enough" Daytona Beach Morning Journal, 18 June 1943
That's right. The first Hitler Card was played while Hitler was still in power, while the US was at war with Germany, and it was played against President Franklin Roosevelt.

Yeah. That happened.

Jackson Hole National Monument

Look on a map today. There is no Jackson Hole National Monument. It doesn't exist anymore. 

During the height of the protest a local Jackson Hole resident, who would later represent Wyoming in the US Senate and then become governor of the state, Clifford Hansen, joined a group of men that led an illegal cattle drive across the national monument land. 

Congress passed a bill abolishing Jackson Hole National Monument. The president vetoed it. Wyoming sued and appealed to the Supreme Court. They refused to get involved. 

It took until 1950 for tensions to settle and for a compromise to be worked out. Now, there is no Jackson Hole National Monument because all of that land has been folded into Grand Teton National Park. 

In his interview on The National Parks, Hansen apologized for his opposition to the park and said that he's glad he lost. In his opinion, the Grand Tetons are a Wyoming treasure. 

Hitler versus Progress

It often feels like we'll never get anything done. It often feels like everyone is dropping the Hitler Card to avoid dialogue and prevent change. It has been that way since Hitler was alive and leading the Nazi Party.

Progress isn't driven by obstructionists. Progress is driven by people who care, who believe, and who consistently work over time, despite being called a Nazi or compared to Hitler, to make things better.

The short term feels apocalyptic. The short term feels stuck. The short term feels like nothing good will ever happen. But we don't live in the short term. We are people whose lives span decades, we are a nation that spans centuries. We have seen obstruction. We have seen panic. We have seen arguments derailed time and again. But together we've moved forward.

Change Happens

Clifford Hansen was one of the most vocal opponents to the expansion of Grand Teton National Park. If Twitter had existed, he likely would have retweeted Westbrook Pegler's article comparing FDR to Hitler. But at the end of his life Hansen was a changed man. Not because the Hitler Card worked, but because it didn't. It was a short-term distraction technique, but the people working for a national park weren't distracted, they weren't dissuaded, they weren't defeated by harsh, empty words.

Change isn't driven by words alone, it's driven by consistency and action over time. Neither will change be stopped by people spouting harsh, empty words. Don't be distracted, don't be dissuaded, change is not so easily defeated. Keep working, keep taking action, keep making the world around you a better place. If you do, you'll probably be compared to Hitler, just like Franklin Delano Roosevelt was.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Outrage Porn Leads to Outrage Impotence

You may or may not have heard the term "Outrage Porn." If it's a new one to you, here's the short version. Outrage porn refers to the use of outrage to drive content, especially on the internet. Headlines and articles pander to a sense of moral outrage over whatever is the latest thing. People click on the headlines, share, and comment. That's like gold to online media sites so they make the next story more outrageous. Kind of like pornography but instead of using lust they use outrage.

Outrage Inc.

In recent memory people have been outraged over the shooting of a gorilla to save a child, the questionable use of a private email server, the death of a child from an alligator attack, and probably something about body shaming (I'm guessing, I don't usually run in those circles).

The system works well. Media finds stories that strike a nerve. Is someone being a bad parent? Is a celebrity doing something wrong? Is a politician being a hypocrite? Is there someone that can be judged or shamed to allow the readers to feel morally superior?

Great! Write it up, slap on a click-bait headline, and watch the ad revenue roll in!

It's a business and your moral outrage is the commodity being monetized. In the same way that sex sells, by appealing directly to your lizard brain, bypassing your rational mind, and driving a response that you have before you're even aware that you're doing it. It's almost exactly like smelling popcorn when you walk into a movie theater. The sensory stimulus gets sent to your limbic system to see if it's something to eat, fear, or mate with. Popcorn smells like food so your brain tells you that it is and, without spending much time at all processing, your brain will often send signals to your mouth and stomach signalling hunger. You just want it. You don't think about it. You don't process whether or not you're actually hungry (at least on the first round).

Sex works the same way. You see an image and it triggers the parts of your brain that help you to find a mate. You experience lust. Your body starts to react before your brain can process much (at least on the first round). You just want it. You don't think about it.

Diminishing Returns

If you work in a movie theater there's a good chance that you're immune to the smell of popcorn. It might even be off putting to you. You've smelled it so many times that your limbic system doesn't really register it anymore, at least not with the desire for food. 

People who consume a lot of pornography can become impotent as a result of the desensitization. They feed sexual stimuli into their brains, like a drug, and with each round the stimuli has less and less effect. Stimulus is increased, more and/or different porn is consumed to get the same effect until that doesn't work. Then, eventually, there's no room left to increase the stimulus. Impotence results. 

Our limbic system is a survival tool. It keys in on what's different in the environment to search for threats and aids to survival, then it triggers rewards for doing things that lead to survival. Good job finding food for today; here's a hit of dopamine. Good job finding a mate; here's some endorphins and hormones. Good job getting away from that tiger; here's a flood of relief. When all of that works well we're automatically reminded, by our desire for those good neurotransmitters, what's good to eat, what leads to mating, and what alleviates fear. 

But most of us aren't on the brink of survival. Most of us have plenty of food and little reason to fear (finding a mate is still a universal human struggle). 

So we find ways to get those good neurotransmitters anyway. We eat fatty, salty, sweet food in excess because it feels good. We devour images of sexuality because it feels good. And very often we seek out fear because it feels good. 

The Joy of Fear

Wait, wait, I bet you're thinking, how can fear feel good? 

It's not the fear, exactly, but the good neurotransmitters that your brain releases after you've conquered fear. It's like going down a slide on the playground. Most of us had the moment (or moments) of frozen terror at the top of the slide. Staring down the long, metal expanse and seeing certain death. Weighing the the danger to life and limb in going down the slide. Trying to decide if every other kid that went down the slide was just lucky or if it's actually safe despite all of the warnings your brain is shouting at you. Then you go down the slide. You feel the wind in your face and the g-forces on your body. You arrive at the bottom unscathed. Your brain rewards you for surviving. Good job; here's some dopamine! 

If you're not an adrenaline junkie constantly seeking danger by jumping out of airplanes or surfing with sharks or playing with fire, you can still get some good neurotransmitters through fear. 

Fighting feels good. Not losing, not being injured, but fighting and feeling like you've won. Conquering another. You have vanquished a foe and lived to fight another day. We've made sport of this feeling, first through blood sports and then through organized sports. We can win. We can conquer the fear of loss, the fear of shame, the fear of unworthiness. 

Outrage is a form of fighting. We set the stakes, not as a physical contest, but as a mental and emotional battle. The survival of our sacred values is threatened so we fight, and when we win we feel those good neurotransmitters, at least for a while. 

The Impotence of Outrage

Just like with food or sex, we can become desensitized to fear. We can become accustomed to the good neurotransmitters the we feel when we've been outraged and so need more and more outrage to achieve the same level of good feelings. Eventually, if it goes on too long, we lose the ability to become outraged at all. 

Outrage can be a very good thing. It can help us to identify real threats to our values and to our society. It can lead us to make necessary and lasting changes in ourselves and in our communities. Outrage is an appropriate response just like lust and hunger are.

But we can't mate if we've become impotent, we hurt ourselves when we eat too much, and we can't affect change through outrage if we're numb to it. 

Mass shootings have horrified and outraged the nation on what feels like a regular basis. Violence by police against minorities seems to be epidemic and systemic. Yet change seems glacially slow. Mass shootings keep happening. People of color keep being hurt by law enforcement. The tensions rise, the outrage builds, and for some it boils over into even more violence. 

And so it goes. 

Resensitizing

For someone who has become desensitized through overuse of pornography the impotence can feel permanent, but it's not. Through a long process of avoiding sexual stimulus a person can become resensitized. The same thing can happen with food, changing cravings and rewiring the reward system in the brain. But it takes time and effort. Most of all it takes conscious thought. 

The appeals to our limbic system are so powerful because they can effectively bypass our thoughts. The responses are automatic, almost. 

Your brain immediately gets ready to respond. Your mouth waters at the scent of popcorn, your blood flows at the sight of sexual images, your heart races at the hint of danger. But then you get to choose what's next. 

You get to choose to buy the popcorn or not. 

You get to choose to pursue sex or not. 

You get to choose to follow your fear or not. 

It's not an easy choice. If you've become desensitized, you might not even be able to choose every time. The cascade of neurotransmitters and neural pathways flows along like a mighty river. Sometimes all you can do is be tossed along and hold onto a branch to keep your head above water. But when you've cleared the rapids, you can reassess, paddle toward the shore, make a plan for next time. 

Outrage can be a good thing. We need it to help us deal with the massive, systemic problems around race and violence in our country. Please stop wasting your outrage on celebrities and politicians and gossip and parents who are trying their best (or not).

Thursday, June 30, 2016

New Short Story in a New Anthology -- Chronicle World: Feyland


I like making up new worlds. That's a big reason why I love to write scifi and fantasy: I get to imagine everything about the world. But there's also a danger in getting to make up everything about a world. Laziness.

Yeah, I know, it seems like the least lazy thing to have to make up the geography, history, demography, and thaumaturgy of a place (and it's not an easy task), but for my imagination it can be easier than having to fit the pieces of parts of a story into a world that already exists.

Robert McKee in his book Story talks about the power of creative limitations. He compares limitations to the weights in a gym that offer resistance. The limitations might be harder to move, but the act of moving them, of working within them, pushes creativity.

In Chronicle Worlds: Feyland I got to push against the weight of another author's world.

Anthea Sharp has a series of books set in a near-future where there are hover cars, fully immersive virtual reality games, and a new game "Feyland" that becomes a portal to the very real land of Fairies.

Since I've worked in technical support (and computer sales, and computer training, and computer repair, and writing about computers and software) I couldn't help but wonder what the help tickets must look like when someone accidentally falls into a mythical realm instead of a video game. I also wondered how people from different cultures would interpret the Celtic-Anglo land of Fey.

The constraints of Anthea's world made me think of things that I wouldn't have considered otherwise. I researched the fairie-like legends of Africa and Asia, North America and Central Europe. I learned about the beneficial fairies that helped the Aborigines of Australia and the awful demons that preyed upon the people of India.

I chose to set my story in a call center in India, partly because it has become such a cliche in tech-support circles and partly because I wanted a chance to look at the unique culture of India (in actuality many unique cultures) interpreted through the lens of Feyland.

Ranjeet Nagar keeps getting odd support tickets that don't seem to have anything to do with the game and certainly don't comply with his script. He doesn't have a testing rig to be able to figure out what's going on and unless he can find one the demons that used to frighten him as a child will pour into his world with very real terror and harm.

Read my story, "Tech Support" and eleven other fantastic tales set in the world of Feyland. It's only $0.99 for the launch (until July 6th)!

Monday, June 13, 2016

How to Be a Billy Goat in the Wake of Tragedy

Our world suffers tragedy. Often. Trolls use tragedy to stir up conflict but what are billy goats supposed to do? 


If you want to catch up on why you should be a billy goat you can do so here:

As I sit down to write this the United States is reeling from an attack on a nightclub in Orlando. Fifty people died and fifty-three more were injured. The club, Pulse, is a gathering place for the LGBT community. Responsibility for the attack is claimed by ISIS. 

Social media is filled with responses. People are grieving publicly. Emotions are high. 

Dialogue versus Diatribe

If you want to be a billy goat that means you want to find and cultivate opportunities for dialogue on the internet. You want to offer an alternative to the trolls that do so much harm to individuals and communities. Sometimes that means not engaging. 

When our lizard brains are in control, when our limbic system is reacting, when our bodies are deciding if we should fight or flee, we can't really listen. And if we can't listen, we can't engage in dialogue. 

In moments of national or international tragedy the limbic system of the internet is reacting. All of social media is running through a fight-or-flight response. There's no space for listening and no space for dialogue. 

There will be plenty of people posting. There will be plenty of responses to the tragedy. But there won't be dialogue. Not yet. 

Don't be Silent

Just because there's not a chance for dialogue doesn't mean you can't show support for those affected by the tragedy. Grieve. Mourn. Weep. You don't have to be silent in the face of great evils in the world. 

As you choose to add your voice to all of the others, show extra care. Everyone's emotions are tender. Everyone is on edge and looking for threats. Do everything you can to not become another threat. Avoid politically charged statements. Avoid religiously charged statements. Find ways to support, to love, to grieve without adding to the fear and anger that are boiling. 

Grieve First, Then Engage

I'm not suggesting that we let tragedies pass us without reflection. I'm not advising that we avoid having conversations about the hard topics. In fact that's exactly what I'm hoping billy goats will do. We desperately need to have these conversations about these difficult topics so we can work together to heal from tragedies and to prevent future tragedy. 

But first we need to grieve. 

First we need to get past the white-hot pain, that is so intense that we can barely stand to be near it, let alone touch it. First we need to allow our brains to adjust to the new reality of the world that includes this tragedy as a part of it. It might take a few days or weeks before things have calmed down enough for dialogue to happen. 

Start with Unity

Especially in the midst of grieving a tragedy, there's a tendency for social media to move toward the solution first. While it's possible to have dialogue about possible solutions, there's often a long chain of reasoning that leads to a proposed solution.

More guns will fix it. 
Fewer guns will fix it. 
Walls fill fix it. 
Open borders will fix it. 

We're clearly not united on our solutions, but we can easily unite around the problems. We all want to fix it. We all want to stop tragedies from happening. Start there and see how far the conversations can go. Work to understand why people are so confident of their proposed solution. 

But not now. For now just grieve. 

Saturday, June 11, 2016

How to Be a Billy Goat: Opinions versus Perspectives

Opinions are something we all have, but they don't do anything for anyone but the one who has them. Perspectives are something we can share to help not only ourselves but anyone open to hearing them.

If you're wondering why you should be a billy goat you can read about it here:

That's Your Opinion

Billy goats work against the opinionification of dialogue. If we try to have a conversation based on opinions there's not likely to be much movement. You like watermelon; I know that it tastes awful. I like peanut butter globbed onto my sandwiches; you spread it thin like a monster. 

Opinions are unassailable. No one can be wrong about their opinion. Whatever you think about something is what you think about something. Period. There's no conversation just entrenched statements. 

Opinions are closely tied to our identities. We believe them with the same fervor as we believe that we have value and meaning in the world. So, an attack on our opinions is an attack on our identity which is an attack on our value and meaning. Such attacks trigger our fight-or-flight, lizard-brain response. 

Opinions are the beginning of a perspective, not the end. 

Put Things in Perspective

Perspectives are the explanation of our opinions. Why do I dislike the taste of watermelon? Because I grew up not liking it, it reminds me of other tastes that are bad, and I have repeatedly tried it from different places and at different times in my life and I still don't like it. You can like watermelon for all of your reasons. I don't have to share your opinion to see the world from your perspective. 

Opinions are a primal part of our brains. They are emotional reactions. In themselves opinions don't do more than just describe our feelings. But when we start to stitch our opinions together, to suss out the reasoning behind them, and to create a framework the explains why we came to have our emotional reactions, we have a perspective. 

A perspective gives us something to work with when we come to a dialogue. It gives us a way to share the why behind our opinions and, more importantly, it gives us a way to critique our own opinions and, if possible, find better ones. 

Science!

In school we all learned about the scientific method. You take a hypothesis (a guess about how things ought to work based on what you've observed), figure out a way to test your hypothesis (an experiment), and then based on the test you either confirm your hypothesis or change it to fit the new observations from the experiment. 

Your opinions are your observations about the world. They are the emotional sensors giving you information. This is scary, this is fun, this is sad, this is thrilling, this is happy. 

Your perspectives are your hypothesis about the way the world works. This is scary because... this is fun because... this is sad because...

The beautiful thing about a perspective is that you can test it. You can check to see if it matches all of your observations. You can provide some context for your observations (i.e. opinions) rather than having them exist without any chance of being critiqued. 

Your conversations with others, both online and in person, both with people you know and with people you don't (like through books and news sources), are the tests you can run to see if your hypothesis works or not. 

When you get to the end of each conversation, whether it's an online dialogue or a class in school or a book you've read, you get to revisit the opinions you started with and compare them to the opinions you had during the conversation. Then, most importantly, you figure out your new perspective (i.e. your new hypothesis). 

There's No Such Thing as a Failed Experiment

As a billy goat you're not just working to make yourself better at having conversations online, but showing a better way. You will, without a doubt, get into conversations where the other side isn't willing to move past opinions. There's not much you can do in that conversation. Move along; move along. 

If our conversations are experiments all you did was find a a way that your hypothesis doesn't work. That's not a failure as long as you learned something. Maybe you learned how to not start a conversation with someone who disagrees with you. Maybe you learned that this particular person or place on the internet isn't one where you can safely share your perspective. Maybe you learned about a perspective that you'd never discovered before. 

Whatever happens in conversations, learn something, take something away, shift your perspective. If nothing else, you'll be better for it. But what's most likely to happen is that people will start to notice how you handle yourself. They'll start to see a different way to be online. Maybe you'll start a movement of billy goats. 

Next up: stalkers aren't always a bad thing. 


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

How to be a Billy Goat: Respect

Respect for other people, their ideas, and their opinions is an indispensable part of being a billy goat.

If you're wondering why you should be a billy goat you can read about it here:

Find out what it Means to Me

Before we get too far into the conversation about treating people with respect, we need to take a moment to define the term for this context. In some contexts respect can refer to what someone earns. Like how much you respect me for my beard-growing skills or how much I respect you for sharing this post with all of your friends. 

That's good respect and should be cultivated, but that's not what I'm talking about here. I'm talking about the difference between treating someone in a dehumanizing manner and treating them with a basic level of human dignity. 

When the internet was just a baby, in those long-past days before YouTube came to be, I had downloaded dozens of videos of Star Wars Kid. If you don't remember or you weren't around, a 14-year-old Canadian, Ghyslain Raza, had a video he made privately, pretending to be Darth Maul from Star Wars, was posted online without his permission. I laughed at that video (and various edits of it) a lot. 

I reduced a young man to something less than human in my mind. I didn't show him any respect. 

Ghyslain spent years in therapy, years being bullied, years being told he was worthless and should commit suicide. Thankfully he's been able to put the experience behind him and is working to move on with his life. But that hasn't been the case for everyone. 

Give Respect to Get Respect

If you consider yourself to be inherently worthy of respect, not having to earn it, but just deserving to be treated with human dignity because you are human, then you ought to extend that courtesy to everyone else. 

Yes, everyone. 

Yes, even them. 

If you haven't earned your basic human dignity then no one else has earned theirs. Even people you disagree with. Even people who commit crimes. Even people who don't respect you in return.*

You don't have to like everyone. You don't have to be everyone's friend. You don't have to agree with everyone. But, if you think that you deserve to be treated with basic dignity and respect, then so does everyone else. 

Unfortunately, not many people on the internet think this way. There are a lot of double standards going on where people get angry when they are defamed while turning around and defaming others without a second thought. 

Dismissing people as idiots (or fill in your favorite insult here) because you disagree with their ideas, or because you think their ideas are not well reasoned, or because you think their ideas are not well researched, is dehumanizing them. It is treating them as less than human because of their ideas or actions.** 

If you do that, then why would they respond to you any differently? 

But, if you show respect, even when no respect is being shown to you, you will start to erode the culture of disrespect of dehumanization. I'm not trying to tell you it will be easy. We're into this dysfunction pretty deeply. It will take a lot of us a long time working to counteract it. But the alternative is that we do nothing and let the conversations continue to devolve. 

Basic Respect

So, what does this look like? 

First, you don't have to take disrespect. If someone is insulting you, belittling you, or attacking you, respectfully call them on it. If someone continues to do so, block them and report them. The very first step in respect is respecting yourself (I know that sounds super cheesy, but it's the truth). Figure out how you want to be treated and then learn to treat others that way. 

Second, don't call people names. I know, we were all supposed to have learned this in grade school. It's not a difficult concept, but it is one that we seem to have forgotten. If you try to engage in conversations on the internet, you will be called names. You will be personally insulted. You might even be threatened or bullied. 

Don't respond in kind. Don't call names. Don't return personal insults. That's your fear response talking; that's your lizard brain. You aren't actually in danger. You don't need to choose between fighting or fleeing. Take a moment (or a day depending on how riled up you are) and calm down. 

Third, don't talk down to people. It's one thing to not call people idiots; it's quite another to not treat them like idiots. You've come to your conclusions about life, the world, and the way things ought to be through years of thought, learning, and shaping through your experiences and community. So has everyone else. Just because they've come to different conclusions doesn't mean they're wrong or stupid and telling them they're stupid will, pretty much automatically, mean you don't get to be a part of their community to help shape their thoughts in the future. 

Finally, demand that the people who agree with you treat the people who disagree with you respectfully. Online conversations can often become one person advocating for their side while the friends of the person with whom they disagree pile on. If your friends are piling on, make sure that they do it with respect. Defend the basic human dignity of everyone and you will start to create a climate where conversations can actually happen. 

Next up: the value of opinions (hint it's about the same as the value of Shrute Bucks). 

*There are, absolutely, consequences for actions. There is, absolutely, a type of respect that is earned through actions and can be damaged or lost. I'm not talking about that type of respect. I'm talking about the basic level of dignity and rights that we all think we should be treated with. If you don't think that you should be treated with a basic level of dignity and respect, we can have that conversation separately. 

**The dehumanization process can go the other direction where people are treated as more than human. Our cult of celebrity and wealth tends to treat those with fame and power as something other than human and also not worthy of the same respect. Celebrities are expected to perform, to entertain, to be always on. If you are worthy of privacy and consideration because you're a human being, then celebrities are too. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

How to be a Billy Goat: Listen


"Listening to the Birds" Winslow Homer
One of the most difficult things about being a billy goat on the internet is patience. The internet is a place filled with instant information, instant emotions, and instant feedback. The speed of the internet is as fast as oral communication, but without the richness of body language and vocal tone.

Slowing down and listening, not only to what people are posting online, but to why they are posting things, will help to improve the level of discourse.

Fight, Flight, or Dialogue

In many ways your brain works from the inside out. At the core of your brain is a part called the amygdala that we have in common with nearly every brain-having animal on the planet. It's such a primal region of the brain that it is often colloquially known as the "lizard brain."* 

Your lizard brain wants to keep you alive. That's pretty much it (it also wants to help you pass on your genes, but that's part of keeping the species alive). Whenever your sense get information they filter through your brain, it looks for something new and different, and checks to see if anything on a survival level is going on. The lizard brain checks to see if anything is threatening your survival, if there's anything to eat, or any reason to try to procreate. 

It's what happens next that's important. 

What should happen next is we run the lizard brain response back through the rational parts of our mind. That's why we don't usually attack people on the street, why we don't leap across the counter at the restaurant and take the food, and why we can be monogamous when we choose to. The lizard brain is working to keep us alive, but the rest of our brain is working to determine how we live. 

Because our lizard brain is looking for things that are different and things that are primal, we usually respond most strongly to those things. We repost things that outrage us, things that terrify us, things that make us want to either fight or flee. 

Neither of those responses is conducive to conversation. 

Brain Spaces

Your brain learns to respond differently when you're doing different things. When you hear an explosion in November, your brain will likely trigger a fight or flight response. But when you hear one in early July you're going to be far less afraid. For me, if I see a spider across the room while I'm fully clothed and have shoes on my feet, I can notice it and move on with my life. But if I'm stumbling around, barefoot and in my pajamas and I happen across a spider right in front of me I will, in all likelihood, scream like a child. 

Our brains shift gears and determine what gets sent down to the lizard brain for a survival check. The more we feel safe and at ease, the more likely we are have something trigger our survival check. If you're out, crossing the street during the day cars coming at you are normal and expected. Your lizard brain trusts the rest of your brain to figure it out and keep you alive. 

One of the major issues with online communication is that our brain space is often in the home-safe zone rather than in the out-in-public zone. If I go downtown on a busy day I expect to see and hear things I don't agree with. I note them and then, usually, ignore them. But when I'm at home I expect to be safe. My lizard brain expects the stimuli to be of the food and sleep variety. 

Because of the internet and smartphones we have the stimuli of a busy day downtown in the palm of our hand as we're stumbling around in our PJs before going to sleep. Our poor lizard brains don't know what to do. 

Slow Down, You Move too Fast

It's a discipline to be able to see things online that are outrageous or terrifying and to do nothing.** That's the first step in having great dialogue online, however. Do nothing. Wait. Listen. 

When your heart rate spike because you see something offensive, when your fingers twitch with the need to respond in anger or fear, when the arguments against a person line up in your brain ready to be deployed, that's the time to stop. Feed the response of your lizard brain back into your rational mind. 

What are your afraid of? What are you angry about? Why did this post trigger your lizard brain to respond? 

What fears and angers do you think drove the person who posted it? Why do they feel so threatened? 

Sit with those questions until your heart rate returns to normal. Sit with them until your fingers stop trying to compose a heated reply on their own. Listen to what your rational brain is trying to tell you and listen to what drove the person to post what they did in the first place (not what they actually posted, but the underlying threat they felt). 

Next up we'll talk about how to engage people. 

*This is an incredible simplification of the concepts going on. If you want to know more about the "lizard brain" do some research on the limbic system. 
**As an aside, this is a very similar process to seeing pornography online and choosing to not respond from the lizard brain. It takes conscious, practiced effort to resist the pull of instinctual responses.