Dear Facebook Circle: Could You Do Me A Favor?

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I love that you’re all here. I’ve intentionally set my page to “public” with the idea of welcoming people from all over the world with their varying opinions and perspectives, and I appreciate the diversity. I enjoy the stories you tell, pictures you post, articles you share, events you holler about, even the animal videos (I LOVE the animal videos!). I also appreciate civil thought-provocation by way of opinion pieces shared; I occasionally engage in respectful debate (though less so these days… it’s so circuitous!), and I do think it’s essential to be aware of what’s going on in the world around us.

But it’s a delicate balance, a pendulum swing between “being informed” and “being bombarded”; between “having an opinion” vs. “being an a-hole about it.” And that balance often gets out of whack and in need of fine-turning. And while, in the spirit of self-preservation and mental health, I encourage you to turn off the TV, step away from relentless news, and stop reading everything written on the disasters of the day, I also think there are some simple adjustments we can make, even in how we engage with each other on social platforms such as Facebook.

So can we try this? For the sake of NOT being part of the toxic noise about things over which we have no control, I make these few simple requests, in no particular order:

  1. If I, say, post a piece celebrating a 1%er donating money to an important cause, supporting a good law, or pushing for a raise in the minimum wage, could you do me a favor and refrain from snarkiness about how much MORE that person could’ve donated, what else he spends his money on, why he’s an idiot, or how come he didn’t do more? He donated. He helped. He put effort toward something good. Excellent. It’s being acknowledged. Let’s leave it at that.
  1. If a piece is posted about, say, positive efforts being made on the ebola front, please don’t respond by then sharing every single fear-stirring article about who else has been infected, how many have died, how no one is safe, etc. Read Frank Bruni’s article, Scarier Than Ebola to put things in proper perspective and go get a flu shot… or your kids vaccinated. You’re not going to get ebola. Neither are your children. The media is already working overtime to pump this evolving story into a lather; how about we “rise above” on our social media pages and stay focused on the positive, the real, the actual? If you think immersing yourself in the negative, particularly regarding issues of health and welfare, has any social, physical, mental, or emotional benefit, odds are you don’t feel good a lot of the time. I urge you to turn your thoughts to healthier perspectives. It works, I swear.
  1. I beg you, please reconsider posting ANYTHING further about what an idiot Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, Bill O’Reilly, Fox News, or any of that particular cabal are. We ALREADY KNOW. It really, truly IS better to ignore people of their ilk. Unless they’re physically setting fire to a room, standing with a knife at someone’s neck, or flying to Russia to “negotiate” with Putin (and would we put that past Palin?), they are nothing but gaseous air intended to prick public response. And when you post and share stories about them, you are doing exactly what they want you to do! Publicize them! Make them viral! Get them more attention!! They need that like vampires need moonlight and blood. So starve ’em out. Ignore them. Unless it’s Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert skewering them, unless you’re taking actual steps to shut them down, stop feeding the beast. I’ve taken a vow to never again write, read, or share anything about any of them…. will you join me?
  1. I get why people are mad at the police. I’ve been mighty mad at the police a few times myself, as anyone who reads my columns can attest. But in every case involving “bad cops,” including my own, it involves SOME bad cops. Only some. Not all. Not every cop is a corrupt, racist, psychotic sociopath. MOST are good people working at an incredibly, ridiculously dangerous job that has got to be draining to the heart and soul of any human being. So posting a relentless string of “bad cop” stories is, like posting bad Muslim stories, an act of propaganda. It focuses attention on a certain element, a small percentage, the extremist edge, of a much larger group, and stirs up negative feelings intended to spill onto ALL of that group. Please stop. It’s not helping; it’s fomenting. Unless you’re authentically participating in some tangible, physical action towards righting wrongs or promoting the advancement of deeply needed awareness-raising related to our racial divides, you’re only creating more divides. Don’t be that guy in the town square endlessly waving pamphlets about what’s wrong with the world. Either sign up for a community action group or focus on who and what’s improving the situation.
  1. Let’s acknowledge this plain and simple fact: the Middle East is a quagmire. Part of why I loved The Honorable Woman was its stunning authenticity in showing just how much of a quagmire, even for those most invested and most desirous of peace. None of us here on Facebook, other than potentially having ethnic ties and certainly our opinions, have hands-on involvement in that situation, so how about we do what we can to not contribute further to the quagmire? Abstention from posting incendiary, fear-mongering, rage inducing, propagandizing pieces would be a good start. Because it doesn’t help. Amazingly intelligent and peace-focused statespeople the world over have struggled to find solutions to this relentless situation, a situation that encompasses nuances, enigmas, ancient wounds, historical precedence, and arcane, ethnic influences that we here on Facebook are not privy to. We’re not going to solve it on social media so how about we at least try to not throw verbal grenades into the public theatre? Promoting peace can be as simple as not promoting dissention.
  1. And lastly, and certainly on a lighter note, if I post a review of something I like, a ramble about my day at the beach; share a well-written piece about the President, or exhibit my opinion about something relative to my worldview, could you do me the favor of not immediately following with a comment in disagreement? It’s not that I mind opposing views, but there’s a time, a place, and certainly worthier topics than, say, the state in which I live or a film I happen to like, with which to argue. There seems an almost knee-jerk response from some to immediately, and likely without much thought, jump on to register an opposing views as if it were their moral duty. I call it the Ego of Opposition. Know this: it’s not required. And when it’s in service to the most mundane of issues, it only serves to make you seem unfriendly, curmudgeonly, negative, egotistical and passive aggressive. So how about this: I won’t go to your page to assert my disagreement to your review of Gone Girl; I won’t jump on your thread to knock down your lovely remembrance of a place you visited that I don’t like; I won’t argue politics (because we all know that’s a rabbit hole), and if you post something incendiary that I think promotes fear or hate, I may refute but I’ll do so with reason and civility. Anything else I’ll take it to my own page. I’d appreciate it if you do the same.

I realize some of you will disagree with this list (of course! 🙂 ) Some of you believe there’s merit in posting about every bad thing in the world, spending time on social media debating (aka: screaming at each other); some of you even believe we’re obligated as good citizens to participate in these ways or we’re not engaged, informed, or involved. Okay. That’s your opinion.

Mine? This world can be a difficult place, surely it is for many, but most of us here in this Facebook circle are the fortunate ones who get to make decisions about how we live in it. And in all my years as a writer, a journalist, an observer of life, and a member of the human race, I have not seen one good thing evolve out of mindless opposition, knee-jerk contrariness, or the fanning and focusing of negativity. We have the power to promote positive action, and we should; we have the obligation to take positive action, and we must; but we also have the ability — the need — to use our words more wisely, more judiciously; more compassionately. I’d like to encourage that. Thanks.

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

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What the World Needs Now Is…Empathy

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We humans are a competitive bunch. From time immemorial we’ve found every reason known to man to beat and bludgeon each other in the name of tribes, regions, countries, religions, even political parties and we don’t seem the least bit inclined to stop. It’s somehow burned into our DNA to set up stakes and draw lines meant to keep us separate and superior, except, of course, when imperialism raises its uppity head and pushes one group beyond the lines of another to prove “survival of the fittest.” This may have worked for the Huns, it had much to do with the assemblage now known as the United States, but when it comes to contemporary culture and the discourse between human beings currently inhabiting our planet, all this line-drawing, head-bludgeoning, chest-puffing aggrandizement is literally beating the hell out of us.

I’m not just talking about the combatants in the Middle East, tribal Africa, Communist China or drug-lorded Mexico. I’m talking about the more mundane crowd right here in our own back yards: the cable pundits, tea-partiers, neighborhood politicians, party opinion leaders, religious zealots, and Americans who seem to think some are more “real” than others.  It’s an eclectic group that’s narrowly focused, blindly competitive and deeply bereft of empathy. Which is a shame.

Empathy is defined as the capacity to recognize and share feelings that are being experienced by another person, a necessary component to the ability to feel compassion. To reach out to help others. Offer service. A shoulder. A hand up. A modicum of understanding. Compassion and empathy…they may not be the only things that there’s just too little of, but they’re surely at the top of the list.

For a moment, let’s focus on the more personal aspect of human relations, those exchanges and reactions that exist between people. One on one. The way we treat each other. The way we consider (or don’t) each other’s viewpoints. The way we fight our battles, leave our comments, debate our issues; get our points across. In our hyper-competitive society, where we are groomed from Day One to “be the best,” “knock the opponent down,” “win the prize,” “be right,” “get to the top,” often at the expense of anyone or anything in our way, the capacity for empathy is highly devalued. Boys who exhibit it are considered pussies. Girls who exude too much are relegated to girl-tracks, not tough enough to compete with the boys. Woman with empathy have lots of friends and run a hell of a PTA but don’t expect anyone to nominate them for Chairman of the Board. Men…well, men aren’t even supposed to consider empathy a part of their emotional palette much less feel it. It’s an emotion not particularly admired in these contentious times and we, as a society, are suffering for its lack.

There are those who think anyone in need of compassion or help is a freeloader, those who call a government that feels some obligation to its needy socialist, and those who think anyone who is different in any way, shape, form, color, creed, belief system or political party is simply wrong…less. Less of a “real American.” Less of a patriot. Opponents snarl, slam, insult and demean and it’s all done in the name of winning. Being right. Feeling superior.

Examples:

1.     A First Lady starts a healthy eating and exercise initiative and instead of everyone getting on board because it’s simply a good idea in this obesity-burdened society, women of the opposing party impugn her and it; even going so far as to suggest that more walking has resulted in more pedestrian accidents. Damned if they’ll get behind a good idea if it’s from the other side!

2.     Instead of eschewing political differences to work together to forge an insurance bill that’s universal and protective, partisans push and shove and make up idiotic names like “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Bill” as a way to whip up fear and debase opponents. God forbid we should concern ourselves with common folk who aren’t even our responsibility.

3.     The needs of one group can’t possibly be understood by another because that would require a willingness to walk in another’s shoes, understand their plight and consider workable solutions to their problems. That’s impossible when we’re too busy closing our minds to anything except our own bias. Please see The Dream Act.

4.     Ethnic generalities and inflammatory insults are commonplace in a country where Muslim equates terrorist and bigotry and intolerance are accepted and applauded by many, some of whom claim to have the Christian God and the Marines on their side. Just ask Councilwoman Deborah Pauly from Orange County, CA.

5.     Political debates, conversations, and campaigns can’t possibly include collaboration or focus on issues, remedies, or solutions because the participants are obligated to lie, cheat and obfuscate in their effort to not just win the argument, but demean and denigrate the opponent. See too many Republicans and most Fox News talking heads.

6.     Issues such as immigration, gay marriage, and women’s rights continue to be fodder for the screaming and yelling of zealots, racists, and sexists who find it impossible to consider the point and purpose of what drives these issues and makes them important to others. See placard-carrying protestors everywhere (and don’t get me started on the Phelps family).

There are obviously many more examples but these make the point. Intolerance, bigotry, hate, fear – the summation of all these is lack of empathy. I swear, in each and every one of these cases, if the parties involved were to honestly put aside their opinions and beliefs long enough to listen and really consider the WHY behind someone else’s, there’s no telling how much peace and harmony could be found in the valley.

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We may not be conditioned that way. We’re imprinted to hold our opinion, shut out our opponent, win at all costs; prove the other guy wrong. But I can hope. Because I do see change. I see Don’t Ask Don’t Tell get repealed. I see young people plant community gardens and rally in support of their neighbors. I see negative politics rejected by some. I see expanded concern for even our international partners in the fight for democracy. I see love sweet love in unexpected places. It all gives me hope.

Empathy. It’s there to be had. No, not just for some. For everyone.

Photos courtesy of Lorraine Devon Wilke 

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.