Ten years ago, I quit my job to become a stay-at-home mom. It was difficult for me. I loved my young kids, of course. We mothers have to say that every time we're about to tell the truth. So...I loved them, but I will go to my grave insisting there is a chasm-wide difference between loving your children and loving parenting them. To me, full-time mothering felt like way too much and yet not nearly enough. Lost in a landslide of diapers, birthday parties, and others' needs, I ached to reestablish myself. So I started writing.

I'd wake before dawn, stumble into the kitchen for coffee, then tiptoe to the tiny desk in my clothes closet, the only space in my small home I could claim as entirely mine. I dubbed it my "cloffice." With all due respect to Virginia Woolf, not every woman can have a room of her own—but maybe we can carve out an hour among the socks and sweaters and jeans and T-shirts? My 60-minute writing session began at 5 each morning, and it was glorious. During that time, I was nobody's mom or wife, which left me free to be all soul. Eventually, I was ready to send my words out into the world, but I didn't know how. A friend suggested I start a blog—intriguing, but scary. Wouldn't sharing myself online be like throwing myself to the wolves? When I voiced my reservations, my friend said, "Sure, people can be their worst selves on the internet. But most of us don't want to be. Mostly we want a safe space to connect. What if you aimed to build a kinder online community? Don't they always say we should create the change we want?"

That sounded like truth, so I decided to try it. I launched a blog called Momastery and made two promises to myself. First, I vowed to write boldly and vulnerably—as if shame were something I'd never heard of. Second, I swore to treat everyone who came to the site with respect and courtesy, whether or not they returned the favor. In short, I would be my best cyberself. In the decade since, that pledge has at times been hard to keep. Often when criticism floods in, my impulse is to withdraw or lash out. Feeling threatened sends me straight into fight-or-flight mode. But I've discovered there is another way.

I can choose to rise above my instincts and respond to others from a higher place, to take a deep breath and put some space between what was said and my reaction to it. This lets me stay open to listening, learning, and even changing my mind. It means meeting fear with tenderness, hate with love, and differences with curiosity. This, it turns out, is what breaks the cycle of mistrust among people and creates peaceful oases. When I went high, others rose to join me. Over time, people became brave enough to share themselves without shame and gracious enough to listen without judgment. "Brave" and "kind" became our online battle cries.

The internet is neither good nor bad. It's neutral—it becomes for each of us exactly what we bring to it. In our real life and our internet life, we live inside whatever we build. Since we are spending more and more of our lives online, our internet selves must be decent, courageous healers so we can inhabit communities of tolerance and humanity.

Here are a few gut checks:

1. Remember, you are what you post.
Integrity means there is not a real-life you and an internet you. The two are one and the same. If you're not kind on the internet, you're not kind.

2. Post with intention.
Before you hit send, ask yourself: Why am I sharing this picture, meme, idea, article? Is your true motivation to spread joy, encourage, enlighten, teach? Or is it to brag? To shame someone? If your intention is pure, then the response will be, too.

3. Dispense compassion.
When people express opinions that differ from yours, take it as a chance to grow. Seek to understand over being understood. Be curious, not defensive. The only way to disarm another human being is by listening.

And when all else fails, try the one-two punch of vulnerability followed by good-heartedness. Works every time.

Want more stories like this delivered to your inbox? Sign up for the Oprah.com Spirit Newsletter!


Next Story