5 New Year’s resolutions you should consider making for 2015

We all know the traditional New Year's resolutions:

"This year I'm going to lose weight, go to gym regularly, drink less, save money, do better at work, spend more time with family," etc, etc.

I'm not saying these resolutions are bad, but they're getting a little boring and old. Don't not make these resolutions, but maybe try something new this year as well. For example:

1) Resolve to fact-check before sharing clickbait

They say a lie can run around the world before the truth has gotten a chance to put its boots on, and with the age of sharing information being nothing more than a click away, this has never been more true.

People make things up and post them on the internet all the time, and social media is riddled with misleading half-truths, misinformation, and outright lies.

Sharing or liking a Facebook post is not going to help fund a child's life-saving operation. Pope Francis did not say believing in God is unnecessary to be a good person. Those pictures of snow in Egypt showing snow-covered pyramids? Pictures of miniature pyramids in a Japanese theme park

A lot of sharing of click-bait is mildly annoying but essentially harmless, but quite a lot of it is actively harmful.

Emails about something terrible "the Muslims" did that you thoughtless forward to friends and family members? Likely a complete fabrication created for the express purpose of spreading Islamophobia. Do vaccinations cause autism? No, but that myth has caused diseases that we shouldn't have to deal with any more to rare their ugly heads.

At the end of the day, if something sounds unbelievable, it probably is. That doesn't mean everything is wrong and you shouldn't share anything ever, just take some time to fact check by, say, visiting Snopes before you share.

2) Resolve to read articles all the way to the end before sharing them or commenting on them

I know it's tempting to react to an article before you've read it through, but I can tell you from experience that it's almost always a bad idea.

You didn't like the article's title, so you rushed to the comments to complain!

Really? You based your entire judgement on what the article has to say on the title? Did you know that a lot of writers don't even choose their own titles when their articles are published?

Like all writers, I can't tell you how many times people immediately demand "but what about" when the article itself actually covered that exact question. And, honestly, it's a little rude. If you want someone to take the time to read your questions or concerns about something they wrote, the least you could do is first be fully aware of what they wrote.

Even if your reaction isn't an angry knee-jerk, sometimes you might share an article that you've only read half of only to discover you've shared an article that, later, claims something awful that you in no way agree with. 

3) Resolve not to get so angry about things that don't matter

Anger isn't always unjustified. It's perfectly reasonable to get angry about things like racism or sexism: things that actively harm people and contribute to systematic oppression.

But you're angry because you saw a guy with long hair, or wearing nail polish, or skinny jeans? You're angry because a woman you don't know doesn't shave her armpits? Or has dyed her hair blue or cut it short? You're angry because transgender people exist? Or homosexual people want to get married? Or you saw a mixed-race couple holding hands?

You're angry because there are people who like to take and post selfies? Or people who enjoy playing Candy Crush or listening to music you don't like? You're angry because there are parents who post pictures of their kids on Facebook? Or because someone tweets in a way you don't personally like?

You're angry because there are people who speak out against the systematic and sometimes institutionalized oppression that is negatively affecting their lives in a serious way?

Are these really necessary things to be angry about?

I do it myself. Pictures of food on Facebook, or teenagers in those damn hipster glasses, make me rage, but I'm learning that this rage is stupid and pointless.

Anger isn't always a bad thing and can even be used constructively, but when you're angry with random people over genuinely petty things, maybe consider if what they're doing is actually harmful and worth getting upset about, like, at all.

4) Resolve to be nice to people who are hurting rather than being one of the people who hurt them more

The Internet has really opened communication up between people on an intense level, and this has been both a wonderful and terrible thing. On the up side, we are able to communicate with people we might never have before.

We can hear what they have to say, get an idea of how they experience the world and how different it is to how we experience the world. Famous people can communicate directly with their fans. Americans can communicate with Africans. Old with young. Rich with poor. Black with white. Christian with Muslim. Social media makes it easier for people to cross boundaries that, for some at least, might have been harder to cross before.

On the down side, the ability to talk to someone from behind a screen, and to be anonymous when you do it, has also brought out the uglier side of humanity.

When Robin Williams died, his daughter had to quit social media because people were trolling her. Why would anyone do something like that? What are they gaining from picking on an already grieving daughter?

It's not just one example either. Check the Twitter mentions of a rape survivor who has come forward about her rape. There will be people there trying to insist that the rape was her fault, that she's a worthless whore, that she should hate herself. Check the mentions of an outspoken transgender person. There will be people encouraging them to kill themselves.

Openly admitting to sensitivity, depression, trauma, or even just being a bit different from what we think is "normal" seems to have become some sort of signal that says "come and harass and attack me as much as you can".

Trolling releases a certain amount of pent-up stress and aggression, and people think it's online so it doesn't matter and isn't real, but we should try to remember that, just because you can't see the person you're sending hate mail to, doesn't mean they're not a person.

And yes, I know it's common to tell people they should just ignore trolls, but maybe instead of saying "don't get hurt" it's time for us to start saying "don't hurt".

If you really must troll, at least try to punch upwards rather than down. There's nothing justifiable in being a bully.

5) Resolve to learn more about a group you don't understand.

Social media really is giving us golden opportunities to examine our own thoughtless biases. Fear of the unknown is one of the biggest things that drive hatred.

It seems pretty natural for humans to react to new things that are very different from things we're used to with a certain amount of hostility. Ask any parent with a two year old. But this hostility helps no one, including the two year old.

If you think someone is "weird", try to get to know them. If you think a group is "weird", try to get to know that group.

I don't mean following them around waiting for them to do something or say something that "confirms" your worst suspicions. Instead, be aware that you're going to have certain biases whether you mean to or not because that's how humans are, and keep that in mind when you feel yourself judging negatively. 

You might be surprised by what you find.

Follow Laura on Twitter or visit her blog.

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