The first, and most fundamental, precept in The Eightfold Path is Right Understanding (sometimes also called Right View). This step involves seeing the world and everything in it as it really is, not as we believe it to be or want it to be. Without this view, without seeing the truth of things or assuming we know it, everything that stems from that will be clouded — based on potential falsehood. Above all, we will bias what we want to be in deference to what is. In order to get to right understanding we much approach all things with a beginners mind.
This is not only an essential way of moving through life, but I believe we might find it to be especially helpful when we apply it to our interactions on social media. Because, services like Twitter and Facebook are designed for fast thoughts and pronouncements and do not encourage full explanations or deeper examinations. Therefore, it is all too easy to rush to judgement about what another thinks or believes. We easily allow our own immediate assumptions and reactions to take hold and our opinions to become truth.
An immediate reaction or response will most often be a shallow one that only leads to suffering, anger, argument or negativity. Perhaps more importantly, we gain nothing of value by rushing to judgment. We gain tremendous value and insight by taking the time to see a view — all views — in their completeness and with an open heart and mind. We will then more fully understand how beliefs are formed, where biases and emotions can influence fundamental truths, and how our own might benefit from such knowledge.
Instead, take a deep breath, maybe even two or three, to cool your immediate reaction. Then, perhaps you might begin with some questions. Why might that person believe that? Could there be a logic or wisdom within that view that you might learn to appreciate despite the fact you may not agree with it’s conclusion? Might there be a fundamental truth hidden within their conclusion despite your dissatisfaction with it’s delivery? If it is critical of you, might there be an action that you did to cause the other to feel this way? Or, perhaps more importantly, must this view bother you and cause suffering or can you simply let it pass?
If you open up a dialog with that person, start from a desire to understand — a place of compassion. Ask questions. Approach with empathy and a true desire to know where they stand and why. In the end, you may not find a suitable answer or find yourself still on disagreement. But, in order to have even the opportunity to get to an answer or agreement one must take the time to ask in the first place. To do that means to let go of your initial reaction and give way to the potential of understanding.
Ideas and beliefs do not form in a vacuum. They are usually the product of some perception or experience. Some of these may be the same as yours. Others may be vastly different. So different, in fact, that you immediately recoil from and reject them. Yet, these ideas likely formed from very similar places and likely for very similar reasons as yours. The opposite side simply arrived at a different conclusion.
We can’t work towards agreement around that which we disagree on when we already believe we know the truth of what another believes. The only way to know the meaning or reason behind what someone says or why someone believes what they believe is to ask them.
The first step on the path to Right Understanding is admitting "I don’t know". The next is "I wish to know". The only way to know is to admit your lack of knowledge and seek the answers.