The Place Where Kindness Goes to Die

bridge

I’m skeptical of a Facebook post’s ability to enact real change in the world. Like, I don’t care how perfectly that Daily Beast article or that Jezebel article captures exactly what is wrong with the world (and, in rare cases, what should be done to fix it)—chances are anything that’s truly wrong with the world is going to take a lot more than a little mouse-clicking to fix.  Maybe that means I’m also skeptical of this article’s ability to enact real change. But please do read on.

I am also increasingly aware of the incredibly vitriolic tone and verbiage that most opinion articles employ these days. Today, it’s not enough to say that you think Donald Trump would make a bad president. You have to say that he’s an idiot well-versed in the art of buffoonery running a laughably terrible campaign and charting a course toward the end of human civilization as we know it. And he looks stupid.

Put these two phenomena together and what do you have: various factions of people each convinced that they are the sole proprietors of truth, trying to save the world from eighteen inches behind their flatscreen, slinging mud at anyone who might disagree.

Now, I’ve consumed my fair share of social media and, more recently, I’ve spent a decent amount of time reflecting on the effect of social media on me, my psyche, the way I think, and the way I feel.  And the conclusion that I’ve drawn is that the more time you spend on social media (Facebook and pop-culture news especially), the worse you feel about the world. If I spend enough time clicking through articles on Facebook, I just walk away feeling yucky. I feel like a little piece of my joy has been robbed.

There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is, we are asked to lend our eyes, ears, and heart to so many things: to a demographic, to a nation, to a child, to a gorilla. We believe that to be an active and compassionate global citizen is to be acutely aware of the myriad plights and struggles around the world, and then to feel something, and then to do something. And part of me wants to say that that’s a good goal, that’s something to aim for. I don’t want to be insular and ignorant and self-absorbed and nationalistic. But another part of me retorts: “Is it really even possible?” How many things can one person authentically care about? And what about all of the unknown tragedies that we necessarily neglect because they haven’t stolen a three-by-three inch plot on the center of our computer screens?

Just compare our society to three hundred years ago. The man or woman living three hundred years prior was asked to care about his or her family, and his or her neighbor, and, maybe, his or her community. But simply because of the limitations of technology and communication, he or she simply couldn’t be aware of what was happening even one hundred miles away. To be a responsible citizen in that day meant to have a heart for those plights and struggles within a five mile radius of one’s domicile. Now we are held accountable for everything within a five planet radius.

And then the second reason I feel yucky after consuming social media is because it makes me believe that there is enmity between everyone. If Donald Trump is an idiot, and Hillary Clinton is a liar, and a Muslim perpetrated an act of terror against the gay community, but the real evil people are the ones who project that singular event onto an entire religion, and if only a stupid person wouldn’t pass “common sense” gun laws, but the whole world is falling to pieces because of the commie liberals, well, what the heck? What are we to make of all of it? And I apologize for the cavalier tone I use about this because these are real people with real hurts but unfortunately, this best encapsulates the kind of dialogue that we all see on a regular basis.

So I put it all together and I came to the conclusion that these social media posts are actually doing far more harm than good. First and foremost, I bet you can count on one hand how many people’s minds are being changed. But then secondly, what we are really accomplishing at the end of the day is spreading the message that everyone is against everyone else. That righteous indignation is about the only thing that you should be feeling. That most of the world is angry.

And let me just pause for a second to say that the feeling of irony is sneaking up my spine as I write this. After all, I’m just a guy ranting on social media about why people shouldn’t be ranting on social media. I’m asking for a free pass.

So what do we do in response to all of this? Well, I’m asking two things of you, dear reader.

First, there is a verse in the Bible I would like you to read. It’s part of a letter that a man named Paul wrote to a church that he helped start. Paul writes,

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

The first thing I am asking of you is to make those three sentences your anthem for the next week. Read them each morning if you want. Memorize them, maybe, if you’re looking for extra credit. Whatever you think about the Bible, I think there’s something there that everyone can benefit from. And then, as you go about your week, actively make the choice to think about the true and right and lovely things and to innocently shield yourself from the terrible things. I’m not saying you should stick your head in the proverbial sand and live on proverbial cloud nine. I’m saying, after taking in everything in the world around you, make the choice to devote your brain energy to thinking about the good things.

And the second thing I would ask is to privilege the delivery of your message over the message itself. Let me put that more simply: try to be more about how you say things than what you are saying. If you can’t establish that your worldview is more correct than someone else’s without calling that person a name, perhaps you should think about how strongly you really believe your worldview. Believe in the power of truth.  Be the kind of person about whom it is said, “I may not agree with so-and-so, but I sure wouldn’t mind talking about things with them over an ice cold PBR.”

One of the things that consistently amazes me about Jesus is that the presentation of his message, and the lifestyle behind his message, always reinforces what he says. If Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is about humility and poverty of spirit and peace,” you can bet that he said that when he was unpopular, dirt-poor, and swordless. He wasn’t the kind of guy that delivers the message on giving money to the church from the comforts of his Giorgio Armani suit. When it comes time to share our truths, our words will only be compelling insofar as they are an extension of our lives.

To reiterate: read those above words that Paul wrote in the Bible and graft them into the fabric of your life over the next week. And then second, don’t worry so much about saying the right things as saying things the right way. Now, the fact of the matter is that we are so inundated with directives on how we should and shouldn’t be living our lives that there’s a slim chance that any of us will actually take these words to heart and try to enact them. But hey, I’m more than willing to be proven wrong! Just imagine if we spent as much time working on trying to change our character as we did on discerning what’s wrong with the world. We might not have as much to discern!

One comment

  1. Brad Riegg · · Reply

    So well put, Andy. I deleted my facebook account about 9 months ago and am happier and more at peace for it 🙂
    The one benefit of plumbing the depths of online social spaces is that you see and ‘hear’ many views that differ markedly from your own. As a result, my own views on several topics broadened, became more nuanced, and even changed at times. My big takeaway from learning from other people’s worldviews is that I, personally, may not actually know all that much, and I might even be dead wrong.
    When people comment on how hard it must be for me to have near and dear family members holding contrary views to my own, my most common reply has been to say, “Well, actually, I’ve learned a lot from him/her and from their polar-opposite viewpoint.” I just leave it there. 🙂
    Keep writing, Andy, you’re good at it.

    Like

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