I had written about BigBasket’s cease & desist letter to Coimbatore-based DailyBasket and how the latter fought back publicly through a show-and-tell website that almost decimated the former’s points and showcased some of BigBasket’s points in bad faith.
Since I write every day, and I write very, very often (even if I do not post/share all of those), I follow the reactions very closely.
One kind of reaction to the BigBasket post was “Ban BigBasket” (or the variant, “Uninstall BigBasket” and so on).
That was clearly not a reaction I had in my mind at all. We order from BigBasket very often (besides Amazon) and get our milk from BBDaily every day. If they behaved like a bully with DailyBasket, I can parse that behavior in my mind along with their other, excellent service too. Of course, I have had some bad experiences and I have written about them too, but that’s par for the course with any service.
This binary reaction that classifies everything reductively as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is an increasing problem in many spheres of our current lives, in these highly polarized times. Polarization too means that – dividing people into 2 opposing groups.
I make a conscious effort in choosing words that do not (at least to my knowledge) evoke or flame such extreme, binary reactions. It’s an active, ongoing effort – I may be getting many instances right and some instances wrong too – it’s all part of the learning.
I actively recommend and teach this in my corporate workshops on personal branding too. To avoid negative extreme words (horrible, horrendous, terrible, miserable, sucks, and so on) and choose milder forms of showing resentment (bad, disappointing, dismaying, upsetting, annoyed, and so on) when the issue/point being addressed doesn’t warrant an extreme reaction/sentiment.
But, in the case of positive extremes, it helps in social media content because good begetting good is always for the good. The opposite is also true – bad begets bad (or extreme negative framing gets more people to think in extreme negative/polarized ways) and that’s always a generally bad idea.
The larger problem is the assumption that there are only two ways people could take positions – for, or against.
To a large extent, this reductive approach is an offshoot of social media platforms reducing our choice of engagement/interactions.
If they had only added a comments section below each post, people did not take part in it enthusiastically. So the platforms spoon-fed the reactions to them and made it instant and easy – click a button to offer your perspective. And what is the perspective? Like. Angry-face. Love. Surprised. Crying.
These are unidimensional reactions that do not even begin to explain the human mind.
The like-hate feeling is not a binary – it is a spectrum.
We, as humans, and like the human species, are perfectly capable of holding two contrasting positions on the same topic/person/content and this is perfectly normal.
As a corollary, even two people who hold dramatically contrasting positions on the same topic can co-exist perfectly if the topic/person/content being discussed does not come in the daily lives of those people. Yes, you could think inside your head, “How can that person think like that?” (this is almost every second you spend on Twitter!), but you also can avoid letting that influence your thinking to dehumanize that person. It’s just a difference of opinion, not a difference in ‘action’ – and that’s a big difference.
Extending that, there is a difference between holding an opinion and acting on it. We cannot, and should ideally not, extrapolate mere holding of a view to also assuming that the person would act on it. Yes, we could express our displeasure on their opinion in whatever civil way we think it warrants, but assuming that the opinion would also lead them to act in a certain way may be a stretch that’s unfair to that person.
Oh yes, it is possible that the said person may also act on that opinion in the real world, but the point is to not extrapolate it and judge them preemptively – judge them for the opinion held, of course, but not presume that they have done something about it too (which is, understandably, possible too – but till it happens).
These are obviously complex nuances in human behavior and it is difficult to navigate them on a day-to-day basis, but given that much of what we read/consume is through the internet (and not face-to-face, where physical actions and body language also add to the communication), we tend to read everything in our own voices inside our heads even if the words are from others – in a way, it’s all us doing the reading, assuming, and judging.
The least we can do under these circumstances are these 3 basic assumptions – these help me every single day:
1. Use positive extremes freely and generously.
2. Reconsider using negative extremes in words you share consciously – use them only when absolutely necessary and when they are warranted. When you want to criticize something or someone, please consider using milder forms of contempt or dislike. You may not get this right all the time (I do not, either – it’s human tendency), but the more you think about it consciously, the better you get over time.
It’s also true that on social media, you may tend to get more vanity engagement when you use negative extremes – people may think of you as voicing what they couldn’t (or voice only inside their heads) and reward you for that through Likes or Shares. But even as you gain engagement, you could also be perpetuating negative extremes – it’s a conscious choice, so please think hard before you take this route.
3. Remember—or accept—the basic fact that your opinion is just that – your own opinion. You may have landed on that based on circumstances, information, knowledge, upbringing, education, and awareness that is unique to you. Someone else may not have the same combination of background and may land on a different point of view. Holding different opinions is perfectly normal for most obvious topics (there are exceptions, of course) and airing them openly too is absolutely normal. But when you do, remember points 1 and 2 – it’s a cycle 🙂
Thinking on these 3 aspects positively helps – I have found that does in my life too. For example, I have been vocally critical of Nestle’s handling of the Maggi crisis in 2015. And in my mind, I was clear that I was not merely putting down the brand but merely pointing out flaws in the communication strategy in a constructive and civil manner.
I realized that this worked as intended when I heard a Nestle brand manager tell me in an event that they were thankful for my criticism because it seemed more helpful than scornful!
Similarly, I have been critical of Harsh Goenka’s plagiaristic streak on Twitter. And I have heard quite a few people react to it to point out that my framing of the criticism lacked any animosity and seemed more instructive. Ironically, this was also shared with me as a criticism of my own writing style – that I wasn’t harsh enough on Harsh (pun unintended) 🙂