It took me a while to learn that when I put myself out in social media, be it through my blogging, through Facebook, or through Twitter, I open myself up to people who will disagree with my opinion.
And that's okay.
You may not like the fact that I have a general loathing of dogs. Or that sometimes my photography may not be to your liking. You may not share my political views and hate when I go on a rant.
I don't mind.
If someone disagrees with me, that's fair: everyone is entitled to his and her opinion, and by me sharing my thoughts or views in such a public manner, it's okay if someone decides to speak out and disagree with me, to voice his or her disdain.
If someone were to call me names, or spread hatred toward me, that would be a different matter. While I am open to hearing about opposing views, I'm not open to personal attacks.
That has happened to me a couple of times, and it was awful. I was made to feel badly about myself and to question my values. But then, I thought, it was only a small number of people who knew absolutely nothing about me. Their attacks were baseless, meaningless, and eventually, laughable. It took a few days to come to that conclusion, but the experience left me taking a second look at social media.
I would never attack someone for being honest in their views. I'm not talking about the hate-mongers who use social media to spread racist or sexist views, or who do hurtful things to diminish others. Those people, I tend to ignore.
Yesterday, on Twitter, I saw an Instagram post that left me with a sour taste in my mouth: it was a photo of one of Ottawa's shopping malls, decked out with Christmas decorations. The person who posted the image did so on Sunday, and had exclaimed how much she loved the Christmas season and shopping.
The shopping mall took the opportunity to re-tweet that post during the Remembrance Day ceremony at the National War Memorial.
I took offense to the tweet, and left a comment on the person's Instagram post, stating that I felt it inappropriate to put such hype on consumerism at such a time of reflection, of a time to honour those who gave so much so that we could enjoy the luxury of shopping.
Now was the time to give to the courageous men and women who have fought for and protected us, I voiced.
I re-tweeted that post, adding the hashtags #RemembranceDay and #fail. Both the person who posted the original message and the shopping centre that had re-tweeted the post received my response. The shopping centre never responded: the person who posted the original tweet came back, defending the fact that she had posted the photo on Sunday, not on Remembrance Day.
I replied that I didn't like to think of Christmas until after Remembrance Day was celebrated. I wrote about how I was disappointed that a holiday that focuses on consumerism would be highlighted at a time when we should be honouring those who gave much more than mere things from a store.
I still maintain my opinion about the Instagram post. One day before Remembrance Day was too early to celebrate Christmas decorations in a store.
The person who posted the image then stated that my comments seemed to attack her more than the shopping mall that had re-tweeted her post. She said that she respected Remembrance Day.
This was the moment that I realized that this person was feeling the same stress that I had felt last year, after the attacks I had received. But while I was voicing my disappointment of the photo and of the shopping centre's re-tweet, this person was seeing it as a personal attack.
I immediately apologized. I said that my words hadn't been intended as an assault on her, but were meant to show my disappointment over the glorification of shopping and Christmas at a time of remembrance. My words were my opinion of the image: they were never about the person who took the photo and posted it.
We exchanged a couple more tweets after my apology, and I sensed that the tension had abated. I ended our communication by wishing her a good day. And it was a sincere wish.
When we're on social media, we must keep in mind that not everything we put out there will be liked by everybody. We must learn that if we post anything publicly, anyone can respond. It's when things get personal that lines get crossed.
But voicing a disagreement is not an attack.