The Irony of Facebook
“Facebook was not originally created to be a company. It was built to accomplish a social mission–to make the world more open and connected.” –Mark Zuckerberg
The irony of Facebook is that while its founder says he intended it to bring people together, there is ample evidence it is doing the opposite, driving people and ripping society apart. If you want to read about that evidence, here are two well-written articles:
I have two sets of Facebook friends who appear to be growing increasingly fearful of and suspicious of each other, even hostile toward one another. They self-identify as conservatives and liberals. I know almost all of my Facebook friends personally—meaning I actually think of them as my friends, not mere acquaintances. I know that not a single one of my conservative friends and not a single one of my liberal friends is a stupid, rotten person. And yet I left Facebook for 4 months because it feel like, yes, the platform drives people apart. It’s rife with fear-mongering, arguing, name-calling, and negativity, and those are stupid, rotten things.
For the past 4 months, I’ve been writing a book about the ways poetry, spirituality and love can work to change people from fearful, bitter, self-centered, argumentative, fighting and warring, into hospitable, forgiving, helpful, generous, loving and peaceful.
If you read the two articles I linked to (above), you will see that Facebook, and other social media platforms, exploit our weaknesses– our fears, our pride, and our greed. And if you read poetry and/or practice a spiritual way of life, you will know that all of us have a need for transformation.
Poetry, in its intense practice of putting the best words in the best order, teaches us that exceptionally good poems come out of a process of deliberate, sometimes painful revision. The practice of reading poetry teaches us that a superficial reading will never reveal the depth of wisdom, beauty, wonder, delight or thought in a poem. Poetry only rewards those who will not be satisfied with what’s easy, who are willing to go deeper.
Spirituality, also teaches us the need for revision and depth. We are not naturally forgiving, helpful, generous, loving or peaceful. If we want to become those things, we have to change. And no authentic spirituality promises that our transformation will come easily.
This morning I woke up with the worst headache I’ve had in nearly 40 years. “Brain tumor!” I thought. My second thought was, “Meningitis!” Not long after, my third thought emerged, “Sinus pressure.” The third was, of course, the actual culprit. Hot compresses, steam, and an hour of sipping fluids remedied my pain. But why did I automatically awfulize my headache? Due to years of CBT work and spiritual practice, I got past that stinking thinking in a matter of moments, but it’s clear there is still plenty of fear happening in my head.
Facebook has become incredibly crafty at exploiting human fear, as well as taking advantage of human pride and greed. But let’s remember that ancient wisdom calls these things vices, sins, or moral failings, and science calls them base animal instincts, and both psychologists and spiritual leaders believe it is better if we overcome them. They also make it clear that we — you and I as individuals — are responsible for our own growth. Either we choose to remain fearful, greedy and full of ourselves, or we choose to work at growing into a better kind of person.
The reason I went back to Facebook is that it really does make it easier for me to connect with people. And as of now, there isn’t anything else that makes it so easy to stay in touch with many, many people, all of whom I care about. Facebook has it’s good points; it could, however, be better.
I think it’s a mistake to blame Facebook for the fact that something meant to bring us together has become something that drives many, many people apart. Facebooks users did this. The people who use Facebook have created the irony of Facebook.
Religion, by the way, is something else that intended to unite people, to make us better, kinder, more helpful, forgiving, peaceful people. And look what’s been done with that.
The Problem of Fear
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” –Franklin Delano Roosevelt
I’ll keep this part short. Pride and greed, as well as anger, hate, anxiety and guilt, all come out of fear. It’s pretty clear, then, that humanity’s big problem, the thing that keeps us humans locked in stupid, rotten behavior, and prevents us becoming more forgiving, helpful, generous, loving or peaceful, is fear. And that means, if we want Facebook to work, or religion to work, or anything that is meant to help us be more open-hearted and unified, to work, we have to fight against fear.
How to Fight Fear on Facebook
“God, give us the courage to change the things which should be changed.”
“I wanted to change the world. But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself.” — Aldous Huxley
I’ll keep this part short, too. Nothing more needs to be said.
How to Overcome Fear
I’ve already told you I’ve been writing a book. It’s a collection of creative essays called Book of Transformations: Poetry, Spirituality, Love. I have a visiting scholar’s office at Saint Benedict’s Monastery, a blissfully quiet place where I can research, reflect and write.
On my first day there, when I joined the Sisters for lunch, Sister Mary Rachael asked what I was working on. After I told her, she grasped both my hands and whisper-spoke what sounded like a condolence, “Oh, so you’ll be going through transformation, too. I’ll be praying for you.”
It was a deer-caught-in-the-headlights moment. Yikes, more changes? I’m tired. I’ve got a book to write. I don’t have time for all this personal transformation. But why was I surprised? I had, after all, chosen the title for my Book of Transformations from a line in Stanley Kunitz’s poem, “The Layers,” which ends with the words, “I am not done with my changes.”
Here’s what I’ve been learning while working on a book about the ways poetry, spirituality and love can work to change me from fearful, bitter, self-centered, and argumentative, into a more hospitable, forgiving, helpful, generous, loving and peaceful person:
1) Authenticity is crucial. No matter how hard I work to change things, nothing will change if I don’t behave in ways that are consistent with what I say I believe in. Believing the right things won’t change anything; doing the right things will.
2) I need help. When Sister Mary Rachael took my hand, she wasn’t offering empty words. She was pledging to support me, and she, and all my communities are supporting me. I couldn’t write this book, I couldn’t become a more loving human, and I couldn’t live peacefully and happily and healthfully with a spouse who has mild cognitive impairment (the beginning stage of dementia) without the help of God and the good people who surround me.
3) To like and be liked is fun; to love and be loved is essential. I don’t need to agree with other people, understand them, or even like them, but it’s still my duty to support and love them. Real communities understand and live this truth. If I only “love” the people who are like me, I fail to love. If I fear the people who are unlike me, I also fail to love.
4) I am always a beginner. As long as I am alive, I am “not done with my changes.” Transformation is an ongoing, life-long process.
This is what makes life good: living in God (or if you don’t believe in God, use the word Love) with other people while continually deepening our relationships to both.
I’m working very hard and very deliberately to create a blog and write a book that will welcome all of my friends, and all strangers who would be friends, no matter their politics, religious beliefs (or nonreligious beliefs) in to explore with me what it takes for us— for you and me—to grow into the the kind of loving people whose presence in the world, just because we are here, makes the world, even Facebook, a better place. We can be and do so much better. I know we can.
Thank you for joining me in the journey to become less fearful, more loving people everywhere we go in the world and in cyberspace.