I have been taking the weekends off from Facebook, and something strange has been happening on Monday morning. Feeling like Rip Van Winkle, I open up Facebook and review the news from the weekend. I catch myself wondering what people are angry about this week.
It’s strange to feel so detached from the passionate debates of the past two days.
Of course there are many things that we can legitimately become angry about. The world is rife with injustice. I’m not doubting these things or suggesting that we embrace complacency.
Rather, I’ve been noticing that the daily use of Facebook can lead my mind into a kind of ongoing angst and anger, if not a sense of anxiety. In light of the injustices and problems in our world, I’m concerned that despite the benefits of awareness that comes through Facebook, it’s also creating a mindset of anger and anxiety that leaves me unable to thoughtfully engage the problems of our world in a constructive manner, let alone the people who disagree with my perspective.
I will never doubt that Facebook has been a great tool for sharing worthwhile causes and events. Heck, even the much-derided ALS Ice Bucket Challenge led to major research innovations and potential breakthroughs. I follow causes such as the Preemptive Love Coalition primarily through their Facebook page. Social media can do more than raise awareness for a cause—it can help us take organized action.
However, social media isn’t as great for fostering empathy, hosting complex, nuanced conversations, or creating a mindset that can take measured steps toward solutions. It’s so very easy to assume the worst about others, to lament what “those idiots” think, and to demonize people who post smug memes mocking what I hold dear. More to the point, I’m sure I’ve done all of these things to others plenty of times as well.
I am committed to being constructive, redemptive, and action-oriented within my resources. I don’t want to go through my life critiquing and criticizing others without ever getting involved in a cause. In fact, for many years I’d been involved in prison ministry, and I immediately noticed that I wrote with far more snark and divisiveness online compared to the way I reached out to the men in prison. I wanted my in-person words to guide my online words.
This brings me back to the weekend breaks I’ve been taking from Facebook (and all other social media channels). I don’t know how long I’ll keep this up, but I feel the acute need to know what I am like without any social media interactions. I need to feel the gnawing desire to check in and to ask what’s driving that and whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. The more I’m driven to check in, the more I need to examine that drive and where it’s coming from.
I need solitude each day, and a big part of creating that space means learning to cut myself off from distractions and time wasting activities that eat up precious blocks of five, ten, or fifteen minutes.
I need solitude in order to hear the still, small voice of God.
I need solitude in order to recognize when my mind is spinning off track into anger, fear, and frustration.
Rage can become a lifestyle, a habit that we cultivate by constantly feeding it tidbits of injustice and fear from our circles and from the news cycle. In fact, news outlets and social media sites have every incentive in the world to push outrageous events into our faces. That isn’t to say there aren’t journalists doing good and essential work. Rather, the people running these companies need to attract viewers in order to maximize profits, and rage works.
The worst part about today’s outrage culture is that we need solitude in order to actually address it, but we’ll no doubt hear guilt trips that we’re putting our heads in the sand or acting irresponsibly if we disconnect for an extended period of time. The pursuit of an actual solution appears to be just another part of the problem.
Activists and saints surely figured out ways to address injustice before social media, and I trust that a bit more mindfulness and consideration about the way forward will help us take better steps forward together.
I care deeply about the injustice that America has inflicted on the Middle East (see the Preemptive Love Coalition for more ways you can help the most desperate refugees today). I think often about our criminal justice system, and I still associate names and faces with sentencing laws and parole policies. I very much want to stay engaged. I want to feel the anger of the injustices people continue to suffer. I can use Facebook to raise awareness about these issues, but I need something more than rage.
I need the focus and direction that comes from silence and contemplative prayer.
I need a still small voice to speak in the midst of the storm, or I’ll most likely become just another voice in the storm.