Social Media Perplexity

I open the Facebook app on my phone. Then, in just a flash, every one of my “friends’” statuses are right there. Staring me in the face. Invading my space. In seconds, I can scroll through and know that so-and-so had a really crappy day. That someone else is contemplating what to make for dinner, which cell phone company won’t screw them, or how to get their lazy kids to do their chores. There’s a rant (or twenty) about politics, the rude guy in the checkout line, or the husband that “just doesn’t get me.” There’s reposts of editorials, scantily-clad and mouthy celebrities, “news” articles spewing exaggerated thoughts and lopsided “expert” opinions as if the safety and peace of my life and the whole world depend upon them.

Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes, I love Facebook. Like the time that I reconnected with my best friend from when we were four years old. I like our private family groups where reunions and special events are easily planned and photos and kudos are shared. I like the support groups I belong to where prayers and supportive comments are offered during difficult times, concerns are safe to share and questions are quickly answered. I enjoy when my friends share fun and yummy recipes or an enriching mom-power blog post. I love it when I see posts in my feed from family members and close friends sharing happy, funny moments and awesome things about their lives and loved ones. And when I get to hear about family milestones, see pictures of sweet little newborns, read about a life lived well at a passing, or about someone’s inspiring journey through life’s struggle. I like it for that. I like it when it uplifts, makes me smile, and makes my life better.

But it’s perplexing to me–the power these opinions and “you shoulds” have over our minds. Well, maybe it’s just my mind. This food is bad, that religion is bad, our country is bad, those people are bad. It just goes on and on…. Did you know you can find any side of any argument or issue on the internet? Just decide where you stand you’ll be able to find someone “important” that stands beside you. And if you can’t decide where you stand, your “friends” will be happy to lend you their opinions….

There was a movie my mom and I were planning to see together. In fact, we had planned it after seeing the trailer in the theater several months before. It was a sweet love story of a spunky girl changing the life and heart of a gloomy man who has met with sudden tragedy. Sounded perfect. We were both looking forward to our “girl time” and this fun chick flick. A few days before our movie date, someone I know and respect posted on their Facebook timeline an article that reported how immoral and horrible this particular movie was. It claimed that any decent person who values life in general should boycott it and join in the fight against such an atrocity, and that it was Hollywood’s attempt at romanticizing suicide as the only resolution for those who become disabled. …And I fell for it. I believed every word. I was appalled that I would even consider supporting such an awful thing. I began rethinking my decision to see this horrible movie, and considered calling off the movie date altogether. I mean, if this person I admire was on board, I should be too. Right? But then I knew how much Mom and I needed our afternoon out together, and realized that I was a smart girl and could decide on my own how atrocious and immoral this movie was. It was, after all, just a movie. Entertainment. I suppose there could be some underlying social statement being made by the writers or producers, but that’s their business, and mine only if I decide it matters to me. We saw the movie. We both loved it. In retrospect, I could see how someone might think there was a political agenda attached (and maybe there was), but it was a fun story with just enough laughter and tears to make it perfect. And I didn’t care about someone else’s opinion or agenda. I learned (once again) that I could no longer take the things I read on the Internet at face value. I know that sounds stupid. You’re probably wondering why I ever believe any of it. I guess I’m just gullible, trusting. Media used to give us news, report true facts, not the slanted opinions and “expert” generated editorials we have now that masquerade as news. I guess I’m just not used to it yet. I haven’t quite been hardened by the cynicism and negativity of the world around me yet.

Something else I have a hard time with lately is all that negativity right in my face. All the posts and comments that make people wonder whether their “friends” are going to “unfriend” them for posting their thoughts and opinions. People needing to “taking a break” because they can’t “stand the ugliness” anymore. All the anger. All the hurt. All the hate. If you don’t like what someone posts, you really don’t have to read it. If you don’t like what they think, it’s really okay. You are allowed your own opinions. It IS A FREE COUNTRY. If you don’t like what they said, you have the OPTION of NOT READING IT anymore.  And you ALWAYS have the OPTION of NOT COMMENTING. In fact, that’s probably the best option on Facebook these days. In 3rd grade, the teacher I work with tells the kids almost daily, “Just because you have a thought, doesn’t mean you get to say it.” Trouble is, people hide behind their screens and post whatever they’re thinking, without actually thinking. They post things they’d never say out loud. Things that would make them cringe if they had to look that person in the eye to say it. Things that would cut deep and hurt for a long time if someone said that to them….

The golden rule is still a good rule and I think people need to remember it when they’re browsing through the social media mayhem. In Disney’s movie, Bambi, by way of reprimand, Thumper’s mama asks him about what she’s taught him. Slightly embarrassed, he drawls, “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all!” There’s another quote I’ve heard many different ways that I really love and use as my personal yardstick. (I can’t for the life of me find the real author of it though. Different versions have been attributed to The Rotary, Quakers, Indian spiritual leader Sai Baba, Budha, and even Eleanor Roosevelt.) Its message is this: “Before you speak, ask yourself: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” Coupled with “do unto others”, and the wisdom of Thumper’s mama, it’s a good way to measure your words before you hit that “post” button.  Please do me (and all of your social media friends) a favor. Think before you post. And don’t be offended just because someone thinks differently than you do. Engaging with all these unique and incredible people is supposed to be fun and rewarding. The world is too harsh and difficult. There are too many people telling us what to believe, how to feel, and darkening our hearts. I thought about taking a break from Facebook too, but I think instead this is a challenge I’m going to take very seriously this year. Use social media posting power as a source for inspiration and goodness. Share Joy. Light. Love.

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