When your four-year-old daughter pokes a hole in her cup in the backseat and reacts by saying “Oh Sh!t”, you receive a quick reminder that your actions and even reactions have the ability to change the behavior in others. From learning to bite my tongue while in the driver’s seat, to showing more empathy for others, my children have helped me to become a better human being.

Remodeling my own behavior for my children has allowed me to see many of my flaws. Ones that I was very aware of and some that became very apparent once our two little ones started mimicking their old man. Fatherhood has brought so many joys to my life and I would be remiss to not include the fact that it has allowed me to become a better husband, friend, and neighbor.

Living in the age of reactions

Just a decade ago the headlines in the news consisted of the events that happened in our daily lives and the impacts they had on our communities. Now even the reliable news sources that we have grown to trust, have placed more importance on the reactions to the news than the news itself. Instead of talking with experts to discuss the impacts to the public, the media shows the reaction from Twitter users that have no background or relative knowledge of the information at hand.

This has created a society driven to desire what is most reactive, and many times disruptive. This has worked well for political parties, big business, and other entities that wish to sell the public through outrage and frustration, but not for the American psyche. The more the public is polarized, the more we are encouraged to “join a team” and become convinced that the opposing side is wrong and sometimes even evil. The most fatal problem with this way of life is that extreme talking points are mistaken for actual solutions and the cooperation and collaboration it takes to create community-driven solutions become rare.

How do we fight against this:

1. Prioritize what is important

It starts within our own lives and it begins with the start of each day. This first thing you do in the morning sets what you prioritize for your day. If the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning is check social media to see what others are talking about, you have set your priority.

I did this for years and recently decided to make a conscious effort to refuse the urge to check my phone first thing in the morning and instead sit in bed for a few minutes and think about the things in my life I am grateful for. If the kids wake me up first, which happens more often than not, I take the opportunity to get them dressed and spend time with them. I do not check social media until after we share breakfast together and are ready for our day. When needed, I remind myself that if the world is coming to an end or there is an emergency I need to personally know about, the right people know how to reach me.

2. Change how we interact

Being on social media has become a daily necessity for both my private and public service careers. They not only help me connect with the individuals that I serve but keep me informed about my community. There are a few tricks I have learned along the way to make my time on social media serve me as a tool, instead of it becoming something I become dependent on. The addictive nature of social media is very real and is used intentionally to sell our time to big business, pollical agendas and others that wish to profit off our frustrations.

The first change in my behavior came from a simple act of turning off automatic notifications. It is essential to understand that social media can be helpful when used as a tool but very disruptive when it constantly interrupts your normal pace of life.

Another change was following local pages, instead of national ones, so I could stay informed of how I could be involved in my local community. National and international news is everywhere but our awareness of it many times leaves us with a sense of loss with the inability to change global trends. Connecting with local news sources has pushed me to reach out to other people in my community that I feel I can offer help to since I am able to personally get involved. So many times, these connections have led to real-life actions that have created solutions in our community.

3. Rethinking how we react

The comments section of any social media post is how posts gather attention and drive a larger audience. For the most part, the more sensational a post is, the farther and quicker the post reaches. It is easy to get caught up in the passion of the comments and I have many times written my own “eloquent” argument only to delete the words before I hit the send button.

To combat this, I have started to prioritize what is important. The comments are many times quick reactions and rarely helpful to the subject matter being discussed. I read the article that is posted and ask myself a few questions. Where is the information coming from, are these sources reliable, and how can this information be helpful?

This may seem like a lot of work, but the time taken to understand the information in this way will for the most part take no longer than the time spent reading through the comments and will leave you with a better understanding of the subject matter. An understanding that you can now take with you to learn more on the topic if you so desire.

Finally, I do not leave a comment. Very rarely has leaving a comment ever helped me to become more active in finding a solution or understanding the matter more. I either file it away in my mind for future use or look for contact information within the article to help me with next steps forward with a specific goal in mind.

This rethinking of my own reactions to social media has led me to rethink the way I interact with family, friends, and individuals in my community in person. Instead of proactively searching for opportunities to “spill tea”, like the comments section of a social media post, I look for ways to introduce positive things going on in our local community. I listen to what my neighbors enjoy doing and connect them with resources to help others.

The positive approach that has come from just these simple changes has allowed me to feel confident to take on my day, serve my community at a forward-moving pace and most importantly to me, act as a role model for my children. 

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