Technology has revolutionized relationships in so many ways. We can now find old flames, new sweethearts, and future spouses online. We can search under any category of desire, “Large and lovely” “Meet an inmate” or “Farmers only,” to name a few. We can narrow our search to Buddhists, Wiccan, Christians, or Muslim singles. With the swipe of a finger we can let someone know we are interested, or disregard them completely. Oddly enough, we can even have sex online. Well, sort of.
We can now watch our loved ones grow up from a distance, reconnect with elementary school friends and teachers, reach out and say, “hello,” “thank you,” “I miss you,” or “I’ve always loved you” with an ease never before experienced in history. These are all beautiful things.
However, we also have the capacity to hurt, bully, and deceive more than ever before. When I first became an online relationship advisor, the stories I was exposed to revealed an uncomfortable truth: When we can hurt someone, lie, say mean things, or be outright disrespectful without the ramifications of seeing the pain in their eyes, or empathically feeling the hurt we have inflicted, we can so easily be sociopathic in our relationships. The ability to be passive aggressive, thoughtlessly “unfriend” someone, say nasty things we would never say in person, publically bully, ridicule, or shame others without thinking about, or even noticing the consequences is unprecedented and just so easy.
When we can say whatever our ego wants to say, or do whatever our ego wants to do without feeling the impact of our actions, we become emotional gladiators in the arena of relationships.
We call it “humor” when we publicly make fun of celebrities or politicians, but is it funny? Or is it bullying to a higher degree?
We are now seeing the ramifications of cyber-bullying in our school kids. In 2011, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey, 2.2 million kids experienced cyber-bullying. That was four years ago, what is it now? We may write this off as “oh, those kids,” but how many of us have seen critical remarks made about ex-spouses or heartbreaking comments like, “I never loved you anyhow” in a tweet after a break up shared by adults? The other day I was shocked to see a mother on Facebook discussing publically her son’s masturbation habits, and just recently we heard of a teenager committing suicide due to a father’s public “discipline.”
So, of course, “fire isn’t bad, arsonists are” and, “guns don’t kill people, people do” and I love and use the Internet as much if not more than most. But I invite us all to realize that we hold a very powerful tool or a weapon of mass destruction in our pockets and on our desktops that allow us to inflict lasting pain with the flick of a finger. I invite us all to consider the “send button” as big of a deal as the “red button” that detonates a nuclear weapon and simply raise our mindfulness of our actions before we apply them. With power comes responsibility. The responsibility to choose our words carefully and consider the impact, to act from our spirits instead of our egos.
I also invite us all to recognize that these devices also act like the target for a heat seeking missile and that we need to take responsibility for protecting ourselves from the incoming attacks. I realized this once when I was 4,000 miles away from someone who was sending mean and thoughtless messages. At first, I was upset with her for sending them, then I realized that I had control over whether I received the incoming arsenal.
My point here is that we have an amazing opportunity to raise the bar. A spiritual and healthy practice does not only come from yoga, mediation and eating healthy. The practice of mindfulness over our words, thoughts and actions—and their impact on others—in our virtual world is a very powerful means of elevating our relationships and moving “society” toward “humanity.”