Wendy Jones of the Optimists Journal: “Here Are 5 Things We Can Each To Make Social Media And The Internet A Kinder And More Tolerant Place”

If you feel you still have something critical to say, consider responding directly to the source and away from the social media platform where a campfire can turn into a bonfire quickly. Also remember that silence can be a good teacher as well. If the post itself was negative and the person posting hears crickets, […]

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If you feel you still have something critical to say, consider responding directly to the source and away from the social media platform where a campfire can turn into a bonfire quickly. Also remember that silence can be a good teacher as well. If the post itself was negative and the person posting hears crickets, maybe they will stop and consider their own motives for posting in the first place. The best use of social media is to find a place for like minds to connect and intelligent minds to discuss. When we share the most intimate things of our lives with a bigger audience the odds that you will trigger someone who will come back with a harsh remark rise, even though that remark says far more about the person who left the comment than the one being commented on, it’s still going to sting.

As a part of my interview series about the things we can each do to make social media and the internet a kinder and more tolerant place, I had the pleasure to interviewing Wendy Jones.

Wendy is a storyteller, life design & nutrition coach, founder of The Optimists Journal, and author of 365 Days of Optimism. Through writing, speaking, and coaching, she uses story to show people how to use optimism as a lens to energize their lives, whether because of, or in spite of, their current circumstances. As a writer, yogi, and wellness entrepreneur, she has experienced both trauma and triumph in her own life and knows how to use gratitude, presence, and breath to observe, learn, and connect with others through the blessings and challenges that life brings.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

Sure! That’s what I’m all about. In fact, one of my blogs is titled “Know Your Backstory to Live Your Best Story” because I am fascinated by what we can all learn from each other when we are brave enough to understand where we have come from and share our story.

After living what looked like the picture-perfect life for 20 years with four beautiful kids, financial security, and so much to be grateful for, my marriage dissolved and I found myself grappling to understand my story and what had happened. On this journey of self-awareness, I discovered that I was lacking confidence, courage, and self-love. Although I had always kept journals, this self-discovery process led me to start my blog, The Optimists Journal. Day by day I wrote and began to speak to myself differently, and it resulted in a book, 365 Days of Optimism — Mantras for Finding Confidence, Courage & Self Love One Day at a Time. After getting my 200-hour yoga and Life Coaching Certifications, I now coach others to find an optimist lens and calm in their lives.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I’m a huge believer in synchronicity and just being in tune with my surroundings. I know that it helps me find a connection with others, which is among the most joyful things in my life. I sat down at a local book signing next to another author and we quickly discovered we had a friend in common. Typical. The next day, I sat reading her book of poems in my car before yoga. Each page is beautifully illustrated with her hand on the right-side page and the hand of someone who has held hers through life on the left. Before I headed into yoga, I selected the poem that touched me most out of the 52 in the book and added it to my Instagram story. When I came out of yoga, she had sent me a message and asked, did you know that was Kenya’s (the friend we had in common) hand in the poem you posted? No, I did not, but the signs of the universe are too strong to be ignored. We are all so beautifully connected if we take the time to notice. It’s moments like these that tell me I’m exactly where I am supposed to be.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Don’t be tempted by publishers’ discounts! Just after I printed 5000 copies of 365 Days of Optimism, the young entrepreneur who helped me with my marketing & website creation needed to take some time off for personal reasons. I am a writer, and have a thing or two to learn about marketing, in large part because I dislike self-promotion, and, without him, I was at a loss for how to sell my books! I just knew by the messages I was getting that my writing inspired people and I wanted to keep doing it. Today, I would recommend to new writers to print on demand or in small numbers and make sure you understand the road ahead of you when it comes to marketing your book & message, and don’t lean too heavily on someone else’s expertise. I am making progress selling copies of my book, but I definitely wouldn’t print 5000, knowing what I know today.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Besides growing my life & nutrition coaching business, I’m working on my second book about the surprising things we gain in life when we learn to let go. The chapters are based on letting go of something that holds us back in lifelike insecurities, pain, control, expectations, unhealthy relationships…you see what I’m getting at, and then discovering the freedom and newness that we gain when we do. My goal through my story is always to help and inspire people to turn over a new leaf and to challenge themselves in the face of the fear that we feel with something new. I have learned not to let the struggle of change define me and want to help others do the same.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. Have you ever been publicly shamed or embarrassed on social media? Can you share with our readers what that experience felt like?

My biggest area of struggle on social media is a video and yet it seems to be the highest-rated thing out there. One of the first times I posted a video, someone criticized my voice and my skin. Even though it was someone I didn’t know, it definitely hit below the belt and added to the anxiety I feel being in front of a camera. This was probably over a year ago and the funny thing is, although it definitely hurt at the time, I had forgotten about it until I started thinking for this interview. When you have a purpose, you just have to keep going. I have also received personal messages through Messenger and DM condemning my point of view. The criticism, even though it wasn’t public made me pause and make that imposter syndrome creep in for a few moments. It also built my awareness to identify that feeling, so today I am better at chasing it away and reconnecting to the meaning behind my message. In the case of these messages, I responded with my own point of view, explained that I believe that all human experience is relative to where we are in our individual lives and yet the feelings we experience are universal and connect us, and I kept moving. As an adult, who has done a lot of work to develop a strong sense of self and personal philosophy to filter my choices, criticism doesn’t define me like it did when I was younger, and, as a writer, I believe that people can choose to read my writing or pass.

What did you do to shake off that negative feeling?

I remind myself that while everyone has an opinion, they are not facts. Learning to recognize feelings without sinking into them and letting them rule your mind, or your day is one of the many benefits of mindfulness practice. These skills are key when it comes to dealing with any adversity or self-doubt in life, which is exactly what a negative comment can make you feel. It is important to consider other opinions, but when you know your purpose it is easier to reconnect back to yourself and be able to distinguish constructive criticism from a ruthless attack. I also remember that attacks are most often based on someone else’s struggles and insecurity and have far less to do with me and my life and work than what comment or message seems the first time I read it. I do believe that this is one of the challenges of the younger generation being raised with social media because they haven’t had the opportunity to develop their own sense of self, and Instagram and Snapchat are definitely not the places to experience that growth. When this is the case, negative comments or even a lack of positive comments or hitting a certain number of likes can adversely impact their self-esteem. I’ve kept my kids off of IG and Snapchat until they start high school and even then, I believe there is still a lot of live parenting to be done in order for their self worth not to be guided by social media.

Have you ever posted a comment on social media that you regretted because you felt it was too harsh or mean?

No. It’s not in my nature to comment like that. Typing words gives us a moment of pause before we spit the words out (yet another reason I like writing). I feel it gives me the time to respond instead of reacting, which is something that is often harder to do in real life. I have unfollowed people if their perspective is too harsh or jarring to my system or doesn’t reflect a mindset that I vibe with, but I never want to be the person to add fuel to fire whether that’s personal, political or any of the other hot button issues that social media can expose.

Can you describe the evolution of your decisions? Why did you initially write the comment, and why did you eventually regret it? Like I said above, writing gives me pause and time to think. I can only give the answer to the question above in a real-life context because I have definitely said things at the moment, especially in a heated conversation, that I later regretted. But even that experience, with the remorse it brought me, taught me how to slow down my thoughts, not “take the bait” and learn to set boundaries and honor silence when I need to.

When one reads the comments on Youtube or Instagram, or the trending topics on Twitter, a great percentage of them are critical, harsh, and hurtful. The people writing the comments may feel like they are simply tapping buttons on a keyboard, but to the one on the receiving end of the comment, it is very different. This may be intuitive, but I feel that it will be instructive to spell it out. Can you help illustrate to our readers what the recipient of a public online critique might be feeling?

Sure! As you read critical words thrown in your direction, there is a moment when your heart seems to rise up into your throat and bring tears to your eyes. The feeling of being attacked or not understood by another human is so jarring and vulnerable, that it makes us want to run for cover or lash out, depending on our coping mechanisms and personality. In any case, we end up feeling isolated and alone in our circumstance which is a dreadful place for a human being. We are wired for connection as Brene Brown tells us and I have definitely experienced. What I think is most important to remember in these situations, is that the sadness you are feeling is brought on by another person’s attempt to rid themselves of their own hurts and vulnerabilities. It’s up to the attacked to dig deep and know their own worth, that we can’t control other people, and keep believing in our own purpose. It isn’t easy, but the resilience it builds in us prepares us for the longer path of life.

Do you think a verbal online attack feels worse or less than a verbal argument in “real life”?

I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but I think it depends on how strong your sense of self is. If it is healthy and strong, I think it’s easier to see an online attack as noise along the way that helps solidify your resolve and purpose, even if you have to struggle a little bit to get there. An in-person attack, especially coming from an inner circle friend or family member is far more painful because you may give that person more credibility in your life and feeling the comment live, face to face, possesses a realness at the moment that takes strength to take in, analyze and respond in an emotionally regulated way.

How are the two different?

The thing that springs to mind that could make an online attack feel different is that there is no immediate outlet or person in front of you to dialogue with about the issue at hand. Often when we are hurt, we look for closure from the other side to help alleviate the pain and that type of connection is not available via social media. That is a lesson in itself though because we have the power within us to make ourselves ok, and not need that reassurance from an outsider if we build our resilience. We can’t give up the freedom to be ourselves to an online personality or someone that we don’t have a close relationship with. There should only be a handful of opinions in this world, those close and trusted relationships, that matter to us. The rest should go by the wayside or we end up in a spiral of people pleasing and watering down our message and the personality that makes us unique in the world.

What long term effects can happen to someone who was shamed online?

There are a lot of factors that play into this, but any type of shaming is likely to result in that person initially withdrawing from contact and revealing less of their true self to the world. As teenagers and even young adults in their early twenties, our brain development isn’t mature enough to not take this harshness to heart. Sadly, and especially with consistent negativity in our online life, it can even cause depression and most devastatingly suicide. Young people need to be deeply supported by mentors, teachers, coaches, and parents to combat the effects of the online world they take in every day. Even as adults, if we let negative comments or even lack of online “buy-in” through counting likes define us, our lives become small and a feeling of discontent will start to grow. If left unresolved it can grow into anxiety and depression that clouds our vision and keeps us from living our best life. It takes courage to live in the light of our real self and let people accept or reject us, but the greater our level of self-awareness, the less likely we will be to internalize a harsh comment on social media, or anywhere else, and have the confidence to be who we want to be.

Many people who troll others online, or who leave harsh comments, can likely be kind and sweet people in “real life”. These people would likely never publicly shout at someone in a room filled with 100 people. Yet, on social media, when you embarrass someone, you are doing it in front of thousands or even millions of people, and it is out there forever. Can you give 3 or 4 reasons why social media tends to bring out the worst in people; why people are meaner online than they are in person?

  1. It’s easier to write something than to hear the words come out of your mouth. We have come to a time where the live conversation is dying, people are looking down at their phones and we have to fight for eye contact on a daily basis. I believe that people who feel this detachment between their online self and their live self are struggling to know their true selves and are more likely to lash out in frustration because of this fact.
  2. Many people are lacking emotional regulation skills necessary to take in the abundance of stories and feelings that online posts create in their own inner dialogue about their lives. The lack of understanding about the human battle between the ego and the true self will create anger in people and loneliness is the result and so often negative comments stem from that.
  3. Negativity in life or on social media will create further detachment which allows harsh comments to be easier to make when what people really need is to find a place of belonging. The bottom line is that social media is a reflection of our sense of self if ours is strong it shows our interests and our community and builds connections. But if we are looking to social media to help us create a sense of self we are looking in the wrong direction.

If you had the power to influence thousands of people about how to best comment and interact online, what would you suggest to them?

The number one thing that I would like to communicate with people of all ages is to allow social media to reflect a snapshot of your most true self. Basically, know the purpose behind your post. It doesn’t have to be profound, the world needs laughter, spontaneity, and even a moment to escape sometimes. If our social media presence is too far removed from our true self, it becomes an exhausting process that creates anxiety about what and why we post and makes us susceptible to letting the reactions to our pasts define our worth. Aim to create a genuine connection and it will be sustainable online or in person. The other thing I would say is to pay attention to what you follow, the types of follows you attract and know your purpose for being there. If you don’t like the picture your feed is painting, you are the only one who can change it.

What are your “5 things we should each do to help make social media and the internet, a kinder and more tolerant place”? Can you give a story or an example for each?

  1. Let your feed be a snapshot of your real interests and friends. Of course, there is always room to grow and learn new things, but let it start organically from the place where you already have a basis of understanding about the connection and the topics that are being discussed. Are you into Broadway, mindset, or sports? Then let your feed reflect those interests. It will help grow your knowledge in those areas and make the comments that you add to the social media world more astute and on point. I have been inspired by watching my 14 years old grow her Instagram account. She is a theater girl and can always tell me about the newest show opening on Broadway and who’s in the cast. Next thing you know we are plotting out how we can get to NYC this summer to see it! Look for the deeper meaning behind your comments and posts. Are you looking for a genuine connection, which I do believe is possible, or trying to attract attention to a cause or issue, maybe even for commerce purposes as I do with my coaching and writing. There is nothing wrong with letting people know what you are about. If you are giving the world a picture of the real you, then be ok with letting people accept it or reject and know you will be ok either way.
  2. Take a deep breath, put yourself in the shoes of the person posting. Consider where they are coming from, their age, their stage of life, while acknowledging that we never know the whole story about someone’s post or life. Social media often gets criticized for being the highlight reel, but most people don’t want to share their biggest struggles with a wide audience and, hopefully, they have a trusted relationship where those can be expressed. In the case of a rant or the posting of a challenging life event, maybe they don’t have that trusted friend that particular day and, for that period of time, you are that person who can add a bit of joy or encouragement to their life. Don’t make the mistake of letting it be anything else. As the old adage goes, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” You are always free to unfollow, those are your boundaries. I recently published my 100th blog and realized that it coincided with my birthday. I came up with the idea that I wanted to see if I could get my 100th blog shared 100 times. So I started asking and some people were willing and wrote the most beautiful stories of connection with their share, I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday gift and I made it to 100 shares. For the many hundreds of asks I had to make to get 100 shares, I heard a lot of silence. Again, I’ve gotten to a point with social media that things like that don’t deter me or define my worth, especially when I have a specific goal.
  3. If you don’t like what you see on your feed, change the things you like and comment on. Social media is an algorithm and a reflection of where we spend our time online. It’s our responsibility to create an enjoyable and uplifting place that is worthy of our time. Consider your purpose for being there and aim to add to the joy and intellect, not the drama of any particular feed. Although I was a news junkie for most of my life, I have chosen not to follow anything political online. I get my news from specific and varied places like NPR and the Wall Street Journal to learn about the stories of the day and the perspectives on those stories, but I choose to stay off the social media banter in these areas because it tends to be inflammatory and off the cuff.
  4. Take a deep breath, acknowledge your own feelings internally and figure out their source before you comment online. Is there something in your own day or life that makes you want to drop a negative comment or lash out? When sadness began to creep in about not having a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with a kitchen full of people, I stayed off Instagram that day to avoid the pictures of that type of scene being posted and instead found gratitude for my real life and the relaxing day it provided me. The next day, I was rested, rejuvenated and able to scroll through and take in my friends’ celebrations with a happy heart.
  5. If you feel you still have something critical to say, consider responding directly to the source and away from the social media platform where a campfire can turn into a bonfire quickly. Also remember that silence can be a good teacher as well. If the post itself was negative and the person posting hears crickets, maybe they will stop and consider their own motives for posting in the first place. The best use of social media is to find a place for like minds to connect and intelligent minds to discuss. When we share the most intimate things of our lives with a bigger audience the odds that you will trigger someone who will come back with a harsh remark rise, even though that remark says far more about the person who left the comment than the one being commented on, it’s still going to sting.

Freedom of speech prohibits censorship in the public square. Do you think that applies to social media?

Yes, I do. But I see this analogy akin to screaming fire in a crowded movie theater when there isn’t one. We do not have the right to incite panic for no reason. We have the right to say what we think while staying in our own lane and allowing other people to stay in theirs. If what we say results in a response we don’t like, we have to have the strength and intelligence to respond not react. We should always have the goal of creating healthy and/or intelligent dialogue.

Do American citizens have a right to say whatever they want within the confines of a social media platform owned by a private enterprise?

As long as the post isn’t hateful, threatening, or manipulated by the platform it’s posted on in any way, freedom of speech is a gift we should never take for granted as Americans. Sometimes it scares me to think that privately owned businesses have so much control over the marketplace of words because words become thoughts and ideas that contribute deeply to our collective consciousness. All ideas are worthy of representation (again, outside of hate and threat) and have the ability to educate and create understanding if we continue to grow in a mindful way. In this fast paced and information overloaded world, mindfulness is on the rise to help us process what we encounter every day and, whether you see it as a great irony or a great service (maybe both!), social media has platforms that help build the mindful and conscious life. If you are active on social media, seek these outlets.

If you had full control over Facebook or Twitter, which specific changes would you make to limit harmful or hurtful attacks?

Outside of having a zero tolerance rule for hate speech and threats, I believe that social media is best used to reflect real life and I don’t believe that for profit businesses are best set up to help us understand our moral compass and obligation to society. I believe it is up to the user to create boundaries for themselves about how she wants to engage and share. In the case of minors using social media, the responsibility falls on the parents, mentors, coaches, and teachers to help educate and create awareness of a benevolent mindset and the effect that our online interactions have. The more we can close the gap between what is represented on social media and real life, the more likely we are to build an authentic connections with others. In the end, that is what we are all craving.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Well, since I practically write quotes for a living, it’s hard to choose! This one relates perfectly to this article though.

“It’s the best feeling to tell your story to someone who deserves to hear it.”

With self-awareness, we are the best judges to choose who gets to hear our story. Even as a storyteller, I believe that not every story is for every person that crosses our path and that validation for your personal journey and your story comes first from knowing your own worth. I used to think that I needed validation from others to put my words out into the world or to prove that I was on the right path. Today I take the time to think and listen and let my story shine from that place.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I’m going to cheat and answer two people. Arianna Huffington. She was the first speaker in my first political science class at Cal Poly SLO in 1992. Her life was completely different then, married to a Congressman and raising two girls. I have the connection of having grown up in politics and then deciding to take a more mindful turn away from the 24-hour news cycle. The transformation that she has gone through and the pivotal and engaging content she has added to the world in the last 25 years since then fuels my fire every day. Life is always changing and we are never defined by one story in our lives as long as we commit to growth and self-awareness. She is beautiful and beyond the intelligent example of that!

And Brene Brown because of the instant connection that I felt the first time I read her words and what she has accomplished to help people understand that we can learn and teach from both our strengths and our struggles.

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Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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