For a living, I spend my day on the internet. It’s nice work, if you can get it, but the past couple of years, my time online has felt like playing in traffic. I know that only a relatively tiny number of folks with access to the world wide web have passionate opinions that need to be immediately expressed in the most hostile way possible, but like a reckless driver bouncing through lanes on I-40, it only takes one for every driver to feel wary. I’m not proud to admit this, but on occasion, I’ve been one of those problem drivers. I get tempted, and I chime in.

I’ve been a social media professional since 2007, and from my first days in that role, I’ve told my clients to remember that the people they communicate with online are just that, people. Not a market segment or a target audience, people. People to whom time and attention are precious, and should these clients be fortunate enough to earn some of that, deserve to be respected and appreciated.

I’ve leaned heavily on a book I read back in my college days, Martin Buber’s “I and Thou”, to get the point across. Buber’s message was super practical, but it still blew my mind. Essentially the point of the book is that we should see our interactions with other people as special, that we either treat someone in an “I and It” experience, or an “I and Thou” encounter. “I and It” is a perspective where you view others as an object, or experience to be processed, and analyzed — it’s dehumanizing. “I and Thou” moments respect that the person you’re engaging is an amazing creation worthy of our dearest attention and best expectations.

A few weeks ago, I was walking through this way of looking at social media management with a client, and it dawned on me just how much I needed this same perspective in the way that I handle myself online. It hasn’t been that long since I hung up my long brown braid and my itchy trigger finger to chime in on this, but it’s already helped me see the world as less of a dire place full of idi…, but I digress. I’m glad to do my part to make the information highway a safer place.