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I have long followed people on social media I’ve never met and probably never will. If you have similar values, or are funny, or just live in my general area, I’ll follow you.
What tends to happen is they follow back, and over the years we get to know each other’s families even though we probably wouldn’t recognize each other if we passed down the same aisle at the grocery store. Similar pictures at holidays, pics of our kids growing up, comments on how a Washington sports team let us down (except for this month)…we find out we are more the same than different.
It’s the cool part of social media. Conversely, there are times like the last few days on Twitter (and it’s now starting to bleed into Facebook) where we’re back to the “I’m going to shout out a declarative sentence that oversimplifies a complex issue and makes you look like a monster” phase.
It’s what I call the “impulse control” days of Twitter and Facebook. React to such statements from a friend and you won’t change their mind; you’ll just lose them as a friend. Debate a stranger and you’ll get dragged into an ugly circle of name-calling and snark that you swore to yourself you’d never stoop to.
Lest you think this is just a recent social media deal, this situation goes all the way back to biblical times. Proverbs 26:4 states "When arguing with fools, don't answer their foolish arguments, or you will become as foolish as they are.” Mark Twain and George Carlin modernized it by saying “Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.” No matter how you word it, it’s true.
It drives me crazy, because in the greater scheme of things, none of it matters. Case in point:
Only a few weeks ago, I’m reading all this “I hate your guy” and “yeah, but your guy is even worse” nonsense, and decided to go check out a few Facebook posts. One person – who I have never met – had a Dad who, like me, really enjoyed cooking. I view people dishing up great meals as modern-day Da Vincis, as to me they are artists who practice in a medium I enjoy consuming.
Only there weren’t any pictures this time. The night before, the Dad had suffered a fatal heart attack.
In the blink of an eye, their world changed.
I reached out to him, told him I was sorry for his loss, and that we would need to meet one day, if for no other reason than for me to introduce myself and express my condolences in person.
I’m writing this now because it just happened again. A person who I have followed for a decade and watched them raise their children from toddlers like my own to college age like my own, just posted something. A week ago, they were all happy and looking forward to the summer. Today, they’ve just learned the youngest is seriously sick.
In the blink of an eye…
I'm very hopeful she will beat it because if you followed this family, you’ve seen these wonderful pictures of a group of scrappers who don’t suffer a loss easily, led by a strong and loving Mom and Dad. But if it happened to my child, I’d be scared out of my mind right now. I again reached out as a total stranger, offering prayers and to help in any way a total stranger could.
Which is why on days like today, social media seems like such a festering crock of waste. No one escapes these kinds of trying times, and when you’ve made it through such days, you end up looking back and realize the kindness of strangers turned out to be such a blessing.
12 years ago, my father died, we went through the funeral, then two weeks later my father-in-law died. It’s the kind of one-two punch that drops you to your knees, and during a break in visitation for the second funeral, I just needed to get away. I went to a Wendy’s on Route 419 in Roanoke and wanted a few minutes to be alone. When it was time for my order, I just said “Give me something good,” and sighed that I was taking a break from a funeral.
One of the cooks overheard this and said to me “for real?” and I nodded. She told the teenager at the cash register “I got this” and asked how I’d make a burger if I was grilling at home. “Grilled onions? Bacon? A double?” and as I would nod, she proceeded to make something Wendy’s has probably never sold and probably never will.
She gave me the tray and refused to take my money. “I’ve been there,” she said.
It helped. A bunch. For the next 10 minutes, I was able to escape all the gloom around me before returning to the funeral home. The kindness of a total stranger in Roanoke, VA not only helped that day, but has motivated me to do the same many other times since.
So please, Twitter, Facebook and social media…knock it off. You’re not going to change anybody’s mind with these political rants, and you’re not going to make anything in this world better by doing so. But you could be kind….and even reach out to a stranger who may be struggling…and actually do something good for this world.
Because in the blink of an eye….