There are some things you will have no trouble finding on today’s internet: more fascinating content than you can ever hope to consume; oceans of strong opinions; products you never knew you needed; and an unending stream of personalities trying to “influence” you to think, feel, vote and buy stuff.
What you won’t find enough of, however, is leadership.
Effective leadership isn’t just about what. It is about how. This kind of leadership—the kind that results in positive change—models the kinds of attitudes and behaviors we want to see in the world around us. It reflects the best parts of who we are, and helps us elevate the culture in which we are doing some of our most important work. Whether it is in politics, business, faith communities, activism, entertainment or education—we need authentic, healthy leadership to help us make the most of the raw potential that the internet has to offer.
Unfortunately, today many who hold even official public leadership positions have become corrupted by the toxic culture online, handing out sarcasm, loathing and rudeness as if there was a Black Friday sale on them. Social media has turned into an arms race of self-defeating anger and futile complaints with very few real-world opportunities to act or implement systemic change.
The Institute for Digital Civic Culture envisions a healthy digital civic culture that is led by people who have mastered three important learned competencies:
We simply cannot expect others to engage online in productive and healthy ways if we are not able to do it ourselves. Self-mastery doesn’t just mean controlling our words and actions—though that is certainly an essential part—it also means understanding how digital environments impact us physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually; and committing to being in these spaces as a whole human. Self-Mastery means learning constructive methods for processing and responding in our online engagements. It means practicing the mental and emotional habits needed to regulate our own internal responses so that we are able to sustain the work we do online and offline.
Human beings evolved to live within communities, tribes and cultures in which the standards for engagement were understood by all members. Is it any wonder that the “Wild West” environment of the internet—in which infinite interpretations of what is socially acceptable—clash daily as we discuss the most important issues of our time. Building communities online is an essential competency for anyone hoping to lead change. Online communities provide frameworks—common spaces with common goals, shared language and enforceable rules for engagement. These are spaces where “everybody knows your name”—community members are bound by a social contract, and are given the opportunity build relationships and have ongoing conversations where differences of opinions and a pluralism of ideas can be discussed and debated over time.
- Productive Disagreement
Being able to facilitate disagreement is the third essential competency for online leaders. Even if we ourselves are able to disagree rationally and respectfully, public discourse will still resemble shouting into a hurricane if we can’t help others do the same. Of course, we must first model the kind of engagement we want to see; but we can also teach the tactics of productive disagreement explicitly, and insist that they are followed.
The Institute for Digital Civic Culture cultivates leaders from across all professions and sectors to lead effectively online. This six-week intensive program is for individuals who are looking for ways to bring their authentic leadership online and inspire the best from those whom they serve.
If you’re tired of a toxic internet and want to be part of the solution, consider applying for the Winter 2020 cohort of the IDCC flagship program, taking place February/March next year. Apply now!
Amanda Quraishi is a contributing fellow with the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture.