We can wail about human flaws and foibles all we want – you know, “People are stupid.” Or, “How can people be so horrible to one another?” Or, “OMG, when will humans be extinct, once and for all, and save the planet?” But personally, I am a human and I don’t want us to be extinct. I want us to figure out how to protect our planet together, how to be good to one another, and how to think – not how to be Einstein-brilliant all the time, but how not to be stupid most of it.
Will that happen in my lifetime? This lifetime? I don’t know. I’m not holding my breath.
But chatting with a friend, Willard Campbell, this morning, on Facebook did lead to an interesting conversation and thoughts on what it means to be human. It started out with this:
My first thoughts were about the concept of forgiveness and redemption, and how pointless it is to apologize or try to be better if others are intent on not accepting an apology, no matter how sincere, or if they are unwilling to believe it’s possible for a person to change and be better. If there’s no hope of redemption, there’s little point in trying.
But it seems that this idea of perception and reintroduction is also part of our day-to-day experience on social media, as well. I wrote, “Think of how this plays out on Facebook. You know someone at a fixed point in time. You remember them a particular way. Maybe you don’t want to friend the 6th grade bully who tormented you on the soccer field; or maybe, in growing and changing, yourself, you realize that the odds of them being that same bully are slim, and you’re curious. You welcome them into your circle of online friends, even if you’re not sure you want to have lunch or a coffee with them. And maybe they have turned out to be wonderful people. The opposite can happen, too. You know someone from the past who was totally awesome. Life’s since turned them bitter, cynical, and all they want to share is racist pro-Nazi memes on Twitter, now, but you didn’t check that out and you happily accepted their Facebook friend request.” I thought for a bit and added, “But today – bottom line – they are who they have become.” We should take people for who they are – or, as the first post says, how they “reintroduce themselves, based on who they are today.” My first thought was a more positive one – about redemption. But my last thought included the people who’ve allowed themselves to turn bitter, cynical, and mean.
Willard latched onto the fact that I’d dragged social media into it. “Facebook does have the capacity to force us into time warps and interpersonal overload.”
It’s a widely-shared sentiment, echoed in the many posts declaring that friends are taking a break from the Internet, or deactivating their Facebook accounts, focusing more on the here and now and their face to face relationships. All laudable goals, assuming they do what they claim they will.
Most will be back, sooner than later. Because here’s the sort of thing that happens when we try to break up with the reality of modern life: “I’m still here: back online after a year without the internet” by Paul Miller. I have a deep-rooted suspicion most of us would find plenty of other ways to “waste time,” if that’s what we feel we’re doing there. Some people, though, like my daughter, have more specific plans in deactivating their social media accounts. Hers are to do well in grad school and focus on that, work, and offline activities until she has accomplished a very definite set of objectives. She’s not missing Facebook all that much, because rather than running from a vague sense of ennui and dissatisfaction and blaming Facebook for all her woes, she’s running towards a concrete goal and Facebook wasn’t serving her well.
So I asked Willard, “Are we really being ‘forced’?” We’re loving every minute of it. Every pointless argument “won” makes us feel we’ve accomplished something, without ever having to leave our chairs. Every little exchange with our friends makes us feel good – we don’t necessarily want to hang out with the next door neighbors over the back fence, and now our back yard and that fence are as long and windy and full of neighbors of our choosing as we let it be.
“Only until you realize it,” said Willard.
Facebook-as-scapegoat aside, I think we’re more disillusioned in our fellow humans than anything. Through the Internet, over the past twenty-two years or so, we’ve seen a glimpse of the best and worst humanity has to offer, in ways that would have been difficult, slow, and expensive fifty years ago. Things that would once have involved reading a book or a newspaper, digesting information slowly over a few days, now come at us in videos and podcasts and 24/7 news cycles. We get to know people who live in India, China, Russia, and places we might not even have been allowed to travel to just decades ago. We find out just how much human beings really have in common, and we’re not always thrilled by that. (My mother used to tell me that the only things I did that made her really angry were the ones she knew I came by naturally – that she saw as being her fault, or related to some impulse she knew that she shared and probably passed on to me genetically or by example. In short, she was angry because she blamed herself or because it was like looking at herself in a mirror, and she wasn’t just angry with me, but with herself as well.) We need to be more compassionate, kinder to ourselves, as well as to others.
“There is no cure-all for anything,” I wrote back. “If Facebook makes you more unhappy than happy, close your account. It’s simple. If it makes you more happy than unhappy, learn to ignore most of the BS and focus on the positive aspects, same as with life itself. You are a man; you are not a leaf blowing in the wind. Yes, external manipulations and propaganda and negative people surround us, and this has always been true of human civilization. There was never any idyllic moment in human history when people were all wonderful and life was perfect. Focus on what you can control and what you can influence, and let go of that which frustrates you without giving you some benefit. (But be honest – most of us do love a good, righteous rant from time to time, and I think conflict serves to keep things interesting – as a writer, I cannot imagine a novel without conflict, but I also know most readers wouldn’t enjoy major conflict without a satisfying resolution of it, so beware the “crazymakers” that have no resolution and are stuck in an endless loop of wallowing.)”
Sometimes, I think I do give good advice. Now, if only I can follow it. 🙂 But I’m not leaving.
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