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.