One of the most significant events of my life took place when I was 15. Growing up in a very small, divided and insular community in Northern Ireland, I was hyper-aware of who and how/if/whether I could/should connect with others outside of my own ‘group’ (unfortunately based on religious orientation/politics).
Then the ‘Delaware Project’ happened. I was lucky enough to be one of 18 pupils -an equal split of boys and girls, Protestant and Catholic – taken for a month, together, to the USA. Before, during and after, having to mix with each other, other faiths and groups, and live with a family very different from your own. It was eye-opening and truly life-changing for me.
I mixed with other teenagers I wasn’t allowed on the same school bus as, normally. I went to services and met people of Catholic, Jewish, Amish, Muslim, Quaker and other faiths – people and places of worship that I’d only ever heard about. We went from meeting politicians and giving speeches at the White House and the Senate to working at homeless and community shelters and talking to the people there.
We mixed, widened our perspectives, spent time listening to and getting to know different people, and made massive shifts in our personal views and understanding of others. I try to continue to do the same today, in real life, and online…
Are we connecting meaningfully?
When I started the first #kindnessripple on a Thursday after a blog I wrote, it was intended as a way for me to say thank you for some little thing that someone had done for me, in the hope that my thank you would be enough motivation for them to do the same again to someone else – the ripple would expand and take in more and more people on its ‘journey’.
Three weeks later, and I was sent a message by a friend saying that the hashtag was ‘trending’. I don’t have the thousands of followers on here that some have, and that doesn’t bother me (‘quality, not quantity’!) so what was going on?
80,000 ‘engagements’? How many of those people do I know? Where are they from? How can I connect meaningfully with them?
Are tag fests impersonal?
I’m glad it’s popular – the intention was to spread kindness – but I also think that it’s moved away from what I initially envisaged (and again – that’s fine, I accept that things change/evolve, but I think it’s right to consider the way that change is moving…). Instead of being a personal, one-name thank you, it’s turned into a list of tagged colleagues or friends, and with no explanation as to why? Other than that they are great people in the eye of the person tagging them.
How does this sit with my feelings about widening perspectives, making connections with new people, and being diverse and inclusive to different groups?
I’ve been guilty myself of tagging numerous people in the hope that they will spread the ripple further, but does tagging so many people dilute the message that I’m trying to send?
I think it does, and have other concerns about multiple tagging that’s becoming more common too…what does who I tag say about me?
The social stresses of tagging
I’m sure every person tagged is great, and I’m also sure that the person who’s tagged them has all the best intentions, but I’ve been recently worrying about who, why and what I’ve said or tagged. What if I forget someone who tagged me? Will they be upset?
Do I need to tag everyone in my contact list, but then, as I’ve said, devalue the meaningfulness of the gratitude I’m trying to show? What about the person who messaged me last week to say thanks – is that too far back? How far back should I go? What about the person who followed me first on Twitter – surely they should be tagged? Every time?
Again, the essence and importance of the message are diluted…
I’m absolutely thrilled that the idea of spreading a #kindnessripple has been so widely picked up, and that so many people want to engage with the idea. I really don’t want to sound ungrateful, because actually it’s the opposite. I want to sound more grateful by really considering who I tag and making sure it’s for a meaningful reason, rather than tagging ten people from my contacts who are the ones whose names appear first as I’ve had more interaction with them and the Twitter algorithm has recommended them!
Being more thoughtful
I also think it’s important to change and consider who you tag (whether it’s #kindnessripple or one of the many other ‘Tag list’ hashtag days on here) so that new ‘tiny voices’ get a chance – make those new connections. Widen those perspectives.
I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t expanded my views by taking part in that project all those years ago. I wouldn’t be writing this blog in the company I am if no-one had ‘liked’ or followed me and given me a chance to be heard.
If we only tag the same, already-present voices, when do the new/different voices get their say? How are you expanding your PLN meaningfully (if that’s what your intention is) if you only engage/blog/podcast with the same people all the time?
It becomes a circle of reciprocal likes and tags… are you widening your understanding and being diverse and inclusive if you’re always ‘liked’ by the same group of like-minded followers and never challenged by someone from outside of that group?
It's not you, it's me...
So sorry, guys, you might not appear in each of my lists, and I might not tag so many people in future. If you’re real ‘friends’ that won’t matter, and you won’t be offended -we often appear and talk in the same threads and conversations anyhow. After all – that’s why we connected on here in the first place!
If you’re the one who’s tagged by me, however, then know that I really mean it, whoever you are, and that what you did or why I tagged you were carefully and thoughtfully done.