The world is grey

17 January 2024

The world is grey. It is also vibrant, diverse and colourful, but it is still grey. What I mean to say is, the world is not black and white - and nor should it be. Our difference is what makes us human. I am reminded of a viral video that asks pairs of children what their differences are. While to many of us, some differences may be immediately clear - Black and white, able-bodied and people with disabilities - these children struggle to think of anything that sets them apart. Eventually they settle on liking or not liking lettuce, and whether or not they live in a home with squirrels in the attic. These don’t appear to be friendship dealbreakers.

Social media has undeniably shaped our culture over the past decade. Its sophisticated algorithms have identified and reinforced our beliefs, connecting us with people and content that perceive the world in the same way as we do. These bubbles extend beyond our online experience. For the most part, we tend to surround ourselves with people who share our outlook on life, with the polarising effect of social media causing us to become increasingly intolerant of those who don’t share our convictions. Online, we’re physically detached from the people we’re communicating with, sometimes leading to conversations that lack the social codes of conduct we employ in person. We forget that we’re talking to people as human as we are. The result? An unkind, unforgiving and unsafe environment.

We can all think of a person that has done something we don’t agree with, then regretted it and apologised. We must then accept that each of us will do things that we are sure about at the time but will come to regret. My point is that we can’t all be right. In recognising that we, as humans, are flawed and imperfect, we must grant both ourselves and others grace, in the knowledge that we might not have it right. Our strong opinions must be loosely held, humbly.

In the same breath, conversation and debate are healthy. With an election on the horizon, it is particularly important that we as citizens use debate as a tool for decision-making. Some discussions may be robust, but respect remains essential. However, there are some things which are simply not up for debate. I remember being told at school to never criticise something about someone’s appearance that can’t be changed within 30 seconds. I would now extend that beyond 30 seconds. The Equality Act 2010 lists the following protected characteristics: age, gender, marital status, being pregnant or on maternity leave, disability, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. While conversations can and should freely happen about each of these topics, voicing negative views about an individual’s relation to any of these characteristics is not necessary - particularly from behind a screen. There is a difference between interested questions about someone’s belief system and dismissive remarks about someone’s sexuality.

The Methodist Church’s Inclusive Language Guide is a brilliant example of a tool that can help all of us approach conversations both on-and-offline with greater awareness of our peers. We all have subconscious biases and habits that could inadvertently cause discomfort to others. Acts of kindness don’t have to be self-sacrificing or put you out of pocket - instead, consider the impact that a small adjustment of language could have on someone. Even if you don’t fully understand why it matters to them, making a small difference could make someone else’s day. You could call it loving thy neighbour.

With all of this being said, I still believe that social media is inherently good. It is a place for connection, for community, and for people. During the pandemic, when church buildings closed, social media came alive. It reminded us of the good that can come from online spaces, with services, bible studies and endless quizzes keeping us connected to each other - and to God. So how can we empower people to maintain these platforms as tools for good? We all must take responsibility to do better. Start with yourself. Each time you see something unkind or thoughtless, don’t engage. Instead let it fuel you to post something positive. Bring light into the darkness.

Iso is an award-winning content creator and writer. As a social media expert, she has worked in a variety of sectors including higher education, art, finance and religious, having managed the Church of England’s social media for 2.5 years through the pandemic. After her love of second-hand fashion, she is passionate about community, and is particularly fascinated by how we can use language to build and develop online and in-person engagement.

News Agency Reuters have performed a Fact Check on the recent incorrect claims circulating on social media about the Methodist Church's Inclusive Language Guide and confirmed that the guide affirms spousal terms whilst encouraging mindfulness, and that the incorrect claims are lacking context.