From this day on I will make a promise
To be true to myself and always be honest
For the rest of my life, I will do what’s right
I will do what’s right
I saw a meme today on Facebook. It was a photo of a fence post, and beneath it were the words “This is just a simple post, It's not political, racial, or about the economy.” On one hand it’s funny, on the other, I think it raises the same frustration I’d been having about Facebook for a long time.
It is possible, though unlikely, that some of you reading this are among the vast numbers of people I have unfollowed on Facebook. You see, it used to be that one could only unfriend people on Facebook. This posed a problem, because a number of the people on Facebook whom I had on my list were those whose views and opinions on life were, quite frankly, either a constant avalanche of armchair activism, or some combination of angry and offensive to me personally. Unfortunately for me, they were also people I wanted to continue to be connected to for business reasons, or occasionally personal ones.
Most people who only use their Facebook for personal use can do whatever they like with their friends list, but for entrepreneurs like me, Facebook is a resource for my businesses (past and present, since almost 40% of my friends list is photographers from CPC since I am a big personage there), and a way to keep people in touch when I need to spread a wide net for something I need or want. It’s my own personal crowdsourcing service. Unfortunately, it’s also a provider of content that I like to read. Or in the case of Facebook, often don’t like to read.
For a while I put up with it, while I was in and out of being depressed and lacked energy. Finally one day, whenever something would come up that I hated, I would evaluate it, and 90% of the time I would unfollow the person. Then I decided to unfollow anyone whose name and face I didn’t recognize who I wasn’t currently trying to get to know and spent nearly an hour going through about a quarter of my Facebook friends. I still need to finish the process, but the worst of it is gone.
See, I don’t think that Facebook is going away anytime soon. It’s a bastion of the internet age, and of my generation. It’s also something that I want to fight to protect, because it is a place of connection with my many friends in other cities. Of my very closest best friends, only two live in the same city, another in the same province one city over, three in the city I grew up in six hours drive away, two in the province I grew up in, one way up north and one down south, and I have one in Vancouver and another in Toronto, which are fortunately cities I visit for conferences. The breakdown for Family is much the same, though we do have a huge concentration of Paul’s family, Uncles and cousins from both sides, just a few hours drive from here - we really must plan to visit this Fall.
So it’s vital that I preserve the place on the internet that connects me to these people from the pollution that fogs it over. I’m mainly talking about angry posts about cultural, social, political issues and secular humanism. I’m also talking about useless things memes that talk about being angry without your coffee in the morning.
It was like light pollution. I couldn’t see the stars anymore.
You've got me seeing stars,
Brighter than ever,
Shining just like diamonds do
I know that in time it will be all ours
Brighter than ever
The people and things I cared about were being obscured, so I cleaned digital house. It took time. Weeks, really. It's not totally finished yet. But finally my feed is full of people producing their own content, and a few people whose quirks I either don’t mind tolerating, or am obligated to tolerate by virtue of their being family - and that is fine.
See, it’s funny. I don’t worry much what others think of me anymore, compared to when I was younger. It’s really not that relevant to my life. I don’t stand to lose anything particularly valuable doing this, but it was hard to do because I kept thinking, “What if someone figures it out?”
And that really boils down to the fact that I have a metric ton of unpopular opinions and associations - and what’s amazing about that, is that no matter which side of an issue a person may fall on, I might be considered pretty radical. I can't think of a single person I know - family, friends, acquaintances - who wouldn't have the opportunity to be pretty majorly offended by something that's true about me. The people I'm close friends with are pretty good at choosing not to be offended, or providing good arguments for their alternate ideas, which I am always careful to listen to. The only true prerequisite of being okay with yourself, long term, is not being too afraid to be wrong and to consider alternatives.
I have friends on radically different ends of the political spectrum from Liberal to Conservative to Green Party, even a few dyed-in-the-wool Libertarians - and my own political views do not fit neatly in any party because they are all much too close to spectrum center. (I took a test in high school that split almost all my honest views between Communist, Libertarian, and Fascist - I kid you not. My teacher was a little taken aback and felt he had to ask if I answered honestly.) I have a close friend who is a gay agnostic from the middle east, another who is a liberal feminist unitarian, I know and love Christians from all ends of the theological spectrum - protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox among others, I have had long, deep conversations about faith and family with a devout LDS man who I met in art school and now lives in Calgary, and one of my favourite connections is a devout Muslim who got married in an arranged marriage to a man her parents chose for her after she finished her degree in science - she is a wonderful person I met on the internet and then got to know in real life while I was in college. And when her adorable son pops up on my Facebook page, it makes me beam. I have really appreciated getting to know people of all walks of life and types of work, especially blue collar people, since I grew up in a really white collar environment.
I don’t believe that connecting with another person depends on them making similar choices to you. I don’t believe that the call to love everyone or to serve the Church, or even the call to evangelism, always means vomiting your beliefs on them in the first few weeks of your acquaintance. In the immortal words of St. Francis, for whom our Pope is named, "Preach Jesus, and if necessary use words."
I believe that Jesus was in large part remarkable, mainly in his own time but also now, because of his associations. He kept company with a ragtag group of mostly blue collar Jews, rather than a consortium of philosopher-rabbis. He went to dinner with a table full of the outcasts, rather than crossing on the other side of the road to keep from becoming unclean. A man who needed a treasurer who could steal without most people noticing from a clearly overflowing mission purse who, instead of sleeping in lavish hotels, relied on the kindness of others for a place to sleep. That was all part of his radical call to be different. It was all part of the love he demonstrated.
I don’t think his resounding call of “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” would ever be followed with, “he who isn’t interested, that one can burn in hell for all I care.” Sure I believe in a literal hell - not sure what it might look like of course, even if fire is how we communicate it - but if a person truly does believe in a place that isolates a person with their guilt, why would you want anyone to go there? Even those who have committed the worst sins against God, goodness, and their fellow man. I feel much the same about prisons, especially private ones.
I know someone who has a relative in prison who killed his own father during a bout of extreme mental illness - he doesn’t remember doing it. That man despairs that God will not accept him, and yet still longs to die. The system is isolating and hard. His only contact is with some family who haven’t given up on him, and the men who give spiritual care to the inmates. The world reviles him, but I don’t believe God does. He’s human.
But as long as everything is Us vs Them, the brokenness will intensify. As long as we keep this luxury of labelling people in ways that allow us to marginalize them or make fun of them, love will lose out. And to me that’s unacceptable.
I do not appreciate or grow as a person from having other people’s beliefs, particularly the angry ones, projectile vomited onto me, either. Especially passive beliefs. As an opposing example, a comic demonstrating a method of interjecting into a public display of racism to help protect the person who is being discriminated against came across my Facebook feed the other day through someone I don’t know well, but I was thrilled to have a new tool in making whatever part of the world I happen to be going into a potentially better place. I also saw comments hating on the guy who spewed racist comments at a black man in Edmonton last week - and I unfollowed the person who made them because honestly, that kind of thing is against my religion and my humanism.
All of my close family, friends, and acquaintances have just a few things in common - they are interested in life, willing to talk about issues with listening ears, and care about people. For the large majority, they care about relationships, and having a family (whether that family is blood or not.)
They love. And that’s who I want to keep spending time with.