One click and you’re history ~ how social media makes us more isolated and intolerant.
You know the drill.
Someone has hurt you. These days it’s just as likely to be someone on a social media network as it is to be someone in real life whom you see face to face. There’s a reason for this.
I love social media. There’s a better chance of finding your tribe than simple geography allows. There’s quite simply MILLIONS of people out there. You can refine your basic parameters and hey presto, instant social circle.
Except for one thing. Most of them will be hundreds if not thousands of miles away. You see them only by the words they write. Or by the statuses they post on Facebook. Or by their blogs. A few you progress to chatting with on messaging facilities. Even fewer, on Skype. Some you talk to on the phone. A very small number you end up meeting face to face. My goodness, but this is a wonderful feeling. I have had coffee with some chums, stayed with a few others, chinked glasses in cocktail bars with one or two, given city tours to others. It’s a good feeling.
But there is a downside. People are not cardboard cut-outs, acting out my fantasies (steady, the Buffs!) but real people with lives, thoughts, feelings of their own. They think, live and believe things that are quite different to the way I do. Sometimes I see what friends post on Facebook and Twitter and I recoil in shock. Truly. In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting atrocity, I saw things that made me shake. People I believe to be decent, good folks airing their views on gun ownership that were quite at odds with my own beliefs about guns. I saw fights break out over it.
Every time something powerful happens, I see the same thing. People fighting over their right to believe what they do, whether it’s in a political stance, a religious one or over music. It rapidly gets nasty, and what usually follows is a blazing row followed by a silence. The silence is usually because one or other of the parties involved has deleted or blocked the other.
In an instant, years of internet friendship is gone. Every Christmas present posted, every jovial exchange, every key moment shared in their mutual lives, all lost.
Don’t agree with my political stance? Deleted!
Dislike my religious faith? Unfollowed!
Hate my liking for cats and of posting pictures of kittens? Unfriended!
Object to sharing of youtube links? Blocked!
It’s too easy.
Imagine the person you have taken umbrage at is standing in front of you, helpless. You have a gun. You can put it to their head and without fear of consequence, you can pull the trigger, and that will be it. Would you do it? No, of course you wouldn’t. But in many cases, that’s what’s really in the minds of people when they remove another from their virtual life. Getting rid of a problem permanently and without mess or apparent consequence.
It diminishes all of us. It dismisses the very real value of learning to get on with people we don’t agree with all the time. It stops us learning to live and let live.
Each time a person cuts out someone they find they’re come to loggerheads with, something happens they don’t see. They lose the mirror others hold up to us and to our own behaviour and attitudes. We need others to disagree with us sometimes, because it helps us reassess our core values and beliefs. It stops us feeling as if we are paragons. Believe me, I hate anyone criticising me, having a pop at me for something. But like anyone else I need it. I need to see the other side of a story, the side I don’t want to see because it makes me uncomfortable and angry.
Someone had me hovering over the unfriend button because they were posting some pretty disturbing things about abortion, but I stopped. I spent time thinking about something that upsets me and it was good for me to do that. It reminded me of why I feel what I do about that subject but it also taught me that people always have reasons for their feelings. I’d dug a little deeper, just by reading their posts and comments, to see that there had been severe suffering that had brought them to this viewpoint. I felt compassion and I was able to step back and disagree, but allow him to hold his view as a valid one. That’s the key, you see:
You are not me and I am not you. You have been places I have not been and never will. I have done and seen things you have not. You have reasons for your beliefs and so do I. I may not agree with them but I would defend your right to hold them.
But the more a person hacks away at those who don’t quite fit their world view, the smaller their world becomes. Each time a layer of others is pruned away, the remainder become more and more closely scutinised for any signs of heresy.
I’d like to end by sharing some words by Anthony de Mello, from his book, The Song of the Bird:
The Old Woman’s Religion
A very religious-minded old woman was dissatisfied with all existing religions, so she founded one of her own.
One day a reporter who genuinely wanted to understand her point of view, said to her, “Do you really believe, as people say you do, that no one will go to heaven except you and your housemaid Mary?”
The old woman pondered the question and then replied, “Well, I’m not so sure of Mary.”