The video above is of a really excellent and possibly thematically connected piece of music (click these words to read the lyrics). So, if you like, hit “play,” and read what’s below. If not, it should be fine, too.
This week, on one of the more amazing FirstHand Poetry shows so far, frequent guest appreciator Aakash Sapru brought a poem entitled “Where the Mind is Without Fear,” by Nobel Prize recipient Rabindranath Tagore. Astonished and delighted, I took the opportunity to discuss, as much as possible in our thirty minutes, various topics I’ve noticed in regards to the relationship the United States of America has with other nations. Aakash continued to share the influence and significance that this man had on Indian culture, as well as the fact that this incredible person is largely overlooked by us here, and together we wondered about and discussed various things of value that we might take from the work of such a significant person. Tagore’s world was, of course, vastly different from our own, both in geographic location and in time. Nonetheless these tremendous differences in quality of life actually seem to have little to do with a person’s capacity to understand their own situation in relation to the larger picture.
It was truly a fantastic show, and on the heels of a lot of profound political changes taking place in the U.S.A., I decided it would be interesting and worthwhile to take a go at a blog post, and do what I can to address the topic of how we interact, in regards to social media.
I’ve long held a belief that people are generally doing the best they can with what they have. Everyone’s experience is different, and while I’m hesitant to believe in the idea of a two-dimensional villain character in real life (at least a human one), as often as anyone else I fall into the notion that without someone to blame, that sanity, or at least a consistent, meaningful expression of myself in relation to others on a daily basis is very difficult to achieve.
However, with the somewhat drastic changes taking place around us here, I think many people (myself included) are having difficulty not becoming frustrated with the overwhelming amount of issues that seem in need of addressing. We have, at our fingertips, very easy access to financial, emotional, spiritual, social, cultural, and most importantly, human information, that life can, at times, feel like an impossible situation.
So, some of us take to social media websites to share things. Sometimes we share out of frustration, or empathy, or encouragement, or to make a statement about our identity. Some of us share our lives and perceptions, our work, our friends, even our loves and lovers. Personally, I think this is, basically, “what it is.”
It’s important for us to realize, though (one of my very few opinions) that sharing isn’t really for approval or to encourage dissent where unnecessary, or to provoke dissatisfaction beyond what is understood to be true. These are often more harmful (even debilitating, for some) than helpful.
I’m guilty of sharing things that I haven’t fully researched, noticing only after the fact. I’m also guilty of not sharing things that do seem tremendously important, in hopes that I don’t destabilize someone else’s life. But at the same time, we can’t stop sharing, and listening to each other, can we?
I know that abilities and beliefs vary widely between and among individuals, and building on that, activities of distraction (it turns out that cat videos actually do help us in some way), or brief pauses to celebrate what it is that keeps us going through difficulties are extremely important for all of us. But here, we’ve become so sensitive that offense is not extremely difficult to provoke (even accidentally), and while I don’t see the point in actively trying to offend, I do see the need for us to step up to the sometimes disturbing reality of our situation as people living in this world as a whole.
I’m not sitting here writing to speak against any nation or peoples or political groups or cultures or religions, but I am definitely trying to encourage whoever might read this to continue reaching for each other, the individuals that make those things up.
Probably, we have to learn that social media is still media. The posts you see on facebook or twitter or google plus or anywhere else (even this blogging site) are often one person’s perception of what is important for people to see. Although that shouldn’t discount it immediately, one of the things we enjoy within the borders of this country is the freedom to post and read and discuss and comment on and ignore and even block what we choose, whether on social media or in real life.
And we wonder: “who do we need to be afraid of? who should be blamed? who do we need to protect ourselves from?”
I don’t have the answers, and as best I can tell, there likely aren’t any universal ones. Our experiences, diverse as they are, lend to us an opportunity for understanding individuals and their perspectives; through understanding another person’s stories and experiences, we grow into the capacity to communicate those things that are truly important to us, risky as that may seem.
Of course there is violence, terror, random and/or purposeful, domestically and abroad… these things seem to continue despite whatever location of the world one finds oneself. But altruism is also real, I’d argue, although there are ways to argue that relatively speaking, morality is flexible and human motivations are always to be questioned. Maybe people want to make a name for themselves. Maybe they give to be noticed or recognized or whatever a person needs to pin on them to keep their own sanity and support the people in their own lives. And even further, opinions change over time, as people learn new information and other behaviors are revealed and as secrets come to the surface. This is one of many imperfections of a limited human existence.
At this point I’ll remind you that I’m not speaking for anyone else, or claiming to have a firm handle on the truth of things, or stating that I’m opposed to entertainment or against popular culture. I’ll also present what I’ve come to believe is a very real emotional problem here: that of over-emphasis on the virtual world. Of course, right here, on a blog post.
Whether fiction or non; whether a worthwhile exploration of identity and community and communication, or not; whether scientific, mathematical, conceptual, or imagined; we, as a consuming whole, give so much of our time, energy, and resources to the virtual while much of the rest of the world goes without things like medicine or showers or safety or food.
Movies, TV shows, games… these distractions, while possibly healthy in small doses, have the potential to take over and even ruin entire lives. And no one is to blame – supply and demand, and the pursuit of true democracy has brought us to where we are, for now.
But the overarching problem I see is that we have this over-reliance on symbols and signs (even words can do this), representations of what we believe or stand for, some healthy and some not. As I’ve been thinking about this the last few weeks, I have realized that the things themselves that we take as symbols are often so much more complex, beautiful, and real than what we would have them represent.
I’m bringing this up because of a phrase in English: “sign of the times.” I wonder if we’ve gotten so wrapped up in our own need for acceptance and personal validation that we’ve lost sight of what we do have, at this time: the Earth, and each other.
A lot of us get frustrated, not knowing what to do. Many of us are at a point where we don’t know what to say. We say “if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything,” or quote our religious or political documents or worldviews to try to make a point or make sense of things and hope that someone will be able to connect and believe with us.
Strangely, the arguments and mis-communications that can result from this are even more defeating, and make it harder to get out of bed in the morning for anyone. We’re all in this though, together, whether we like it, or if we like each other, or not.
Maybe it’s not in any way useful to research and to share what we find as a problem or solution. Maybe it’s better to simply share images not of ourselves but what we believe in. Perhaps in sharing with others what we truly feel is important and meaningful and redemptive about life or its pursuit in whatever language, we can share our very hope and our secrets of success, contentment, happiness, prosperity, vision, and everything. I don’t know…
I for one will probably continue to keep most of my opinions to myself, and try to leave politics out of it as much as possible, at least for what I see as competitive purposes. I just hope that’s not the root of the governing systems we’ve created.
(If you’ve run out of music, this one is nice) 🙂
As far as social media is concerned, I wonder what else we can do with it. Whether we can make it an uplifting thing. Whether we can make it a good thing. Think for a second, too, about the word “good.” We live in a time where everyone thinks of words just a little bit differently. I don’t want to argue about it, but I do want to learn about what YOU think is good, what you think is useful and healthy and life-giving, and altruistic in whatever way that is available in our society.
Words and definitions are constantly changing. People are even making up words. There’s a really profound one at the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows online, “sonder,” and if you can take a little bit of time, read this, or, think about what’s worth contributing. Don’t get too tied up in it, because it’s kind of a really difficult question. Kudos if you have a religion to help you define these things. I know that I do, but to a certain degree I can’t go about my life running the risk of acting “normally,” with what I believe in the back of my mind, hoping that no matter what I do, that repair, healing, and salvation will happen. That the people I love and myself will be saved from any decision that they make for any reason. Though at the same time I do believe that, and that there’s no physical situation that’s too difficult for any spiritual force or being or presence or community to reach through. I find both of these thoughts at once reassuring and challenging.
Moving forward from this, we have an opportunity with social media for a really powerful cultural exchange, an opportunity to find value in people and perspectives that are truly alien to us.. we do have overlap and commonality, and in those places we can share and communicate, and find out what other people in the world are dissatisfied with, what they value, and the hope they see for the future. Maybe our priorities would line up?
Keep in mind, too, that as we live in this society, there’s this really inescapable sense of a very dizzying idea known as “Moral Relativism.” I think that the reason for it is the same reason not to rile against it (or embrace it, necessarily). There’s not really any reason (that I can tell, anyway) to engage this seemingly two-sided contest of human-created sets of beliefs, let alone to judge people who act in a certain way, not because they’re right or wrong, but because of the complexity of the human experience, and because there are things that all of us rely on, and I’m not going to go into them, except to say “think about the Internet and the making of your computer or smartphone or tablet or even your car or bike for a moment, and then move on to think about something else, because if you dwell on it, it’s going to get too heavy.” So let me lift you up for just a second and encourage you to think about other people as complex, and as struggling, and as needing your contributions, or your participation or help in some way. Even if you get into a conversation with someone who says “hey, that’s good!” or “I’m good!” Whatever it is, learn more, love and feel more, describe more, explore more. Open yourself to the specifics that are “good” to a person. So much can come from that. So much life, conversation, benefit, and relief can come from that.
Because I think if we can take the focus off of the “media” and place it firmly on the “social,” we’ll be on to something. And honestly the problems are so numerous that I don’t even know what they are anymore, necessarily, but I do sincerely hope that I get to be a part of the solution.
I hope you’re well.