Just stop talking. Delete your scheduled tweets. Exit the comments on that Facebook post. Throw out your keyboard entirely. Don’t talk to the bartender about what you think about politics. Get totally blitzed and install a passcode on your phone that you have no way of remembering (maybe the bartender’s phone number?). Extinguish your hot takes and sit quietly as you watch the smoke rise up and slowly fade away.
Every day, we feel compelled to weigh in on any number of things, from the weather to police brutality to what Chrissy Teigen had as a late night snack. If we don’t say that we think something bad is bad, we feel like we’re letting people who might not know it’s bad down. If we wake up four hours after a huge story broke, we feel pressed to fire off some tweet showing we know what’s going on and simply chose to wait until a more opportune time. Our read receipts are our posts and comments and conversations: the thing we’re marking as “read” is an endless stream of things to be upset about or inspired by. We heart a tweet and like a post as an indication that it’s been read, not that we like or heart it.
That isn’t healthy.
We should want to seek out information to learn and grow – that’s unequivocally good and important. But somewhere in the rat race we’ve replaced the process of learning and growing with “Seek out information just to comment on it.” When a celebrity dies, you have to say something or it might look like you don’t care. When a gross injustice occurs, you have to stomp your feet in rejection of it or it might seem like you’re in favor of it. We’re constricting ourselves with our commitment to establishing our presence on an issue rather than exploring the different aspects of that issue. We think we’re expanding our minds, but really we’re just reinforcing the opinions we’ve already decided, only taking the time to meekly investigate other perspectives after the story has stopped trending and everyone’s moved on.
Your hot take doesn’t matter. It doesn’t do anything for you, for the people you’re sharing it with, or for the world at large.
It’s just a way for you to check in and show you’re conscious. It serves no purpose in broadening your mind or the minds of others, because it’s inherently just a fast throwaway thought about something you’ll forget about in two weeks.
But imagine, if you will, a world where nobody shared their opinions and no one could see or hear yours. People might share news stories, but nobody accompanies that with a hot take. How long would it take until you started responding the same? Reading and listening and sharing without attaching your two cents to it? How long would it take until you realized this habit of commenting just to show you’re up to date is purely transactional, and serves no real benefit? How long until you realized how purely performative it all is? A few days? A week? A month?
More recently, I’ve started imagining I’m in this fantasy world. I’ve had a lot of big things on my plate, so I haven’t had time to engage with the news like I used to. When a big story breaks, I might retweet an informative insight on it or repost an op ed that helped me see something in a new perspective. Mostly, though, the amount of focus I’ve had to apply to things beyond the news has made me really aware of how generally superficial my relationship with news and opinions is. So thinking up this world where nobody shares their opinions, it’s almost like a mental vacation for me. Nobody’s waiting for my input on something (because most of the time, they aren’t anyway). So instead I just entertain myself with thinking up silly stories, deeply examining something I’ve never really looked at before, posting gifs of raccoons, or just being silent altogether. I tell myself it’s okay not to comment, because sometimes it’s better to be silent than to add to the self-congratulatory noise.
These moments are fleeting, but in them, I get a chance to breathe. I simply don’t have the energy and the empathy to feel strongly about a thousand things a day.
Maybe if those thousand things were spread out over a thousand days, I could spread out my compassion and give thoughtful opinions on each that help improve someone else’s understanding and outlook.
But they happen all at once, all the time. And beyond them, I’m expected to also remember to feed my cats and shower. I don’t have the mental capacity for being alive and caring and examining deeply about everything that deserves to be cared and examined deeply about. Before when a big story broke and hundreds of tweets about it flooded the timeline every second and somehow Facebook also heard about it in a timely manner, I’d feel motivated to join in the cacophony. Now, more and more, I see those hundreds of tweets as a sign that it’s okay for me to skip this one. If the people following me haven’t heard about this thing flooding my timeline, that’s not my responsibility. If the people tweeting along with everyone else criticizes me for not joining in, it’s a shock that they were able to look up from their own notifications tab to check to see what ol’ Talia’s saying or not saying. That’s just ridiculous.
I think everyone should give themselves a chance to shut up for just a day. What if you gave the gears that drive your compassion a day, or a weekend, to power down and recharge? Not weighing in for a few days would be challenging at first. Some stories are too tempting not to comment on. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll find it’s actually incredibly freeing to decide to just completely skip out of the #discourse. You get to interact with information more intimately, knowing that you’re reading a story just for you. Not to bring up at dinner or post on your aunt’s Facebook wall or to dissect over a 73-tweet chain. It’s like taking a bubble bath for your mind. You can take as long as you want learning about an issue, because there’s no rush to add your opinion to the mix. You can learn why “Blue Lives Matter” thinks it’s valid, or how the alt-right came to be, or why gender fluidity is real and worth examining.
The best part about shutting up is that once you do speak, your voice has had a chance to rest while everyone else’s is going hoarse from the constant screaming.
When you decide to speak, rather than speaking because you feel obligated to clock-in on the #discourse, you’re doing it because you know you’ve got something to say. Something no one else is saying, because no one else is detaching themselves from the commentary long enough to realize what you’ve learned. You get to collect your thoughts, and those thoughts get to ripen on the vine before they’re plucked to be shared with others. By sitting back and only listening, you give yourself the ability to be even stronger and empowered once you stand up and start speaking. So just shut up for a bit.