The early days of social media were fun. Connecting with old friends we hadn’t been in contact with for years, seeing what had become of people since they had left school – who they had married, what they were doing for a living, etc. It was fun. Those early days were also a time when social media was a way to be and stay connected. All of a sudden I could keep up with that my old friend was doing in Sydney, Australia without having to make an expensive phone call or write a letter or email. It was just there. My eyes could be in the worlds of my friends just a little, just enough to stay in touch and to be mindful and thankful for the fabulous network of friends and family I have in my life
It was fun.
It was simple.
It was reasonably wholesome.
But it’s just not any more.
As I scrolled through one of my social media feeds recently, I stumbled upon a thread of chatter that had been started when one friend shared a piece of news and opined against it. The concept of the post itself was fair enough – a simple case of my friend having learned of an action being taken, being in disagreement with the action, and expressing it on social media. What followed was a long thread of comments, some in support of my friend’s position and some not. Most were polite as you might hope for, but one was just downright nasty and condescending. This individual had taken the polar opposite view of the piece of news, and then proceeded to speak down as if the original poster was brand new to the world with no measure of understanding as to how things ought to be, and no ability to think critically for themselves.
Social media used to be fun.
Social media used to be simple.
Social media used to be reasonably wholesome.
More recently I see it being nothing more than a hub for virtue signaling from both sides of almost any debate in which those who offer comment do so with almost no sense of care or respect for the relationship by which they are connected to the one they are debating with in the first place.
And it is profoundly problematic because pointing the finger in a few sentences of verbiage on social media does little or nothing to ever change the mind or heart of another, which I assume is the bottom line mission of any keyboard warrior regardless of the cause they are championing.
I have been guilty of this myself. Make no mistake. I love nothing more than a good debate over a social issue. I have opinions on many matters and if I find an issue that I don’t have an opinion on, I will be very quick to rustle one up for you. Over the years I have entered into these social media interactions with aplomb only to find that they usually don’t result in any change and ultimately serve only to strengthen the personal positions of those I engaged in debate with. Why might this be? Probably because such conversations are more about our over-eagerness to speak/shout/roar at the other so to be heard and understood rather than to listen to the other so as to understand.
Social media invites us to speak as much and as loudly as we want, but it really doesn’t invite us to listen much at all.
None of this is to say that social media is singularly a great menace. No. The reason I keep my social media accounts is because the fun, simplicity, and wholesomeness of those early days is still there. I live 4000 miles from home – being connected to friends and family there is so very important to me. Social media is not a menace in and of itself, but it becomes so when we, the users, fail to take a listening posture with one another. If we continue to fail to do this then the relationships that form the very basis of our social media networks are placed at risk as we each encamp ourselves on one side or another of a matter and refuse to budge. Doing this only makes an enemy of the other and it results in zero progress.
Respectfully listening with view to learning and understanding how another individual experiences and sees the world is the most important skill we can recover in these days. It is this kind of listening that opens the door to our empathy, and it is our empathy, the ability to understand the feelings of the other, that may very well make us willing to seek change for the common good of one another – even if that change may bring with it some difficulty and struggle (what change doesn’t?) It starts with listening, and sadly I don’t think we can recover good and effective listening by communicating primarily on our social media timelines and threads. The only way we can recover the art of listening is by doing the hard work of making time and sitting with our friends, our family, and others in conversations in which we both have covenanted to listen to one another, to validate the experience of the other as genuine and to be learned from, and to find our way forward together.
Whether it is a social issue…
a religious or theological matter…
a family situation…
dare I say it – a political one…
…until we can recover the art of humble listening, I fear we are doomed to continue duping ourselves by living into the notion that our shouting loudly at others from our keyboards will change them and/or the world around us. And yes, I am aware that by writing this piece and posting it on the internet and sharing it on my social media feeds I am indeed engaging in a little bit of shouting loudly from my keyboard…oh the irony!
The individual who spoke without listening in the example I cited above probably closed the door to ever being listened to or understood on this matter by the original poster. The door, most likely, has probably been firmly closed and the relationship likely diminished as a result – all because shouting loudly was valued over listening humbly.
If this is who we have become or are becoming, then God help us.