Why Are People So Mean? Has The Internet Destroyed Empathy & Compassion?

Two months ago I read a story that Huffington Post had put out about a bride that died while cliff jumping with her husband on their honeymoon. After reading the story I felt a deep sense of sadness for the people involved in the tragedy, even shedding an empathetic tear thinking about how truly horrible it would have been to go through something like that. I was curious what others had to say about the story, so I began reading the comments below. I was completely shocked by what some people had written. “Serves her right”, one woman wrote. “What an idiot,” another commenter responded.

During the summer Olympics back in 2012, British diver Tom Daley reported a rather repulsive comment on Twitter following his gold medal loss. The bully wrote, “You let your dad down I hope you know that,” referring to the fact that Daley was hoping to win the gold in honor of his father, who died the prior year from brain cancer. These are but a few examples of the callous comments that are made online on a daily basis.

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Where is the empathy? Where is the compassion and humanity?

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Something I’ve come to notice within my experience at Collective Evolution (CE) and with the world of the internet as a whole is the large sense of disconnect there seems to be between the people and their words. I’ve seen people say some pretty nasty things to one another in the comment sections, even personally attacking different writers of the CE team for articles that challenge their belief systems. This is especially the case when sensitive subject matter is being discussed, such as religion, science, sexual orientation, health, politics, ETs, etc. But sometimes the harassment comes out of nowhere. One commenter began making insults towards a writer who published an article about the health concerns around non-organic tea, making fun of her display picture and proceeding to talk about her personal life as if they knew her.

Truth be told, the internet can be a treacherous world full of cynicism, harassment, and bullying, leaving many to feel hurt or offended by the unfiltered words of public.  Cyber bullying has become a major problem in today’s social-media based culture, affecting a reported 43% of teens aged 13 to 17.[1]

But is it in our true nature to be horrible to one another? Is technology in part to blame for the desensitization of the masses and the loss of empathy?

You Can’t See Me So….

For the most part, people don’t speak to one another in public as they do online, instead there is usually a mutual respect for someone else’s opinion and equal reciprocation within a conversation or debate. I see these kinds of healthy conversations at my local coffee shop when I spend my afternoons there writing. People are open and genuinely nice to each other, not slamming someone for having a certain belief. So the question begs, are people being authentic when they are in public? Or is their online persona their true self without the worry of consequences because they most likely will never see the people they are speaking with?

In an article published on News.com titled, Troll Psychology: Why People Are So Mean on the Internet”, author Amanda Gardener alluded to a possible reason for the frankness,

“The majority of communication is non-verbal, composed of body language, eye contact, speech tone and language patterns. Without this information to help us process and categorize information, our minds are left to sort through the uncertain. And, thanks to a leftover prehistoric penchant for fight or flight, being unsure about another person’s intent often creates a negative reaction to a perceived threat [source: Gardner].

This lack of inhibition also may be connected to a physical distance from the people to whom comments are directed. Turns out, the closer physical proximity you have to someone, the less likely you are to be mean-spirited. For example, one recent study found game show contestants were less likely to vote off a contestant standing next to them than one standing further away [source: Dallas].”

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Gary Small and Gigi Vorgan from CNN.com propose that desensitization begins at an early age, when the developing mind is exposed to a plethora of shocking and sensational videos and images. In the article, “Is The Internet Killing Empathy?”, the authors discuss findings from the Kaiser Family Foundation which revealed that 8- to 18-year-olds on average spend 11½ hours a day using their technology.[2]

“Their brains have become “wired” to use their tech gadgets effectively in order to multi-task — staying connected with friends, texting and searching online endlessly, often exposing their brains to shocking and sensational images and videos. Many people are desensitizing their neural circuits to the horrors they see, while not getting much, if any, off-line training in empathic skills.”

This disconnection from emotion can be a deadly mechanism. When we lose sight of compassion and empathy, we are losing touch with what it means to be human, and essentially reality.

Take A Step Back

When someone attacks you online for something you believe, or makes a negative comment about something that you feel is inappropriate, it’s a good idea to step back before responding. Too often we get caught in defence mode after someone attacks something we’ve said. This is due to the attachment we have to our belief systems, a strong bond we share with information we’ve acquired throughout our life. Belief systems have caused wars throughout human history, they can be a powerful catalyst.

Here’s a good question to ask yourself before responding to a negative comment: Is it worth the mental energy to even dignify it with a response? Most of the time people don’t even want to hear your side of the debate anyways, but rather are only waiting to get their two cents in. It’s OKAY to agree to disagree, rather than trying to prove someone wrong or vice versa. Sometimes walking away from a hopeless conversation or debate can be the most liberating thing you can do, sitting at peace in your own mind with your understanding rather than having to justify it to someone who either isn’t understanding where you are coming from or just has no respect.

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compassion

Lastly, the one tool that I believe will truly help anyone in their life is the use of empathy. Empathy means to really connect with and understand another person’s situation, feelings, or difficulties. Putting yourself in this space will fill you with a genuine compassion that will help you gain a true understanding of the matter at hand. It is a brave space to put yourself in, allowing yourself to identify and feel a feeling that may not always be good. But if we all practiced bringing more empathy into our lives, the world would be a much better place for it.

We all have struggles, we are all here on the same human journey, and ultimately we all want the same thing in the end, peace.  So let’s remember this in our daily life!

 

 

 

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35 comments
  1. Thanks, Jeff

    Yes, the apparent anonymity of the internet may conjure extreme emotional reactions to the material presented on CE but I see this as a symptom of the collective evolution that is upon us at this unique time in history. There is a great awakening underway and the transition for many will be painful as old paradigms are destroyed and truths are revealed. So much of what we have been indoctrinated to believe is false and the evidence is rapidly mounting that the main stream media can no longer suppress. Massive enlightenment is happening under the radar of the TV programming and people are finally waking up. Some will unfortunately not make the transition well and will go the way of insanity or death. Others will become more machine-like and become programmed drones and warriors for the fascist state that is trying to take total control by force. In this way they will reveal their weakness because true power is mental in nature and physical force is their last resort when the faulty programming fails. As Victor Hugo has correctly asserted: “All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”

    The reason I subscribe to CE is that I see a group of young people making an effort to assist in this great transition and I applaud all of you for it. We all have an incredible task before us. But please take note that Gandhi’s power was rooted in his ability to inspire others to believe in the true nature of their collective power that no army or government could extinguish.

  2. Signs of times for sure .. We’re in days when the cosmic essence of Positive Energy have faded in the hearts and consciousness of soooo many ..

    Yet if eyes could behold a mass of this beautiful composite of Positive Energy .. it would be most fascinating to see ..

    Although Positive Energy within itself having no emotions or senses … once making contact with receptive neurons and their network of sensory … the sensational description of that contact, could only be expressed as Love .. This is what the Spirit of the CREATOR is, the Energy of Love ..

    And a few such identifiable characters of this Positive Love Energy is Empathy and Compassion

    It’s said that “because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.”
    And for this reason many are entrapped and bound by the negative energy of this world..
    It’s also said that that “all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself … and that if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.”…

  3. There is at least a subtle sense of irony deeply embedded within this article, which begs the question: Where is your compassion as an individual towards the compassionless?

    Likewise, this entire article is based on the premise that, “within the world of the internet as a whole, is a large sense of disconnect between people and their words.” Personally, I would disagree with this notion by proposing an alternative premise that might make more sense of the madness: The compassionless can and may be much more visible on the internet most likely due to the fact that they would also be a drag to communicate or interact with in real life (IRL), and therefore, because we are inherently social creatures, they most likely end up spending much more time online than most of us because there aren’t many people that choose to carry the burden of hanging out with them IRL.

    Compassion, according to Merriam-Webster, is formally defined as ‘sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it’.

    With that in mind; I am also inclined to believe that, because the compassionless most likely experience many more problems or, at the very least, much more difficulty dealing with their problems than most of us, they cannot be bothered with the concerns of others; that is to say, because the compassionless are incapable of resolving their own personal issues, they are literally incapable of addressing social issues, issues that involve others.

    “God helps those who help themselves.”

    I think the compassionless, in spite of their nature and your initial or instinctual response thereto, deserve (yes, you heard me) to be treated with a little compassion; that is to say, we ought to understand the truth of the matter–the fact that the only reason compassionless people act without compassion towards others is because they themselves are experiencing a world of hurt that they aren’t addressing or personally do not know how to deal with.

    “Hurt people hurt people!” …it is that simple.

    1. Many of the people that are, “Internet Tough Guys”, have little social skills and may have many more underlying issues that they are unaware of. I say this because I have had the pleasure to interact with many of those people behind the computer in person (IRL). Having no accountability is a dangerous thing. I believe they feel separate, as though it them against you. Compassion dissolves as one becomes separate from the whole. I don’t believe there has ever been so many lonely people in the Western world as there is now. Feeling alone or separate brings out many emotions. Separatism can lead to fear. Fear leads anxiety. Anxiety always leads to irrational behavior. Irrational behavior has no compassion or empathy. No compassion or empathy and you have yourself a person with no conscience. No conscience and you have a person that can do bad things without remorse. No remorse and a person will do what they think will make them feel good if only for a moment to stop the pain. I would know. I was that person (IRL)!

  4. People tend to act and react to others’ on-line comments without much thinking let alone empathy. Once one’s ire is up, rationality is out the window along with compassion. To increase one’s mettle and to better react rationally, one must first build a firewall against negative comments in order to handle them better.

    Next time, think about using logic in identifying others fallacies in argumentation.

    Here are a few common fallacies in order of frequency you will see used by trolls and bullies:

    Ad Hominem attack; ‘to the man’

    Attacks the man instead of the argument. Used to discredit opponents credibility and standing – eg:

    A: I think to improve the economy we need to cut spending to balance the nation’s budget.
    B: What do you know about economics and budgeting, you’re just a clerk?
    A: That doesn’t mean I can’t have an opinion about it. I’ve been reading…
    B: Why would anyone listen to what you have to say; you haven’t had a promotion or salary increase in years.

    Straw Man Argument; one of the most common of all fallacies

    Takes something out of context and focuses on it as if factual to discredit others or their ideas – eg:

    A: Your company needs to buy our latest new widgets.
    B: They’re too expensive. We can’t afford them right now.
    A: They’ll make your company more efficient and increase profits.
    B: But we don’t have the budget for them this year.
    A: You obviously don’t care about your company’s bottom line otherwise you’d buy them.

    Red Herring – change the subject

    Used to avoid certain topics that do not want to be seen or spoken of – eg:

    A: Well, you might consider cleaning up your…
    B: What? You think I’m lazy or something!? Why do you always question me? Is it because of who I am?
    A: What? No! I…I just think your habits are not normal and…
    B: Why are you being so stubborn and arrogant when it comes to my needs? You just don’t get it!

    These are just a few however there are many more and being able to identify them when used against you allows a logical response devoid of emotion or anger. Once identified you can always bring the discussion back on course instead of reacting in kind or in anger.

    Call the person out by naming the fallacy they are using and their illogical way of thinking for all to see – if called for. Shedding light on darkness dispels the latter. Better yet, just ignore the bully tactics altogether.

    Anyone who relies on fallacious argumentation to navigate life and relationships should be pitied and not scorned for theirs is a struggle of magnitude far greater than yours.

  5. Hmm… Am I part of the minority of people which think before they post comments? Since communicating without non-verbal cues can make it difficult to convey your ideas or feelings, I tend to feel self-conscious of how I come across to others.

    Because they are anonymous, people tend to forget that their comments are not only public for the world to scrutinize but that they are also communicating with other human beings whom also have feelings. “Treat others how you wished to be treated.”

    Maybe, it’s time to also start encouraging people to use proper etiquette and common sense when interacting with others on the internet as well.

  6. People, including myself, can be mean. But I agree with the guy that you need to build a firewall against it. And let words and cruelty roll off you like water. It also helps to know that what other people think of you is none of your business. It doesn’t matter if they say one thing, but really mean another. Your job is not to figure out what someone else really means. Who cares? Oh yeh, one more thing. You need to get a backbone, put your big kids’ pants on, and suck it up! If you know yourself, and I mean really know your Self, you automatically get these things! People have become such whiny babies. And guess what? The world is about to get much meaner, only because big changes are coming and desperately needed. So, I would suggest you all get STRONG and quit whining about what other people think and say. Namaste!

    1. No offense, but in my experience, the rudest folks are the ones who say, “Suck it up and deal with it.” Some people are more sensitive than others, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Telling people to just “deal with it” just furthers rudeness. People who are legitimately bully feel they can’t speak up. Trolls and other rude folks feel justified because no one will challenge them. The author is right: empathy is the key, and we as a society have lost it. It’s true that the world will only get ruder, but the proper response isn’t to just accept it and even join in. We need to turn it around. Fight rudeness with kindness.

      1. A…I live my life “as if”..the world is One. I love my fellow humans and the world is finally waking up to the fact that we are not enemies of each other. I will give anyone anything I have if they need it. I give awesome hugs. I grew up and still live in the “wild west” in the US. I really don’t know if that has to do with my attitude…I am sure it probably does lol. But, its a two-sided coin I guess. On the one side, we have lost empathy and compassion. On the other, we have lost courage and strength. People are way too dependent on others…other people, programs of the govt, etc. People are offended by a swear word or a finger, but go about their lives unoffended by the lies our government perpetrates, by the senseless wars, by the rampant consumerism, by big pharmaceuticals and oil and Monsanto! Another way to say it is…don’t sweat the petty stuff. But we do… Rudeness, unkindness, ….be offended that we have all been made fools of by the government that is supposed to lead us. EX: 9/11 So yeh…I still think people need to suck it up, get some cahoonies, pull their big kid pants up, …the weak and the dependent may not survive! We need to toughen up! Thank you, my friend, for sharing. Namaste

        1. Why do you leave yourself out of this pull you pants up philosophy? Unless you’ve pulled them up so far that they’re up your ***. Just kidding. Anyway, I don’t think there is a monolithic, black and white idea of “weak” or “strong” people are multidimensional. To assume the one quality represents the whole person is the halo effect. Do I mean you are absolutely wrong? No, your point holds truth. Someone you think is weak has strengths you don’t know about or overlook and vice versa. Your logic is good though. Let the small things be small so that larger things can be appropriately handled rather than overwhelming to the point of paralysis. But remember some find it hard to do that and it will take some time improving that part of themselves since the problem could have been created long ago and become deeply rooted. But they can do it if they work hard on it.

      2. Why fight rudeness? I for one appreciate the honest feedback. If you’re too sensitive to communicate with other people who aren’t tip-toeing around your delicate feelings, you don’t belong on the internet, or anywhere that speech is expressed freely in public. YOU are the one with the problem in that case, not everyone else.

        1. By “honest feedback”, you mean being critical without holding back, and not replying “You’re an idiot” like so many other commenters on the internet.

  7. Before the internet bad people were isolated in their own local areas and hurtful bad people were probably afraid to go out in public to say what was on their mind. The internet allowed horrible people to spread their hurtful and nasty comments at lightening speed. Soon the hurtful people grew in the majority and turned even good people bad because of the hurt and pain.

    Over time new generations using this technology will grow up being exposed to psychopaths who like to hurt others and they will grow up to be like it as well because it will seem normal to them. In the past children grew up being exposed to kindness and good morals and trust in their community and local area and going to church learning how to love others but things have changed.

    Now they are exposed to cell phones, internet, and tablets where there is mostly mean hateful people. Now the world is about getting attention, getting money, buying as much material things as you can, outdoing your neighbor and one upping them and hurting others when you can get away with it.

    1. Greetings Ron. When you awaken to your Spirit, everything you have just said is moot. Thousands and thousands and thousands of people are waking to a new day and thats where its all going to happen. The “psychopaths” you speak of are not inherently evil people. They are people who have no idea that they CAN awaken. When I speak of meanness and rudeness, I am not speaking of cruelty and judgement. I am talking about strength and courage. People have become cowards and afraid of their own shadow. But that has nothing to do with evil. It has to do with a mindset that is forced upon us from birth and that is based totally on lies and deceit and power. The internet has opened our world and our universe. We can no longer cry ignorance when all the knowledge and wisdom of mankind is at our fingertips. Why wouldn’t we want to expose the people that would aim to harm us? Teach your children well they say. This is not a two-sided coin. Life and Spirit have no opposite side. Love and light my friend. Namaste.

  8. Where I come from it’s spelled c o w a r d. How many of these people would make the same comment to the person face to face ? Very few I assure you. A computer screen can’t break your jaw. I have a rule I go by. I make no comment with a keyboard I would not make to the persons face. Comment sections are a cowards paradise. Insulting someone while HIDING behind a computer screen takes about as much courage as shooting them in the back while they walk down the sidewalk from the safe confines of a moving vehicle. Computers and guns have “deleted” many spines that probably never existed to begin with. Too bad a backbone cannot be downloaded.

    1. Fail at trolling… Do something productive instead of caring what social medias say, no lifer! 🙂

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