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What do we infer from social media when we look up from our screens?

Nov 08,2018 - Last updated at Nov 08,2018

Social media has been used as a force for good, such as giving voice and access to the disenfranchised, as His Majesty King Abdullah said in his recent opinion article on social media. But the open, unfiltered and impulsive platform by its natural design also gives voice, strength and momentum to views and actions most of us find deplorable. 

His Majesty laid out a way forward that includes government, media and personal responsibility. But rules, regulations and even self-censorship do not fully address the underlying issues we face as a country. What can we infer from social media about what is happening in our society when we look up from our screens?

I grew up at a time when people of all socioeconomic backgrounds mixed. My own grandfather, who went from growing up financially poor to establishing successful companies, never ceased to be accessible and civically active. Now we have built real and imaginary walls and fences that are getting higher and higher, we have intermediaries and handlers to keep us from engaging in real-world and meaningful interactions.

I grew up at a time Jordan required military service. No matter a person’s tribal affiliation, socioeconomic status, religious background, field of study or profession, everyone served alongside one another. This created a sense of unity, collective purpose and national pride. It also fostered equality and diversity, of peoples, ideas and alternative ways of thinking. This meant that everyone was exposed, with the potential to broaden all minds and ultimately make a force for Jordan that looks more like the nation it defends and the values it upholds. One built on meaningful connections, not superficial slogans, which confronts and challenges the prejudices we are all raised with. As King Abdullah alluded, morality requires both thinking and feeling. I'm not necessarily endorsing a return to mandatory military service, but I hope we can examine alternatives to fill the vacuum.

I see many initiatives today within communities, but what about between communities? We volunteer as a family every Saturday in Jabal Natheef teaching English to youth. Teaching is simply our medium of exchange. We all have gifts, passions, hobbies and talents that can be shared to build bridges instead of walls. We do not go to “help”. We do not go to feel better about ourselves. Because frankly, we are all lacking in one way or another. This is the human condition. We are there to learn from these children and for them to learn from us.

This mindset of mutual learning and respect applies to every aspect of society, from corporate social responsibility and national agendas to our everyday lives. If we, as individuals, spend more time assuming the worst in people and allow ourselves to be occupied with negative thoughts, speaking offences, becoming consumed by information and opinions we do not question or reflect on and entertain and feed off conspiracy theories, how can we build a thriving workplace, country or society on such shaky foundation?

Much focus in recent years has been on education and reform; measures I support. But first let us not assume that formal education makes us wiser. There are plenty of examples in world history, past and present, of damage to our humanity brought on by the “knowledgeable” and even “worldly”. Plenty of research also supports the value of “local knowledge”. My own grandfather quit school after fourth grade, to earn a living for his family, transporting rocks on the backs of camels from village to village, but he was the wisest person I know.

There is a type of learning that does not come from textbook education and this part is missing at all levels. Yes, science, technology, engineering and mathematics are important but what about life skills? We are seeing employees rush to the doctor to treat physical symptoms that are in fact a manifestation of stress. Life skills include stress management, critical thinking, self-awareness, coping with emotions, interpersonal communication, conflict resolution, decision making and creative thinking.

Do we not want our children to be raised in an environment that accounts for their mental, physical and emotional health because they cannot thrive academically and civically without it? I know that I am ill-equipped to handle this on my own as a parent.

The African proverb says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” In our case, it takes, in the words of His Majesty, our “bigger Jordanian family”.


The writer contributed this article to The Jordan Times

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