by Father Mark Goldasich
Right before Thanksgiving, a friend of mine put something wise on Facebook. Afraid she was getting addicted to the social media site and yet weary of it at the same time, she wrote:
“I’m not sure the human psyche was designed to handle all the sadness. A distant [high school] friend’s cousin lost a toddler the other day in an accident. Before FB, I would have never known because I don’t know the family who lost him. Now we know every lost job, every death in the family, every struggle. . . . The saying ‘comparison kills contentment’ rings true for me as well. My life starts to feel harder than it is when I scroll through FB. So . . . I just need to reprioritize. . . . I’m going to take a break from FB for a while . . . to reconnect with people face to face.”
Smart girl. I’ve been feeling the same way myself. Lately, many posts have to do with endless political posturing, Elf on the Shelf (is it good or bad for kids?), gun control (do we need more or less?) and pleas to type “Amen” to various religious statements (or you really don’t love Jesus). It seems like the comments that folks are making to one another grow more and more strident and divisive.
Is this how the season of Advent should be celebrated? Over and over again, the readings of this season call us to imagine a better and more peaceful world, where “the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the cobra’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair. There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain.” It’s a time of promise and hope, a time to “say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not!” Sadly, much of Facebook seems to be giving me just the opposite: fear, despair, gloominess and nastiness.
So, as the Italians say, “Basta!” Enough with all of the negativity! At least throughout the season of Advent and Christmas, can we Christians present to the online world a different message? A favorite way for many people to do that is through the use of memes, which are simply short sayings — kind of like posters — that are inspirational or humorous. They can help make our lives richer or lighten our burdens with laughter.
A few that were on my Facebook news feed today were: “I think as you grow older, your Christmas list gets smaller and the things you really want for the holidays can’t be bought.”
“I promise if you keep searching for everything beautiful in this world, you will eventually become it.” (Tyler Kent White)
“Always believe something wonderful is about to happen.”
“The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.” (Paulo Coehlo)
So, in these coming weeks, when a meme has touched you, why not post it for others to ponder and enjoy?
A second way to positively use social media and the Internet in Advent and Christmas is through music. I recently learned of a site called “Playing for Change: Peace Through Music.” Its philosophy is that “music has the power to break down boundaries and overcome distances between people.” Essentially, the site has videos of street musicians from around the world playing the same song. For example, Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” is performed by musicians from New Orleans, Amsterdam, the Congo, Caracas (Venezuela), Umlazi (South Africa), Rio de Janeiro, Pisa (Italy), Moscow and Toulouse (France). (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Us-TVg40ExM.)
The video pops from musician to musician, country to country, as the song progresses. It shows music as a universal language that can literally bring diverse people into marvelous harmony.
I’d like to ask those of us on Facebook or other social media to refrain from posting contentious items at least for these next few weeks — and ideally all through this Year of Mercy. Instead, let’s seek to follow Pope Francis’ lead in promoting humility, understanding and gentleness.
Social media should, above all, be social and polite. We can make it so by practicing the meme that says: “A tongue has no bones, but is strong enough to break a heart. So, be careful with your words.”