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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The Art of Art Discussion: Just Quiet Down and Go Create

We all need a break now and again from the day-to-day work that holds our focus. Like the vaunted “15-minutes” regular office workers get to stroll into the cafeteria for java and a Danish, we freelancers take our moments, too; often to hop online for a little social media refreshment. I’m as guilty as anyone; there are days when serious-conversation_smmeeting a deadline, finishing a project, getting errands done, or managing my ever-growing list of marketing tasks all require the interruption of some light trolling on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Huff Po, Fine Art America or any of the groups and discussions one might find here or there. And when I do, I’m typically compelled, by virtue of senses stirred, to jump in. Sometimes it’s just clicks on photos and links I enjoy but, equally as often, the urge for rejoinder is strong. It’s hard for me to read inane chatter, mean-spirited comments, or truly debatable topics without wanting to throw in my two cents!

Certainly political postings corral the lion’s share of this type of response, but more recently I’ve read or partaken in “art discussions” — analysis and deconstruction of style and technique, contest decorum, commerce demands, etc. —  and, much like politics, the tendency for some to veer into cynicism, negativity, and arrogance is apparent. And disappointing.

Like anything else on the Internet, Art is a big topic. Go to any art-oriented site – photography, painting, jewelry design, graphic art, whatever –  and you’ll find opinions on every aspect and angle. And in those discussions, you’ll meet as many wonderful artists as you will curmudgeons, which, frankly, I find surprising. I don’t know why, but I always expect artists to be more uplifting and good-spirited than they often are.

See, I was lucky to have been given a constructive and very positive foundation in my training. My experiences in a wide variety of “the arts” included an overriding message of support, assistance, camaraderie, and the sheer joy of the craft. Certainly there were those who took opportunity for snarky critique, behind-the-back denigrations, sniffing arrogance, or bashing disguised as instruction, but I was fortunate that most of the teachers, professors, mentors, and fellow artists involved in my impressionable youth exuded their own joy in the craft and that imprinted upon me a higher-toned mission statement; one of constructive input, positive output, and personal and communal artistic integrity. Or, as is suggested in this age of The Secret and The Power of Positive Thinking, a “half-full perspective bereft of the toxic effect of negativity.”

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“Either love it or do something else,” I was advised. I was also reminded of the old adage, “If you haven’t got something nice to say, don’t say anything.” Which, unless you’re a bona fide reviewer, opinion writer, or comedian, applies to pretty much everyone else.

So it’s jarring for me to read threads in which artists snipe at each other, knock down the work of others; become “authorities” about what is or isn’t Art (as if they, in particular, know!), criticize and demean the marketing choices of fellow artists, or denigrate any aspect of the industry – art or commerce –  that they, personally, don’t appreciate or wish to partake of. These are the kind of people who find fault and spew criticism, whose toxic brew of negativity was what a mentor of mine used to call “sour-pussing.” Glass half-empty. Discordant. Contrary.

For example; at Fine Art America, the very well managed site that provides hosting, printing and delivery of fine art photography and paintings – and a place where I’ve met a slew of very talented, supportive artists who are smart, enjoyable people – there is a contingent (likely too large a one) that “sour-pusses” on a regular basis. A discussion thread commenced recently regarding the winner of a now-concluded “Times Square Art Contest.” The woman who started the thread posited her prompt with a tsunami of criticism; of the winning piece, the artist, the contest, the overall marketing demands of the art world, concluding with a cranky assessment of “the whole thing.” (Frankly, I wanted to get her a juice box and tell her to take a nap!) But, more disappointingly, what followed this diatribe was a slew of commiserating comments, supporting her thesis to some degree or another. Lots of judgment of other artists’ work, denunciations of the overall state of the industry, snarky rejoinders about contests that “demean” artists into “begging” for votes, right down to a nihilistic grump-fest that included the statements, “There will be artists as long as there is society, but that too is coming to an abrupt halt. America is going under as we speak, and the rest will follow in quick order,” and the exceedingly grim “THERE IS NO FUTURE to ART. Humanity is much more interested in Ipods and marching blindfolded into the future. We are the last artists on this planet.”

All I could think was…WTF?!?

I shook my head as I read this manifesto of negativity, wondering how these people got out of bed, much less found the energy and inspiration necessary to create art. Luckily there were a few bright individuals who spoke up to shoot down the negative trend and did so with enough intelligence, optimism, and artistic good-will to offset, to the degree they could, the snarling hordes but, I have to say, I was disappointed that so many seemed hell-bent on ripping Art, and its artists, a new one! I was tempted to leap in and make my points, but realized, with some weariness, that the thread leader was jumping on every response with her continuing brand of snark and snarl and it was just too nice a day to get involved in that level of crankiness…though I did send an email to the most cogent and wise of her debaters, thanking him for his insight!

While I agree that we all have “the right to our opinions,” as Debbie Downer repeatedly pointed out, too many seem to have missed the lessons of integrity, constructive thinking, artistic magnanimity, and a positive, supportive outlook. Clearly Art has long had a history of creative personalities who were churlish and mean-spirited; many who were (are?) burdened with insecurities, jealousies, schadenfreude, and plain old nastiness, but in the communal world of online art exchange and discussion, there really is no room or reason for all that.

But people are who they are; I can’t change them. The woman running that thread is clearly a person with many other issues in her life that contribute to the attitudes she exudes online. But while I feel sorry for her (and certainly anyone in her near circle!), I ain’t gonna debate her. Because I reserve my perspective, my thoughtfulness; my contribution, for conversations that are constructive and focused on offering views and opinions that transmit something positive and helpful, rather than the banal, deflating, blather-fest of negativity I found on that thread.

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My suggestion to that crowd? Stop talking and go create. If you have that much time to spend tearing down others in a community setting, go make another piece of art instead. Rather than getting some kind of buzz out of stirring up mutual frustration to feed your own, shut off your computer and pick up a brush or a camera. Don’t worry about what others are creating, just create. Quit expounding on what you think is stupid and create. Don’t announce what you won’t do, just do what you will do. If you don’t have the desire to be in a contest, don’t; but don’t cut down others who do. Don’t want to ask people to vote for your work? Again, don’t. But quit yacking about others who have no problem garnering support for theirs. And if someone wins a damn prize, offer congratulations and accept that even if “it’s not really creative” to you, it clearly is to someone else…enough that they won! And if you don’t have it in you to congratulate them…

Just quiet down.

Stop talking.

And go create.

All photographs by Lorraine Devon Wilke

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