I joined Facebook in January 2009. Since I was living overseas, it seemed like an ideal way to keep up with events back in the States. I could follow everyone I loved best: see pictures of the first day of school of my nieces and nephews, reconnect with people from high school and college (and elementary school for that matter!), celebrate births and weddings and the other special occasions of friends and family even though I was on the other side of the Pacific Ocean from many of them. Checking Facebook became something to look forward to. I enjoyed adding friends to my circle, all the photos, the ‘throw-back Thursday’ reminisces, the hilarious observations and status updates, and felt more connected to those near and far.
Somewhere along the way, though, the wheels fell off this happy, joy-filled train as my newsfeed devolved into a series of political rants denouncing whoever was running for whatever office, theological arguments debating the equivalent of how many angels can dance on a pinhead, and shame-fests where every choice every person has ever made—whether one knew that person and their circumstances or not—was pulled out, examined, and criticised using illogical arguments, red herrings, and ad hominem attacks. Even my usual positive outlook was severely challenged, and I found my rose-coloured glasses knocked sideways more than once.
Facebook became a train wreck. I got so weary of it all that I deleted the app from my phone, and I still wince every time I venture into the fray from my laptop. If it weren’t for the caboose of the occasional grumpy cat, cute puppy, or rainbow unicorn meme, I’d be tempted to jump ship altogether. See? My vision is so skewed, I’ve been reduced to mixing metaphors and counting on pets and mythological creatures to cheer me up!
How did this happen? When did people get so mean-spirited, petty, and easily offended? When did having a different opinion result in someone loudly in all caps denouncing you for a crack-pot, blankety-blank-blank fool or quietly ‘unfriending’ you?
I guess there are all kinds of reasons, but that’s not the focus of this post.
What I’d rather ask is what can I do about it?
Because, if I’m honest, I realise I can’t change anyone except myself.
And if I’m really honest, I’ll admit that even though I might not type some of the rubbish floating around on Facebook, I’ve certainly thought a lot of it.
Yes. That’s right.
I’ve scrolled past candidates espousing their ideology or celebrities with an opinion and thought: loser, loser, major loser.
I’ve perused doctrinal disputes and dismissed any and all participants as being ignorant and uniformed.
I’ve read about tragic accidents and thought, well, if that were me, I certainly never would have…I can’t believe they didn’t figure out how to…honestly, what on earth did they think was going to happen if they…
And even though I haven’t said it or typed it doesn’t mean I’m not guilty of perpetuating the same type of hate that’s clogging up the Internet. This scornful tendency in myself is just as damning and has a nasty habit of leaking out.
Ugh. I don’t like this one bit.
Something needed to change. So me and my heart sat down and had a wee bit of a chat. And we decided there were a few key points we needed to pursue if we wanted things to be different.
Key one, I’ve gotta do the right thing.
The honest thing. The just thing. The kind thing. We’ve all heard the adage ‘do unto others as you would have them do to you.’ It’s been around for a while and there’s a good reason for it. When we get our eyes off ourselves and consider everyone else, the effect can be immediate.
I was at the grocery store the other day watching one of the guys working in the produce department who had asked me earlier how my day was going. We’d talked for a few moments, and now he was chatting with an elderly woman while he stocked summer sweet corn. She’d seemed a little sad when she came in the store but was beaming as she turned away from their conversation. Another tired-looking customer asked this young man where an item was, and he cheerfully pointed out the aisle, telling the customer to have a great day and asking if there was anything else he could help with. The customer immediately perked up, thanked him and returned the sentiment.
In less than five minutes, this young man interacted with three people and made all our days better simply with his smile and some kind words.
The second key is closely related to the first: attitude is everything.
The guy in the produce department is paid to fill shelves with fruits and veges and assist customers. He’s probably been instructed to be polite, but his attitude went above and beyond his job description. When I have a positive, upbeat attitude, when I’m walking around with a smile on my face and I’m looking for the good and the beautiful in people, I usually find it.
I watched a snippet of the presidential debates and the audience question I loved the most was when one man asked Trump and Clinton to describe what they admired about the other person. For a brief moment, the whole atmosphere shifted.
We’re all image-bearers of our Creator, human beings with complex emotions, hurts and disappointments, dreams and ambitions. A bad attitude only sees the negative. I’m tired of walking that way. I’m through sniffing out the bad and the rotten, I want to dig for the gold in people, call it out in them, and see them rise to be who they truly are. When we extend mercy to people, we become the kind of person others trust and want to hang out with.
Finally, the last key is also connected to the others: I need to be realistic about my own short-comings.
Nobody, nobody has it all together. Why do we pretend that we do? I know when I walk around with a holier-than-thou opinion, all it does is blunt my sensitivity and amp up my offensibility—okay, that last one isn’t a real word. What I mean is, when I forget how many times I’ve blown it, I get really offended when others let me down, I don’t let things go, and I hold people to a higher standard than I hold myself. Who wants to live like that?
But when I’m quick to forgive, quick to not assume everyone has the worst of motives while I have the best, well, then I’m in a better position to act out key one and two instead of jumping to conclusions.
As I wrote these keys down, I found out they match perfectly with one of my favourite verses from Micah 6:8.
O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.
I firmly believe that implementing these keys in my life will change me first, but will eventually spill over into the world if enough of us do the same.
Who’s with me?