Show Up

‘Sometimes the bravest and most  important thing you can do is just show up.’ Brené Brown

Yesterday Facebook announced that it will soon reveal a ‘Dislike’ button. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg explained that the use of a ‘Dislike’ button would be for “sad posts — deaths, crises, and other negative everyday life situations faced by users.” Try as I might, I just don’t see it working out that way.

Envision a widow who has just written a heartfelt post about the loss of her spouse receiving 50 thumbs down, and maybe a comment or two from those who have more to say. How could she possibly feel comforted by a plethora of thumbs down symbols expressed from afar? There’s a fair chance she may feel that people are saying, “Keep your sad news to yourself. I don’t like to hear it.”

Or picture a different scenario; imagine a teenage boy or girl posting a selfie and receiving a flurry of thumbs down endorsements from their peers who have suddenly found the perfect tool with which to express a pack mentality. It is well documented that cyber bullying can lead to tragic results. Are the billions of Facebook users out there, really in need of a dislike button?

Quite frankly, I think Mark Zuckerberg’s vision is about as shortsighted as it can get. Just the fact that the button is already being touted as a ‘Dislike’ button leaves a dangerous amount of space for interpretation, and when someone goes out on a limb and writes about something that is negative, sad or difficult, they are placing themselves in a position of great vulnerability. That is not necessarily a time when you want to be standing in a wide-open landscape with miles of room for interpretation.

When I first read about this little ‘Dislike’ button, the very first thing that came to mind were the words of one of my favorite authors, Brené Brown, who writes brilliantly about vulnerability. She often refers to those who allow themselves to be vulnerable as the ones “willing to go into the arena.” She is referring in part to a moving monologue made long ago by Theodore Roosevelt. She wisely reminds us that if we are willing to go into the arena (be vulnerable in public) we can expect to meet with criticism, be taunted, get spit at, and maybe even get a black eye or two.

Brené Brown makes a strong argument that the only ones who should really have a voice in our criticism are those who are also willing to get into the arena. Those who just sit in the stands as spectators, watching from afar—they don’t count and we shouldn’t have to hear their voices.

I could not agree more. When it comes to social media, those who give a piece of themselves to the world with their words and pictures are stepping into the arena. They are vulnerable and exposed. Any criticism that comes from the people in the stands should only be audible to the masses if the criticizer is willing to ‘come on down,’ as Bob Barker would say. Taking potshots while under heavy cover is a cowardly act, no less so in the virtual world than in the real.

If the thumbs down icon is free for the taking and requires no more than a click from those in the back row, I seriously doubt that Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of how it will be used will come to fruition. Potshots are easy to take when you don’t have to expose yourself. Think of it this way: It doesn’t’ engender much risk to launch a tomato from a safe balcony when you can duck out the back door after it goes ‘splat.’

I have no idea how this ‘Dislike’ button is going to work, but I do have an opinion about how it can be contained so as not to be used as a weapon. Only those in the arena should have the power of a thumbs down. How do we get into the arena? By making a comment, of course. A comment incites instant vulnerability and is amazing in its ability to bring clarity and a surprising hush from those in the back row. It changes everything if someone is willing to put a comment beneath a post and then give it a thumbs down.

If Mr. Zuckerberg’s theory is true and he expects these thumbs down icons to only be used to somehow express support during times of sadness, crises, or negativity, qualifying their use of a thumbs down with an affirmative statement, or an explanation, puts everyone in the arena. I like that a lot.

I do hope the thumbs down icon is kept in a container of accountability. If it is not, it will give the peanut gallery front row seats, and may just change the nature of the social media giant that is part of mainstream reality for most.

I hope that my worry is a nonissue, and that the folks over at FB are one step ahead of all of us, wisely pairing the power of criticism with the requirement of accountability. After all, none of us in the arena like to get hit with a spit ball coming from the back row. Launch it from the arena and it’s a totally different deal.

…And lets remember that long before there was ever a Dislike button in the mix, Theodore Roosevelt had it all figured out when he said this:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt