We all have a “gatekeeper muscle” that helps us decide what to say, and when, and how. When a stimulus comes into our brain, it sits at an intersection, staffed by the gatekeeper. In one direction is our default reaction, our judgmental, quick, knee-jerk response. This one lives for the short-term, the “like,” the laugh.
In the other direction is our deliberate, productive response. It’s thoughtful, and it takes into consideration the longer-term ramifications of our words.
Obviously, things work out better for us when we use that second path. However, the first path, the default reaction, is often the one we take. And of course, the more often you use one path, the easier it is to return there the next time.
The default, reactive path is becoming particularly well-worn with our exchanges on social media. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the others are making it ever easier for us to override the gatekeeper muscle, throwing in a snarky comment here or an eyeroll emoji there at the expense of genuine response.
With each mean tweet and Facebook flame, the gatekeeper weakens. Our ability to nurture generosity of spirit, assume of good intent, and conduct a nuanced conversation erodes.
Here’s what I ask as I’m about to respond on social media: What are you hoping will happen if you tweet that? How are you going to feel in your body after you post this? Are you going to be content and happy, or is this going to stoke the fire of your irritation/righteous indignation/judgement? Are you helping?
We rely on the gatekeeper muscle to respond thoughtfully and graciously in difficult situations and hard conversations in real life. We need the skill to move away from our default reactions and focus on the long-term.
We all need to develop our gatekeeper muscle. Sometimes the best way to do that is to scroll right on by.