Hashtags aren't conversations; memes aren't activism.
"We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."
The above quote appeared in a meme in my Facebook feed as a passive aggressive way to suggest that anyone who wasn't speaking out on social media about the recent Dallas tragedies is either a part of the problem or doesn't care.
I don't think Elie Wiesel was referring to social media in his Nobel acceptance speech, especially since it didn't exist in 1986. I saw him speak in NYC in the 1980s, read the book Night in grade school and have a great deal of respect for him.
But to back up a minute, last month I deactivated my Facebook account for two weeks to detox from the vitriol, snark and angrier than thou sanctimony that was a common theme in my Facebook feed. As a friend of mine confided in me as to why he completely went nuclear and permanently deleted his account: "Facebook isn't good for my brain."
Over the past few years I watched my Facebook transform, generally speaking and certainly not applicable to everyone on my friends list, from a place to share personal photos, music videos and interesting links to a platform for "engaging" in a battle of witless snark, self-righteous rage and a mindless stream of memes in place of honest, respectful dialogue.
Sometimes I'd bite the bait and it was never productive.
I decided to try to ignore it and simply post positive, personal things, but that was difficult. There were men in my feed who shamed women who wouldn't vote for Hillary Clinton by labeling them as "antifeminist," anti-women and setting the country back because of it (having nothing to do with Trump, this was when Bernie was still in the running).
Other friends expected their friends to like and share the posts of whatever their cause was, or buy their daughter's multi-level marketing jewelry, essential oils, etc.
Some people would post endless images of abused animals as if simply posting them without taking constructive action and depressing people was helping the cause. (I'm a regular donor to my local animal shelters and volunteered full time for a summer at the ASPCA during college).
There's more to it but I knew I had to take a break. Ignoring things began to become an energy drain because really I couldn't. I knew I could simply hide people from my feed without unfriending them, but then they might post something like their cat died and I'd miss it, and then they'd think I didn't care. I was putting too much mental energy into the whole thing and for what? Was there any real connection and meaningful dialog happening for me on Facebook? Would I lose touch with people if I went off the social media grid and relied on phone calls to connect?
Those two weeks were wonderful! I spent more time paying attention to the here and now and my immediate surroundings. I revisited neglected hobbies and books. I smiled more. I felt centered and relaxed. I wondered if I needed new friends.
So why didn't I do a full delete after that point? I wanted to try a new approach. I wasn't ready to call it splitsville.
My new tactic after my two week detox was to unfollow most everyone in my feed except for those who were using Facebook in the old-school way: basically posting pics of their dinner, gardens and cats. I would let go of the worry of a Facebook friend thinking ill of me if I missed an important update. The price to stay "connected" was too high. Ultimately the people who I consider "real" friends, truly we shouldn't need Facebook to stay connected.
It seemed to be working for me! My feed was relatively quiet! I still was able to follow local news stories and engage with "liked" businesses and organizations. A bit off topic, but a couple of years ago I was driving on a main drag and saw a stream of business signs asking (begging) people to "like" them on Facebook, as if they had succumbed to a juvenile popularity contest.
As for what I post, other than occasional pics of my dinner and Tiny Tim, I maintained my resolve to not post anything outside of that. I have a blog for a reason: I know that not everyone cares about retro dieting, for example, so I post it here. I never push it on anyone.
Those of you who follow my blog and read my first book know that I am not afraid of controversy, but that doesn't mean I court or enjoy it. I am passionate about many causes with which I am active in my local community and trying to be a part of positive changes. There are topics like my sobriety and weight loss that I share with the world because I believe I can be a part of the solution despite the inevitable misunderstandings and judgements sometimes made about me. I have a list of causes I have yet to address but I hope to get to them soon.
The problem is that I have more causes than energy and time. I can't address them all and my "Type A" personality has negatively affected my health. I have been addressing that by taking more time to just "be" and to unplug from technology.
So back to Facebook. The honeymoon period with my rekindled "let's keep this light this time" romance with Facebook ended when the seemingly universal passive aggressive blanket assumption that anyone who does not make a formal statement on social media condemning tragic current events, Elie Wiesel's quote applies to them.
Somehow Facebook and social media in general seems to have developed an over-reliance on memes, hashtags, snark and rage in place of people coming together, all of us broken in our own ways, no better than anyone else, to connect online and have awkward but authentic conversations. We seem more disconnected from each other than ever, and most importantly, disconnected from ourselves.
For two weeks I didn't check my phone while waiting in line at the grocery store, or while waiting for an estate sale to open, or sitting in my sunroom. I had forgotten how much I missed being truly present in the moment, and how nourishing it was! I resolved to keep that going.
Anyway, I apologize for this tl;dr post. I'll close with another tl;dr conclusion (sorry):
I know, like, what the heck? I took that pic yesterday while driving back from a walk. A man dressed as a monk carrying a large wooden cross on his back was walking along the road. What was that all about? Clearly he has a literal "cross to bear." But all of us do. Many many crosses. Racism may affect you personally. Maybe you are a cop or your have a family member who is. Perhaps you are struggling with an addiction, active or recovering from it one day at a time, depression, anxiety, or serious mental illness. Anti-Semitic sentiments are still alive and I shudder at some of the things I've read online. Locally a swastika was spray painted on someone's driveway. Domestic violence, childhood sexual abuse (of which I am a victim), environmental disasters, genocide, the list goes on!
Imagine the man above trying to literally juggle multiple giant crosses in the air. He wouldn't be able to keep up. No one can. He'd collapse under the weight.
Being enraged all the time and posting about it isn't a workable solution. Being "quiet" and taking time to recharge and be effective with the things you can change seems to be the way to go!
I can't control what people think about me, my "silence" or the things I have communicated. A cross I will no longer bear, however, is the idea that I have to parade these crosses on social media to prove that I know they exist and am struggling with the solutions, too.