As an athlete traveling to foreign countries, we were instructed to observe certain laws of politeness. As ambassadors of our country we had to remember that any mischief would reflect badly not just on us but our nation. Later, when I worked at the United Nations, it became normal for me to switch languages to address coworkers, to learn the specifics of how to interact with people from different backgrounds and to get accustomed to the food and culture of different regions of the world. At my wedding recently, we counted guests from circa 15 different nations and when I look at people who support me on social media, that read and comment on my postings, they come from many different places, too. It's pretty amazing how interconnected the world has become. In New York it almost seems normal to be at a dinner (or a wedding) and meet people from several different continents and from all walks of life. Online and in social media even more so.
I have noticed that I know people who have accumulated over 1,000 Facebook friends on their private accounts and consider it normal to share their (somewhat) private information with every one of them although some, they may have only met once. This trend can be dangerous without a set of rules (of conduct) in place and whether it is voyeurism or sharing of our private information by others, it seems we are doing less to safeguard our personal lives. On the other hand we have to do more to learn how to do so, because it is not in the interest of the providers of these platforms to keep our lives private.
While looking for rules that would be a good example of how to live together in peace across different languages, cultures and nations, I remembered the Olympic Games. They are the epitome of young people coming together to challenge each other but remain peaceful and respectful with a sense of integrity and acknowledging diversity. There are seven rules that can be read in whole on the Olympic website.
And here is my adaptation of the essential elements of five of the seven and how they could help us stay polite in a digital age:
- Rule One describes Olympism as a quest "to create a way of life based on the joy of effort and the educational value of good example". As adults nobody reminds us of how to be a good example anymore. This results in us over-sharing and sometimes embarrassing ourselves and those close to us. Social media started as a way to connect and exchange. Now it sometimes seems that the more ridiculous a post is, the more attention it gets.
- Rule Two mentions the harmonious development of humankind and promoting a peaceful society. In times of controversial news spreading within seconds, we have to remind ourselves that not everything (especially negativity) needs to be shared online in comments and tweets that may hurt another.
- Rule Three speaks of the five interlaced rings as a symbol of nations coming together and using concerted efforts to stay intertwined. Too often, when news breaks that concerns one country or region, we are quickly divided by ethnic lines. Maintaining a respect for different viewpoints of religion, politics and culture, is crucial. As individuals we should refrain from using social media to further fan the flames of intolerance.
- Rule Four talks about practicing sport as a human right. Freedom of speech is a human right, too. And people shouldn't be so quick to condemn others because of their values or beliefs. Not online and not in person.
- Rule Six condemns any discrimination towards another. As in "if you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all". We should all think before we speak or type. Discrimination is closely tied to stereotypes and misconceptions about other countries and cultures. Maintaining a polite way of talking to others is crucial.
I believe that in times of constant exposure and connectivity, these rules apply to our life in busy urban settings as well as in the privacy of our home when we go online. They were created as a means of people getting along and shouldn't only be followed by a select few at a special event but - if we remind ourselves of their value - would make our coexistence much more enjoyable on a daily basis. So any time we are quick to judge, roll our eyes, over-share or condemn, maybe we can take a step back and remember that the profile photo represents a real person, with feelings that could potentially get hurt.
I dare you to try it and let me know what you think in the comments, below!