I find Facebook is a nice representation of the cultural zeitgeist. I find it reflects the shortness of the American attention span and the ease with which we can be turned from focusing on those issues we passionately embrace one moment and then cast aside when the next shiny object is dangled in front of us.
On Friday, July 20, 2012, a gunman opened fire in a movie theater and killed 12 people. Fifty-eight others were injured. The next day, Facebook was shocked and horrified, deeply saddened, and, once the obligatory condolences were offered, alive with rallying cries to stop the horror. “Gun control!” “2nd Amendment Rights!” “When will the madness end?” “Don’t Tread on Me!” Lots of noise, lots of emotion, but virtually zero conversation.
Then, not two weeks after this unspeakable horror was visited on our community, something interesting happened. A private business owner expressed his unpopular opinion about gay marriage. Suddenly, the whole world, or at least all of Facebook, had forgotten the horror of the Aurora killings. Now Facebook erupted with rainbow flags and shouts about the 1st amendment and love versus hate. Half my feed was planning to eat crappy chicken sandwiches on Wednesday, August 1 and the other half was trying to drum up a same-sex friend to make out with them outside of a fast food restaurant two days later. 
But I’ll hand it to Facebook. The gay marriage issue did remain in my feed for the next several months. It was joined by heated sloganeering about women’s health “rights.”Because if there’s anything more important than keeping our children from being slaughtered in movie theaters, it’s making sure that everyone has access to free birth control. 
Not once during the campaigning leading up to the election did I hear anyone raise the issue of gun control. Not once did I hear anyone demanding to know how the candidates were going to address the issue of crazed gunmen mowing down our children in schools.  
The irony here is that it seems like this is an issue that people should be able to agree on. At least to an extent. While people may never come to an agreement as to whether or not we want to provide free birth control for all, it seems that we should at least be able to agree that we don’t want people murdering people en masse in public places. 
After Aurora, people cried, “How many more are going to have to die before we do something about this?” The answer, apparently, is “at least 26 more.” 
In the face of this most recent school shooting, I find my Facebook page is once again alive with gun control “debates.” I place debates in quotes because the reality is there is no debate. There is no discussion. There is wild emotionalism on both sides with no one listening to anyone with an opinion that differs from his own. There are a few speaking reasonably, but I fear no one is listening. True, mind changing dialogue rarely occurs on Facebook. 

Which is fine. I’m not asking anyone to give up whatever it is they get out of participating in these “discussions.” What I am asking is that you stop pretending it’s some sort of meaningful activism. If you want to effect change, do so. Stop talking at people who aren’t listening. Stop collecting “likes” from people who already agree with you, and find out who you need to talk to in order to make change. 
My plea to all, whether you’re shouting “Gun Control!” or “Right to Keep and Bear Arms!”, is to put your energy to work where it will actually make a difference. Don’t squander it by engaging in exhausting exchanges that have no power to effect change. 
You’re time and energy are too precious. You are too precious. 
Which brings me to my final point. Until each and everyone of us realizes that each and every one of us is too precious, we will not see an end to senseless displays of violence. Hateful words on Facebook are born of the same malice that opens fire on school children. 
“You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not kill. And whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you, that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council. And whosoever shall say, Thou Fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” (Matthew 5:21-22)
However you choose to respond to this deep sickness in our culture, whether you choose to lobby for gun control or fund mental health research or to fast and pray, remember that every single person you encounter is infinitely precious. That includes you. Until we can begin to see the tiniest glimmer of worth in ourselves and in each other, the tiniest reflection of the value and dignity that Our Father sees in us, until we can begin to see that each life truly is sacred and worthy of our love and protection and reverence, nothing will change. 
Though it’s quoted often enough to be cliche, you must go forth and be the  change you wish to see in the world. Change doesn’t happen “out there.” It happens in every interaction you have with another human being. Make sure your interactions reflect the love you want to see in the world. 

11 Responses

  • Beautifully said.

  • Jess, I think a lot of what people say on facebook about gun control or any other issue when faced with a tragedy like this is more processing than promise. It is the online version of screaming in frustration. There is a lot of work to do and it is big and scary work if we want to heal our country. But I think it is okay for people to be mad about something as put it out there, they might move on next week but maybe not. The benefit I think that comes from social media like facebook is that there are a lot more people in the conversation than there was before. Talking about it doesn't create a solution but it does start the conversation and it also allows people to mourn.As for the meaningful activism it is hard to gauge that. You know those petitions, a lot of them have actually been successful. But just sharing an opinion isn't activism, though I am not sure anyone has ever claimed that it was. What struck me particularly though out the last year is that every time I became involved in anything that would have be called activism so much of what I saw from participants was the time they spent updating their statuses making sure people knew they were involved. One particular action I was involved in became more about the photo opportunity to be shared with like minded people rather than even letting anyone be uncomfortable by our presence. As someone who grew up in a family of activists who organized, marched, and worked towards change I am a little sentimental for the days when getting involved meant more than sharing a photo, but I also know more people are aware of issues and are at least involved in the conversation.Don't take this as a disagreement just my thoughts that were stirred by what you wrote.Stacey

  • Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Stacey. I understand the "online version of screaming in frustration. It just shouldn't stop there. Because if it does, it's little more than a child's temper tantrum. Because if we don't act, if we don't change ourselves and our lives, nothing will change. And if in the process of screaming in frustration we are screaming at other people or stirring up discord as opposed to creating meaningful dialog, then we are actively contributing to the problem rather than participating in a solution.Your perspective on activism is interesting. I wonder what would be a great example of modern activism. Perhaps the legalization of marijuana or those lobbying for the legalization of gay marriage? I at least see change happening in those areas.

  • I think your experience on Facebook says more about your choice of friends on Facebook than it says about anything else. 🙂 I can promise that my feed doesn't look like that! (Not a bad thing at all – you just may happen to have a group of passionate, diverse, opinionated people on your feed.) I've got lots of beautiful pictures, quotes, links to interesting articles, lots of sadness, lots of people hugging their kids. No screaming or freaking out to be seen. Just a thought…maybe you are attracted to other strong women with strong personalities….. 😉

  • I don't think it's fair to assume that it has stopped there when people are passionate about issues on Facebook. I personally devote a minimum of five hours a week to in real life volunteering/activism, and probably most weeks that's closer to ten. Yes, I sign the petitions and donate when I can, but I also call my government reps, write emails, attend rallies, volunteer, organize drives and events, etc. for multiple causes. And as Stacey said, sometimes the petitions are successful. One whitehouse.gov petition in favor of gun control was signed by over 80,000 people in 24hrs. And you mentioned not hearing anything about gun control in the months leading up to the election – I read/heard quite a bit, and even signed petitions to have the issue covered in the debates. I'm going to post what I want to post, particularly about issues I'm passionate about. If people want to argue or engage in discussion I might do so, but sometimes I simply delete comments. If people don't want to see it they are welcome to hide and/or unfriend me.

  • Wanted to add that I've found Facebook to be a really useful tool for organizing as far as volunteering and activism go. I couldn't do all that I do without my network of family and friends rallied behind me, either by giving financially (the gift card drive for homeless youth) or volunteering with me (the monthly breakfast for homeless youth.) It's great for both raising awareness of issues and urging people to get involved. I used it a ton for the Food Allergy Walk, and am using it for the homeless youth and One Billion Rising as well.

  • One more. 😉 People seem to have very ideas about how they think Facebook should be used. Some seem to think it's only for sharing photos and keeping in touch with family and friends; some of us choose to use it as an activism tool or for both. To each their own.

  • Okay, I lied. One more. I know for a fact from messages that I've received from people that I have at the very least encouraged them to think about things in a different light, mostly pertaining to LGBTQ issues, and I've even changed a few minds. So I disagree that mind changing dialogue doesn't occur on Facebook. And I've certainly had my eyes opened to things I wasn't aware of or came to see things in a different light or considered a different perspective.

  • I agree that Facebook can be a really useful tool, Beth. And I think you're a shining example of how it can be used to connect with people and organize action. And I think you are a shining example of someone who puts her "money where her mouth is." Heather, I can't decide whether your Facebook feed sounds lovely or just dull. 😉

  • We were cross posting, Beth. I am surprised to hear that you've had mind-changing dialog on Facebook. I don't think that's the norm, but maybe I'm wrong.

  • I've been thinking about this post and conversation all day. One thing I do wonder in terms of activism and facebook is how it changes what people do become involved with. The way facebook and the news cycle are so connected it seems that there is a lot of turn over of issues. One minute we are talking about marriage rights and the next it is the NRA then it is animal rights (just an example), people get involved sometimes but it seems like what is lost is the long time in person commitment to specific causes. I understand that there is plenty of good that is coming out of the social media version of activism, but I definitely catch myself falling into the comfortable pattern of speaking up and doing a little action here and there rather than getting truly involved with any one particular action (wrong word). Perhaps the change has more to do with my age and point in life. Lately I've been feeling that while I am passionate about my opinions I am aware that I don't give my time to any meaningful service, beyond volunteering at my son's school. I think it is time for me to figure out what I really care about and give more of myself to that. Again just more thoughts that this conversation is stirring in me.~Stacey


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