Last week, I decided to read social media only once a day, so I wouldn’t have twenty strangers’ voices in my head while trying to create.
Yesterday, I went one step further. I installed the FB Purity browser extension, and set it to filter out all posts containing the words “Trump,” “Republican,” and “Democrat”.
Presto! The political vitriol that was dominating my news feed is almost entirely gone,and I can read about the cool stuff my friends are doing/seeing/writing again.
Do I feel bad about “sticking my head in the sand” about vitally important information? Don’t I feel the need to stay up on current events?
Nope. Here’s why.
First, the world contains an infinite number of horrible things. Child abuse, environmental destruction, animal cruelty, pharmaceutical greed, excruciating poverty, rape, drug addiction – any of those should provoke outrage in any decent person. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. These are all terrible issues; they need to be addressed.
But not by me. Nor, for the most part, do I want to hear about them, unless one of my friends needs me to listen.
This is not because I don’t care. Quite the reverse. I don’t want to hear about them because I do care. I agree that these things are horrible. And hearing about them makes me angry.
Anger is a funny thing. It can be a powerful force for good, or it can be horrendously destructive. If anger prods you to action, you can change the world. But living in a state of continuous outrage – as Facebook encourages you to do – can quickly lead to feeling overwhelmed and helpless. And that can lead to hate.
I spent a lot of time in my twenties volunteering with organizations that worked with sexual abuse, rape, and domestic violence survivors. Every day, I would hear about a different horror. There was the woman whose fiancÃ© had deliberately infected her with AIDS, then abandoned her. Another woman had been sexually abused and beaten by her entire family; when she went to a priest to ask for help, the priest molested her, too. The domestic violence survivor whose husband had battered her until her jaw collapsed and all her teeth fell out. The other survivor whose husband, a doctor, not only broke her bones, but wouldn’t let her use birth control because he enjoyed performing abortions on her.
The outrage I felt – every day – was so intense, so horrifying, that I had to find some way to come to terms with it. Because these atrocities were happening every single day, to thousands of innocent people, and I felt totally helpless in the face of all those stories. It’s one thing to know intellectually that terrible things happen; it’s another to look into the eyes of someone who has been beaten, abused, or raped, and hear her tell the story of her assault. It becomes personal, visceral.
I struggled hard with this. How do you hear this over and over without dying of outrage? How can you hear all these stories of cruelty, torture, and abuse without starting to hate?
Then one of my fellow volunteers told me the starfish story:
A man was walking along a beach, picking up starfish stranded by the tide and flinging them back into the ocean, one by one.
Another beachcomber walked by, and, seeing what the man was doing, said, “Why are you doing that? There are thousands of starfish washed up on this beach, and thousands more will wash up in the next tide! You’ll never make any difference!”
The man stopped and thought for a moment. Then he reached down, picked up another starfish, and threw it into the ocean.
“Made a difference to that one,” he said.
And that, to me, is the answer to outrage. Surviving outrage requires focusing not on the terrible things you can’t change, but on the positive steps you can take to improve the situation. I can’t stop all domestic violence, but I can tell the woman in front of me that she does not deserve abuse, and that her partner’s violence will almost certainly get worse. And I can connect her to resources. I can make a difference in her life.
But listening to all those horrifying stories without taking positive action doesn’t work. If you do that, you will drown in a sea of outrage. That doesn’t help you, and it doesn’t help the world. The only thing that helps the world is the positive actions you take.
That’s why I’m not interested in reading all the outrage on Facebook. It isn’t that I don’t care about these issues; it’s that I don’t have the time/energy/money to take positive action on them. My volunteer resources right now are entirely devoted to supporting the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles. I’m the President of the Board there, which is a great privilege, but also a great responsibility. About half my time/attention is consistently focused on the Museum. So I’m maxed out. Any additional outrage won’t prompt me to positive action; it’s just going to make me feel angry, stressed, and helpless.
No, I don’t want to hear about the latest outrage. Not because I don’t care, but because I do care – but I’m not in a position to change things. The only thing that hearing about the latest outrage will do is make me angry, and further destroy my creative life.
So I’m opting out.
Outrage is great if it prods you to action. But choose your outrage wisely.
phillippa lack says
Amen! I am getting there, too. I can only trust that one day Justice and Fairness will prevail
Tom Cotter says
Thank you. I needed that, quite meaningfully.
Unfortunately FB Purity is not available for Android devices. I would use it if I could. Social media is a slippery trap. Easy to fall into, hard to get out.
Excellent! As a former Social Worker I can empathize with your position and I agree with you. I have never been on Facebook and don’t intend to start as I don’t need one more rabbit hole to fall into.
Thank you Tien, you are a wise woman.
Keesha Standley says
Wow, you nailed it. Thank you for putting into words what I have been struggling with.
Carmen Martinez says
Well said Tien !
Sally Knight says
I’m pretty much where you are, Tien, although my warped sense of humor still has me by its hooks. That’s not likely to ever change since it’s one of my favorite qualities. However, I do believe that there are 2 things I can do about the ugliness in the world. One is to vote every time and take it seriously. Another is to live one small step above the fray. Live the creative life. Support craft and art wherever possible. There’s more. Travel. Reach out to those around you with small acts of kindness. Pick up litter. Support favorite causes with $$$, i.e. put your money where your mouth is. In sum, live like a decent human being.
Very well said!
Thank you so much – for giving me the answer I needed to find peace in this matter that was chewing me inside out for years (decades?)
Eileen J Crawford says
Exactly! I gave up exposure to what is referred to as “the news” years ago. I chose to avoid the anxiety and fear based stories. When I really need to know something, I get the information through comments on Facebook. I chose my weekly local newspaper as my source of stories, informing me of events of importance to my community.
Thanks for articulating this choice by telling your story.
Brenda Giesbrecht says
Good for you. It takes experience and maturity to make that decision and I’m so happy you’ve found your way to it. You opted out for the right reasons and now you can focus on doing the very best on the tasks you’ve been given. Carry on!
Thank you for voicing exactly what has been streaming in my head.
Yes, yes, and yes. I don’t watch news on TV or listen to it on the radio, but I do read two newspapers in the morning – NYTimes and the local rag – to stay abreast and filter my exposure. (How many articles do we need about Roseanne?!?) I don’t follow most of my friends on FB because they are just reposting stuff from elsewhere; I check their pages once in a while to see if they are up to anything interesting (usually not, or at least not mentioned on FB). I do follow fiber groups on FB – so much inspiration! – and a few other carefully curated groups. Otherwise, it is just too much.
Terri Bryson says
Thank you for this wonderful and wise post. It was a very good reminder for me.
Bravo. Great perspective.
thank you. I needed to read this. am on my way to install FB purity on my Mac.