Roughly a couple of weeks ago, I found myself particularly depressed and rather irritated with the state of the world. More than that, I found myself incredibly disappointed in the way we have been treating one another, especially on social media. I have never seen so many people decisively divided from one another in my entire life. Things have gone far beyond simply disagreeing with another person and accepting those disagreements. People have been acting malicious, cruel and close-minded and it doesn’t matter which side of the political and/or social spectrum you fall on. There seems to be someone taking every perspective to the extreme and making it seem irrational and hysterical. I have seen Trump supporters yelling racist, bigoted insults at Trump protesters and I have seen Trump protesters holding signs that say, “Rape Melania”. Either side is guilty of hateful acts against their opposing side and no one is right or justified in any of it. It is no longer about debating and comparing/contrasting ideas about how to make the world better. We have started looking at those who have a different opinion from us as enemies and simultaneously we have become contemptuous and arrogant with our own opinions. At a glance, it’s a perpetually hopeless situation we find ourselves in as a global community.
So I scaled back my presence and exposure to Facebook exponentially and I went cold turkey from everything for a quiet and introspective 48 hours. I know that may seem like small potatoes to some of you but I invite who may be judging or laughing to try it. My intention is not to turn a blind eye on what is going on in the world or pretend everything is blissful in the world. My psyche can only handle so much snarkiness and conflict before it starts to affect me adversely. But it compelled me to do other things to occupy my attention, which has consisted of reading more and spending a little more time in the Castro.
I have discussed my deep connection to the Castro district in San Francisco and my reverence for its history in previous blogs. Lately, its history has been a source of inspiration, uplifting and determination. Everytime I visit the Castro looking for those things, I always find myself standing outside of Harvey Milk’s camera shop, as if he is going to come out and talk to me about life and how to through this world with optimism. But I remember his story. He ran for public office four times before eventually being elected. That’s four major campaigns to be elected, more hours than can be counted working and fighting before each election day. And that’s three crushing disappointments after so much blood, sweat and tears had been exhausted in his unyielding quest to make his world a more accepting place to be. And Uncle Harvey still said, “You gotta give them hope.”
I have slowly and cautiously started spending more time on social media and I have realized how addicted we have become to it. Studies have shown social media to release the same chemicals as other addictive properties, such as drugs, alcohol, sex, shopping, etc. What is worse, we have started equating our self-worth to how many likes we get online. Beyond that, we have started confusing online connection with actual human connection and vulnerability. I’m not trying to demonize social media but I do think we put too much weight on what happens online. In the blunt, honest words of one of my favorite spiritual bad-asses, Dr. Brene Brown, “Live tweeting your bikini wax is not vulnerability!” There is major distinction between texting a
friend and asking them if they have twenty minutes to hold space for you while you vent, and posting, “I’m so over it! #depressed” on Facebook (that is not a made up post either).
So as I allow social media to occupy a little more of my time, I have created some construct and agreements with myself about how I conduct and respond things I see. First, I agree to not take anyone’s opinion personally. Often, we tend to give our opinions too much weight and I have seen people get more offended than they should over someone’s opinion. I have been on both sides of that metaphoric fence and I realized that I can’t control how someone feels about a given situation and it does me no good to be wound up over something I have no control over. That is a reflection of that person, not me.
I also agree to allow other people the right to their own opinion. After all, this is America and it is rather pious and obnoxious to force my own opinion down someone else’s throat. Being biracial and gay, I know how it feels and it doesn’t feel good. And forcing someone to believe in something that they don’t or wouldn’t on their own volition only leads to guilt, shame and resentment. Besides, my opinion is not invalidated by someone else thinking differently.
I agree to not assume what someone is thinking and furthermore, I agree to ask for clarification with an open mind and a open heart. Even if I disagree with someone on what they think or how they feel, at least I will have the experience of knowing with certainty where they are coming from. Beyond that, there is always something to gain from hearing another person’s perspective.
I agree to find love for someone before judging them. I wholeheartedly believe that this is the only way we are going to reconcile the differences between all of us. Dr. Maya Angelou once said, “I am a human being; there is nothing human that is alien to me” and she was right. The person next to you may come from a different place than you, they may speak a different language and/or they may pray differently from you. But it does not make them any less of a human and it does not diminish their worth to this world. And the other option has yet solve any problems it has created.
I don’t expect to be perfect at practicing any of these agreements but luckily, I agree to do my best. We are among some strange days and they are not over. But we have to start somewhere if we are going to soften the divides between us. It is going to take patience, compassion, humility and grace on each side but I refuse to believe that it is impossible. And I refuse to give up hope.