Is it just me or is social media amplifying our anger and frustration?
Only recently I was looking at a thread on Facebook and the comments on it entirely depressed me. It seems to me that Christians are great at dressing each other down on social media.
So here’s the scenario. Someone has taken a photo of a church sign with questionable theology. As I read through comment after comment I started to get a little frustrated — even angry — at the fact that people were slinging so many barbs from their keyboards. It had me thinking, what does this vitriol actually achieve?
I don’t know about you, but I read comment after comment on such threads and wonder, how are we being salt and light online? What sets us apart? Is it possible to be different, caring, even empathetic on social media? Isn’t this a chance to have dialogue that matters rather than exchanging vitriol and sarcasm?
And even worse, what if someone who wasn’t a Christian stumbled on such a thread (and this would be highly likely as on Facebook we have a broad circle of friends)? What would they think of Christians throwing rocks at one another?
This is the downside of social media for me and why I occasionally, for my peace of mind, just need to turn off my phone and not look at Facebook. And read. But not the newspaper, because that just contains endless stories about political agendas, poor treatment of refugees and asylum seekers and climate change denial that seems to be putting large sections of the community at odds with one another.
There is currently so much to be upset and angry about as a citizen of the world and I have to ask myself — If I live in a perpetual state of outrage at the world everyone wins but me.
There’s the old saying “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” So I’m wondering if I ignore social media for a while, would that be so bad? It may even be good for me.
I mean, social media won’t go away, but taking some time off and not getting cranky every time I see a Trump post or an Australian politician talk about Manus Island or Nauru and the inhuman treatment of refugees is a good thing, right?
Now, I am just as guilty of posting anti-Trump stories and reposting Melissa Macarthy’s stingingly accurate satire of Trump-aide Sean Spicer as the next person. But is this as Shakespeare says ultimately “much ado about nothing?”.
More action less anger
Ironically, some ways to put social media outrage in its place came from social media itself, where I discovered former creator of Huffington Post and now CEO of Thrive Global Ariana Huffington and her advice about how to put your outrage in the right place. Now I am not sure about Ariana’s faith, but the fact that she mentions Martin Luther King Jr. and Albert Schweitzer made me read on and I hope you find it useful too.
Thrive Global’s mission is to end the stress and burnout epidemic by offering companies and individuals sustainable solutions to enhance both well-being and performance. It is a global hub for the conversation about well-being and performance, with an emphasis on action and featuring original, expert, and community content.*
So here are Ariana’s tips for maintaining balance and rather than feeling out of control, angry, powerless and stressed, how to come a point of equilibrium and wellbeing in an age of constant bombardment of information we find makes us angry:
- As they say on airplanes, put your own oxygen mask on first. Take care of yourself so you can take care of others.
- Take action. Once you’ve taken care of step one, find ways of putting how you feel into action.
- Remember that humour has always been a great way to find light in dark times. So seek out ways to laugh.
- Get creative — write, paint or take a course that inspires a passion.
- Find your own Thrive Tribe — reach out to people, seek out encouragement and inspiration from friends and be there for those who need the same, including those most vulnerable to political decisions.
- Don’t limit your reading to social media — read the Greats and surround yourself with their wisdom. Here are two of [Ariana Huffington’s] favorite quotes: “Our actions may be impeded, but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. The impediment to action advances actions, what stands in the way becomes the way.” That’s from Marcus Aurelius. The other is from Albert Schweitzer: “One who gains strength by overcoming obstacles possesses the only strength which can overcome adversity.”
- Unplug. Calendar time in your day when you choose to separate yourself from your devices, from the news, from social media.
- Breathe. Seriously. It’s good for your brain.
- Trust: As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Remember: truth and justice ultimately always win.
In addition I would also add to this list read the Bible. Often. Re-aline yourself with the teachings and words of the Living God for as it says in 1 John 2:17 “The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” (NIV)
True conversation can bring communities together
So now the detox has begun we need to talk about the elephant in the room. Social media and technology aren’t going away anytime soon.
Yes, you can detox and take a digital sabbatical when needed, but we need to understand that for a whole generation a digital way of life is the only one they have known. This raises even more questions. What does faith formation mean for a generation of young people who have grown up only knowing social media as a communication tool? Churches have a responsibility to be an active voice of reason in the age of digital natives. Because they are searching for spirituality online instead of in our Churches.
Interestingly, Mark Zuckerberg has been travelling around the US and having conversations with communities of faith and ministers and understanding how it is that communities can be transformed by social media.
Whatever you think of Zuckerberg, he has been discovering that faith and technology have a lot to offer the world and that people feel honoured by conversation that is honourable and safe. Conversation gives people a voice and fosters connection.
What would social media look like if conversation built people up instead of tearing them down?
Jesus was about authentic conversation. He hung out with unpopular people and listened to their problems and in the process invited them to discover things about themselves. Conversation that Jesus had was about real change and transformation.
The apostle Paul understood the power of listening and speaking the culture’s language as the first and most important step of connecting to people.
Social media is fleeting, God is eternal.
Let’s work together to understand how technology can help us thrive in community together without tearing one another down.
*content from the Thrive Global website