I have a love/hate relationship with social media. Living far from family and friends means that social media is a blessing; we get to keep up with people who we don’t get to see often. Things that we forget to tell each other can be (sometimes awkwardly) found out through statuses, tweets, and blogs. The excitements and joys of life can be shared with a wide array of people whom, otherwise, would be unable to share in these moments.
As always, however, there is a dark side to this, and it is one that we have encountered through the pain of losing Silas.
We’ve hidden dear friends who seem unable to filter their 2,000 pictures of their precious newborn baby boys. Holidays are awful as well, including birthdays. On my birthday I closed my wall on Facebook, figuring that those who decided to send a message would be more thoughtful, especially since my birthday was less than a month after our son’s death. Even still, well-meaning individuals who knew nothing of my pain told me, “Congrats on the baby!” Having seen nothing more than my profile picture, they just assumed we were expecting, not that we were mourning.
Mother’s day was another trying day. Thankfully for a few thoughtful friends sharing blogs about respecting the day without hurting the grieving, we didn’t have to institute complete internet blackout. It was still hard, and I’m assuming, however, that Father’s day will be difficult as well.
All this has made me wonder, “Is there a way to avoid causing such pain through social media?” It seems to me that there are two problems at play here.
First: Social media has made it possible for us to maintain superficial friendships with hundreds of people. We’re reminded to say “Happy Birthday” to people who we don’t even know, nor would we ever celebrate with. That’s all well and good, but we offer such flippant, happy greetings without even giving a moment’s thought to what that person’s current reality is. Maybe a happy-go-lucky greeting is the last thing they want to hear, but we wouldn’t know that, because we didn’t care to ask. We didn’t even look at their profile to see if there were any life-altering events that just happened. We just type a happy statement and go on as if nothing ever happened.
Clearly this problem of superficiality manifests itself in ways other than birthday greetings. We mettle in people’s lives and postings without really knowing what is going on in their minds and hearts. In so doing our words cause wounds much deeper than we could ever imagine. Such wounds would be avoided were our friendships much deeper and meaningful.
Second: In real, personal, face-to-face relationships we have a nifty thing called a filter. If I’m an ultra-emotional new father, of course I’ll be showing pictures to every animate and inanimate object I can find, but if I see another couple who just lost their child, had a miscarriage, or struggles with infertility, I’m not going to shove my 4 memory-cards-worth of pictures in their face. As Paul teaches, I’m going to think about their needs first. I’m going to ask how they are doing, and how I can help. If they mention my new child I may offer to show a picture, but on their terms.
Facebook removes this filter.
I’m showing pictures of newborn Susy to the couple who just lost their newborn Jane. I’m showing every single ultrasound image to the couple who, try as they may, simply cannot get pregnant. I’m showing images of my joy and in so doing I’m causing my brother and my sister in Christ to spiral deeper into sadness, heartache, doubt, and anger.
That is not Christ-like.
One of the central teachings of the New Testament that has to do with our actions towards others is that we are to think first in our neighbor and then in ourselves. If I am going to say or do something that I know will hurt my brother, or cause my sister to stumble, I should refrain from doing so.
We do this fairly well in person, but all inhibition is thrown to the wind when we go online.
So what can we do?
First of all, comment, post, and say “happy birthday” with care. Make sure you know the person. Is there anything going on in her life that is a cause for grief? For joy? How best can I be a brother or sister to this person in the way that I share and speak with them? This small filter alone will help tremendously.
Secondly, I know that we want to share our joys. If someday we are blessed with children, I’m sure we’re going to want to share photos and stories. But we should find ways to share with those who want to see, and not with everyone who has ever accepted a friend request. For instance, set up a Picasa album or a photo blog. Put a link on Facebook or send it to close family and friends. Know that your daily posting 50 pictures of your new bundle of joy your Facebook wall is seen by all, and most likely one of your 750+ friends will be deeply hurt by what they see.
Think first, and post with care.