Deborah Hill Cone
Deborah Hill Cone is a Herald columnist

Deborah Hill Cone: 'Sad face' over Facebook folly

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Pausing before posting leads to moments of insight.

Like-wow-haha-boo-hoo-mad-love. These are Facebook's new buttons.

The social networking platform has just introduced new ways to react to other people's posts.

Until now you could only "like" a post, but now you can choose one of six options. The menu does seem to offer the sort of breathlessly agog exclamations you can imagine said by someone carrying a balloon.

What, no OMG button? How can I react to a life-size Jesus made of chocolate called My Sweet Lord?

But that's not my main objection.

Stick with me here friend - delete your bored face - because this is really important.

Here's why.

"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."

Viktor Frankl, the famous Holocaust survivor, who wrote that, believed people are primarily driven by a striving to find meaning in our lives, and that it is this sense of meaning that enables us to overcome painful experiences.

But in order to choose what meaning you attach to anything, you have to be able to notice that there exists a breathing space in which you are free, a space in which you can choose. It requires that you train yourself, through painstaking, tedious and arduous work, to just stop for a moment, to step out of your old fear-based reactive habits.

The skill is in learning to pause ("The pauses between the notes - ah, that is where the art resides," said pianist Artur Schnabel).

But it is hard to learn to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n when everything, including Facebook, seems to be conspiring to expect us to react at faster and faster speeds to events and take definitive positions on everything right this second. It is hard to resist the lure of making moral judgments which are spontaneous, unselfconscious, automatic and hot.

That's because drama makes us temporarily more energised; while judging and demeaning others can give us a self-esteem rush.

This is why I wish Facebook had introduced a chin-stroking emoji, or a head-scratching emoji, or a non-committal "I'll get back to you on that" button.

Speed is the enemy of difficult learning. Taking some time gives you the chance to check whether you might be using a different set of standards to evaluate other people than you use to evaluate yourself, or to notice whether you are reacting out of fear.

Given American politics seems to be almost entirely driven by fear at the moment, this is not unlikely.

Trust me, I know it is hard to step out of our old patterns.

I wish Facebook had introduced a chin-stroking emoji ... or an 'I'll get back to you on that' button.

This week I experienced a couple of minor indignities which in the past I would have reacted to like my usual crazy loon. It doesn't take much. I'm the sort of freak who feels oppressed at fellow pedestrians walking too closely behind me down the street.

But it seems I am starting to have some success in practicing the method I've just described, of learning to pause.

At least this one time I managed to resist the urge to react with anger at a perceived slight and just be curious whether, maybe, I could do nothing.

I didn't send the lip-curling email, or turn around and snarl, and things took a turn for the better. But progress is slow. Trying to be able to notice how you feel without acting, without jumping to conclusions, requires an atmosphere of trust, not judgment. It means saying "yes", to whatever you feel without condemnation, only curiosity. (Frankl's famous book Man's Search for Meaning was originally published under the title Nevertheless, Say "Yes" to Life: A Psychologist Experiences the Concentration Camp.)

And it's never too late.

I like that American idea of a "do-over" - where you ask for an opportunity to wipe what happened and have a chance to do something again, better, more thoughtfully.

Sadly, there is no Facebook: "I was wrong" button.

And yes, as you might have gathered from the plinkety-plink tone of this column, I have recently been having a go at meditating.

Well, my own weird version of meditating, which involves merely looking at something - lately an orange or a bowl of lemons or some citrus-based fruit object - and just breathing.

I'm not sure if I am doing it right, but occasionally at random times, I get these glimmers, just a flash, a glorious little instant, when for a moment or two I realise that most of the stuff I obsess and worry and enact next-level neurotic craziness about, well, none of it really matters.

And now I worry how you are reacting to this column.

If you're reading this on Facebook, please don't like it. Just reserve judgment.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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