Speak kindly or remain silent

Speak kindly or remain silent

Sarah may be a student aged 23, but she is a veteran in the blogosphere. She has been sharing her life on Instagram for the past three years, where she’s seen it all, from hate speech to love mail. How can you stay true to yourself, when it only takes a second for others to post their comments on what you share about your life?

Three years ago I started posting on Instagram. I started by posting pictures of everyday life, and later on it became more modest fashion-related. I was twenty at the time and didn’t think much of it. Now I run a big social media platform with more followers that I ever thought possible. Having this platform opened up all sorts of opportunities for me, and has, more importantly, given me the chance to meet wonderful people from every corner of the world. So far, so good? To be honest, I’m still figuring out whether it’s a blessing or a curse.

For all the positive experiences I’ve had, there are also the downsides. As a result of my online activity, media have tried to label and define me, filling in who I am or should be. Because of those labels, I have at times struggled to find myself. And of course, being active on Instagram, I constantly see how people disguise themselves in perfect feeds or selfies. It makes me feel insecure sometimes. I’ve come across all sorts of behavior and types of people online. I see the nitpicking ones, the bitter ones and the unconcerned, but also the sweet, open and understanding ones. The sad part is that there are few of the latter, or maybe they’re not making themselves heard as much as the former do. Anyone who’s visible on social media is expected to have thick skin, that much I know by now.

Speed is what makes social media stand out. Yet, if you want to be ‘a good online citizen’, you need to slow down and reflect.

Three years after starting out on Instagram, I’m experiencing the ugly side of it, and I’m not the only one. There is something very contradictory about social media. Everything happens fast, often too fast. Opinions are formed too fast, videos are shared too fast and new articles are written too fast. Speed is what makes social media stand out from all other media. Yet, if you want to be ‘a good online citizen’, you need to do exactly the opposite: slow down and reflect.

How many of us take the time to reflect on what we have read or experienced each day? When was the last time you spread positive energy, online or offline, for no particular reason? When was the last time you truly cared about what’s happening in our world before you clicked on to the next headline? It’s so easy to mindlessly post or binge content, and online platforms encourage us to do exactly that. It’s easy to lose yourself in our fast-paced world. It’s easy to skip over our own and other people’s actions and feelings. It’s a mechanism that I know all too well; everything that I list here, is first and foremost a reminder to myself.


We all try to make statements on social media. We try to make ourselves heard and seen. We have the platforms; we have the words. That’s awesome. Now let’s reflect on how we use them. Instead of capslocking our words, let’s try to use them consciously. Let’s build others up and not break them down.

Consciously building those moments of reflection into your life and making it a habit is easier said than done. It means breaking old habits and forgiving yourself for all the times that you were not quite as kind to yourself and others. It means you have to allow the space between where you want to be and where you are now to exist. Keeping that space open means keeping poisonous opinions to yourself, when you know they won’t help you and/or others. Keep that space open for yourself and for others, because that’s how people grow.

When you’re pretending to be someone you aren’t, the only person you are fooling is yourself.

This may all sound a bit naïve, but I think altering our mindset about the way we use social media is important. It’s all too easy to forget that there is a person behind every account. A person who reads your comments and posts, and who is affected by your statements.

The reason I’ve been able to continue sharing the things I’m passionate about online, is because I have a strong team of family and friends who always have my back. I’m glad they remind me that being me is my power. In the end, when you’re pretending to be someone you aren’t, the only person you are fooling is yourself. That knowledge has helped me stand firm and not let online hate speech turn me cold. I want to continue to share positive energy with positive people and I hope that one day positive comments will start outnumbering negative comments. A great person once said ‘Speak kindly or remain silent.’ That’s excellent advice. Speaking kindly or remaining silent would benefit us all, and not only on social media.

Follow Sarah on Instagram

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