Our society places a lot of value on beauty and outward appearance. We think nothing of having work done (or of others having work done) to try and circumvent the effects of aging, and yet we are paying less and less attention to how we look on the inside. We are losing our ability to be civil and courteous, and nowhere is this truth more apparent than on Facebook and other social media sites. Over the past 6 months or so, I have been spending less time on Facebook and much of the time I’ve spent was, or is, hiding posts from people on ALL sides of varying issues (political or other). My tolerance for the intolerance shown by so many people on so many subjects has really worn thin. Before I go any further, let me just say that if you think I’m one of those people who just wants to stick their heads in the sand and not care, or are not willing to be engaged in thoughtful or even passionate discussion, I can assure you nothing is further from the truth. I choose to be very engaged, just not online.
These days, there is turmoil all around us. For one thing, the recent election cycle in our country has really taken a toll on most people and some people are very concerned – some for the same reasons and some for very different ones. Then we look around us at other divides caused by different belief systems (whether religious or not), and it seems we are in a constant state of disruption and disagreement. I have news for you: It has always been this way! We think our debates are deeper or more enlightened. We think the consequences are greater. Guess what? Every generation from the beginning of time has thought the same things. And yes, people have always fought (and disagreed) passionately over what they believed. From the beginning of time, there have always been people who were nasty and mean when trying to prove a point or argue a position, but it was different. They didn’t have access to instant communication with the entire world! We are bombarded with opinions and even mean-spirited lies about different positions or events. We have instant information when something happens, and sometimes that information is not always accurate. That’s part of what is wrong with instant news. Stories used to have time to develop before everyone heard something and reacted. We’ve seen many stories that turned out not to be as they were originally portrayed, but it was too late to stop the reactions or public opinion – even when the facts finally come out. On top of that, there is so much “fake” news that now exists for the sole purpose of stirring people up, or even worse, slandering or attacking them.
We live in a world where we can fire off our opinions immediately online, almost with impunity. We no longer have to resort to picking up the phone and calling someone to discuss something. We don’t have to wait until we are “around the water cooler” or face to face with someone before we throw out what we think. There is something very valuable about waiting before we speak or give an opinion. It gives us time to rethink HOW we want to give that opinion or state that comment. We have lost our civility, and it has only escalated the meanness and fueled the fires of anger and hate. Then we start choosing sides and refuse to listen to anyone who disagrees. It’s true in our government as well as our own lives. It needs to stop, but there are days when I fear we are too far gone.
Online we lose so much of what makes us human. We lose tone, facial expression and body language. We lose accountability, and most of all we lose the trait of being courteous. It’s easy to be rude when you don’t have to look people in the eye. It’s easy to tear people down (including those we claim to love and care about) from behind a computer or phone screen. There are no bounds to what people say or how far they will go to destroy someone who thinks, believes or lives differently. As I mentioned earlier, even if we do not actively engage in the arguing, it is affecting us. Even though we think we are ignoring it, we still feel its effects. Think of it this way: If you were in a room of people where the noise level and arguing (or fighting) was that loud, you would most likely leave even if you had an opinion that you wouldn’t mind discussing civilly. Most of us would condemn the behavior we were witnessing and refuse to be part of it, but social media is different. We’ve turned differing opinions into blood-sport. We don’t care if a news story is real or fake; we use it as a weapon to go after people who disagree with us. We’ve become more rude and intolerant as we hide behind our devices. And that goes for ALL people of ALL beliefs and opinions. We don’t walk away from people who are rude or aggressive anymore, instead we devolve into them ourselves. We forget that we are talking to human beings, and instead treat each other like animals. We are bullies. We are arrogant and insensitive asses. We devolve into everything we say we aren’t or that we preach against. We watch our friends tear each other down and just sit there. We think, because we don’t read or react to the garbage that rolls through our feeds, that it isn’t affecting us. But it is. It wears on us until we finally crack. I’ve fallen victim to it on several occasions myself. “It” being that almost uncontrollable urge to fight back or snipe back at someone who is being unreasonable or, God forbid, wrong! I’ve given into it on occasion, but it has almost always come with regret at some point.
The truth is, Facebook has become Face-less book. We see photos but not each other. We’ve become social voyeurs. Voyeurs see others as objects and have no problem victimizing them as a result. We, ourselves, have become less human and yet feel more entitled at the same time. Everyone screams about intolerance, yet everyone IS intolerant. Why? Because it’s easy. Because even though we might love the people in our feeds, we feel faceless to them too. The old saying that “character is what you do when no one is looking” is very true. People sometimes ask, “What would you do if you knew you wouldn’t get caught?” The answers are always interesting, but we are actually living in an age where we have created places where we think we can act like Neanderthals because we can’t be touched. And then we wonder why our relationships (personally or professionally) are suffering. We are so used to letting words fly out of our mouths without thought for others that we’ve started doing it in our real lives. It was bound to happen, and yet we never saw it coming. I see people who should be leaders acting like children, or even worse, teenagers whose only concern is being part of in the “in” club. I see people snickering in corners about fellow workers, family members, church members or friends because their minds are being trained to think it’s normal to behave that way. Just like we do on social media, we are watching it even if we aren’t actively participating. And just like on Facebook, it is affecting us whether we want to admit it or not.
So why does it matter? It matters because we are conditioning ourselves in ways that are harming us as individuals and as a society. Our “real” lives are in turmoil. We hear of tragedies almost daily where someone has attacked or even killed others. We hear of relationships of all kinds falling apart and everyone is more concerned with blaming each other and making sure they are the one who comes out “looking good.” We watch kids bully and be mean to each other but then whine and cry when someone does the same to them. We wring our hands and wonder why this selfish behavior has become so common, but we refuse to look in the mirror and admit we are part of the problem. Whether we are actually fighting or being a voyeur, we are part of the problem. We are more and more desensitized which makes us less and less self-aware. In our “real” lives, we are becoming quicker to point out others who are being rude, offensive or a host of other negative traits while not seeing our own.
I said earlier there are days I fear we are too far gone, but there IS hope! We actually can change, but we first have to want to change. There is a passage of scripture (James chapter 4) that affected me very deeply the first time I read it when I was a teenager. The entire chapter is great admonition as to how we should live, but it ends with this verse: “Therefore, to the one that knows to do good and doesn’t do it, to him it is sin.” We forget that not doing the things that are right and good are just as sinful in God’s eyes as doing all the wrong things. It’s time for us to stand up for what is good instead of defending our positions. It’s time for us to “think on these things” that are “true, honest, just, pure, lovely and of good report.” (Phil 4:8) We must remember that our hearts and the hearts of others are not protected behind a wall of perceived immunity. We are ALL humans. We are all imperfect and we all are tempted to get caught up in the drama with which we are constantly bombarded. Instead, let us hold each other close in heart. Let us truly love each other instead of tearing each other down. Let’s purge our social media feeds AND our lives of the things that continually remind us of how we are different we are and start looking at how we are all the same. Yes, it’s time for a “face”lift of a different kind, so I will leave you with this: “Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)