I’ve got a love/hate thing going with Facebook. When the hate part is winning, I deactivate my account for a while. But the love part always circles back to get me and I log back in. It is, after all, a community—one in which I mostly choose to participate. There are people whose lives I only witness through Facebook. People I care about. People who time and distance prevent me from talking with regularly. It’s not an ideal community, but it is, at some level, connection.
My biggest issue with Facebook is the links people post to support their political views and personal agendas. It creates unnecessary anxiety within my soul when someone I care about posts something that offends me politically, spiritually, or personally. Opinions about Obama for example. President Obama is no doubt many things: the anti-Christ is not one of them.
I’m teaching a class right now called What Would Jesus Say? It’s a bible study in which we are looking at the Gospel of Luke alongside the book, Crucial Conversations— which teaches how to effectively communicate about difficult issues. A crucial conversation is defined as one in which there are opposing opinions, the stakes are high, and the emotions are high.
One chapter is called Start With Heart. In it, the authors explain the wisdom in any conversation in remembering your objective…what do you want to have happen as a result of having this crucial conversation? The authors contend that when one’s viewpoint is contested, we forget the reason we entered into the conversation and switch to a new goal, mainly, defending our point of view or attacking the one who opposed it. Then we are surprised when the outcome of the conversation is less than we hoped for when we began.
Given that, I’ve been asking myself lately: what do those who post provocative political commentaries hope to gain by randomly throwing their contentious opinion onto the Facebook playground? It can’t be about trying to persuade others to their way of thinking, because there is no real meaningful dialogue taking place. It’s sort of like throwing a grenade into a crowd. The fortunate and observant run fast; the unsuspecting get blown up.
The truth is: I can’t know why others post such things, I can only reflect on what I do—and why. So I changed my question to: what do I hope to gain by remaining active on Facebook, that is, remaining in the “conversation” of that community?
I want to be available to those who need support – to whom I can only offer support in that forum.
I want to announce Good News when I have it and announce gatherings and invite those who are able to attend.
I want to see photos of my friend’s children and grandchildren as they grow and get progress reports about those for whom I pray.
I want to know and rejoice when someone who has been unemployed gets a new job.
I want to remember and support someone whose father has just died.
Given these goals, I am now asking myself: are those things worth having so much that I’m willing to endure the maddening posts of those who seem to want Facebook to be something other than a friendly, supportive virtual community?
That’s the question I am still pondering.
Another thing I’ve learned through the 18+ people participating in the study, What Would Jesus Say, is that a community or relationship is limited in its ability to make the best possible decision by the information it has to make the decision. Meaning, if you want your opinion factored into the decision, you need to take the risk of adding it to the conversation.
This then, is my attempt to add my opinion to the Facebook conversation. Unfortunately, when adults started joining Facebook in record numbers, youth started leaving. Today, I suspect it is more of an adult forum; the youth have found other social networks in which to exchange ideas and art and offer one another support. Their departure is our loss.
One of the things I love about youth is that they are generally aware that their opinions are still forming. They are non-apologetic about the fact that they don’t have all the answers and they are open to new thoughts and ideas and perspectives. They are more information-seeking than opinion-imposing.
I propose that those of us on Facebook who share my goals for being there follow the lead of our youth and begin to restore the Facebook community to a gathering place for people to get to know one another or to stay in touch with family and friends who are far away. There are plenty of places to debate and explore political opinions. Facebook doesn’t have to be one of them.
If it continues to be, I will have to accept that my vision of the best use for Facebook is not shared by the majority of those who meet there. Maybe I will discover that it is, in fact, a growing political forum. If that’s the case, I will probably quietly pack up my photos and seek a social network more in keeping with my goals. In the meantime, I’ll continue to weigh the pros and cons of remaining in the Facebook community.
And increasingly, I suspect, I’ll meet like-minded individuals at the playful monkey bars of Instagram.