Facebook and its social media cousins are something of a Petrie dish of humanity. Memes go “viral,” platitudes adorn cogent images forcing some reaction, be it scorn, solidarity or sadness. Endless images of cute dogs expressing unconditional love and frolic give us hope that we are worthy of that love. And on and on.
Of course, social media is an echo chamber. We tend to befriend, follow or otherwise pursue folks of our own “ilk,” except possibly to troll some heathen with a differing worldview. And this is where the internet shines. It’s easy to harbor ill-will, even hatred, when the object of antipathy is a nameless, faceless electronic avatar.
Does social media divide or unite?
But as one tragic event has rolled upon another in the Age of Facebook I’ve seen another aspect of the social media phenomenon. Dare I say that it can also provide a foundation for understanding and tolerance? Before we dismiss this as yet another platitude, let me explain:
I am an urban liberal(ish) (I’m honestly not sure what I am politically anymore). As such, I am for gun control. Long before the Orlando shooting, or the San Bernardino shooting, or Sandy Hook, Charleston, Newtown, etc. I felt there should be much stricter regulation on firearms. Especially assault weapons. I’m just not into guns.
And yet there are friends and relatives I “see” mostly on Facebook that own guns and disagree with me about guns laws. They are law-abiding, decent people who happen to like guns, or feel the need to own one. So be it.
I am for gay marriage. Frankly, it’s none of my damn business. In any case, some of the most devoted and loving couples I know are gay. Friends and colleagues are gay (to skirt a cliche). I don’t really consider myself either “pro” or “anti” gay, any more than I am “pro” or “anti” straight. Gay or straight it’s never made any difference to me. This may offend some. We’re humans, for better or worse.
And yet there are friends and relatives on Facebook that don’t see it that way. They do not share my beliefs or I theirs. So be it.
I’m something of an environmental Cassandra. I fear for the prospect of civilization as we know it due to our blind consumption and destruction of Earth’s resources. I lament our alienation from nature – biophilia.
And yet there are friends and relatives on Facebook that think I’m a little kooky to think this way.
And so be it.
When I think about the tiny kaleidoscope of humanity that connects through me on Facebook, I am grateful. These are people that may otherwise have no connection, that thinks they would never associate with one another. But they are connected. And who knows how I am connected through this same network?
Every one of these people is flawed, fallible, contradictory human beings. No one more than I.
But here we are, sharing our thoughts and views and somehow tolerating each other. Maybe understanding each other just a bit better. By allowing our paths to cross, if only in the virtual world, the door remains open.
It is when we close off the path, shut down the conversation, vilify before even attempting to understand – even if we don’t agree – that, I believe, all hope is lost.
Image credit: Esther Vargas, courtesy Flickr