Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Social media lessons

Life lessons come from many places.  This one is from the cyber world.  I have a personal Facebook account, opened to locate my hard to track down younger brother.  Now, it's how I keep track of what's going on in family members' lives without having to interact with them much.  Handy when you in-laws make you bonkers and your cousins are distant.  I keep in touch with a few dear friends that I don't get to see often and never have time to call (mothering young children makes for wacky schedules and disjointed conversations).  I also have a G+ page.  There, most of the people in my circles are people that I have never met in person.  Many don't speak the same language I do, so our interaction is through imagery. It's been a fascinating look at the world through their eyes.

Social media, I think brings out the best in some people, like Catherine Morgan (who more than once has inspired posts here), one of my G+ friends who is raising money in support of St. Baldrick's Foundation (here's the link Catherine's page, so please consider donating, even if you don't have a lot, every little bit helps).  Helping her are people all over the world, and she's donating what she has, her hair. She's a fabulous cheerleader, a kind soul and has a great sense of humor; and she's not the only friend like this I've met there. Her kind words and snappy commentary have often cheered me up when I really needed it. Through her, I have connected with many other interesting and fun characters. Among strangers, I find a great deal of acceptance, constructive dialog (including differences of opinion), good information about current events, and beauty.  A Muslim man posted some lovely tenants of Islam (in four languages) with beautiful pictures the other day, and many of the ideas were ones that should resonate with anybody who believe in peace and being decent to other people. When classified by our religious beliefs, life styles and locales, we are completely different, but we share some fundamental values and common ground. These people are the reason I stay online, and sometimes they give me hope, inspiration and love.

Of course, there is the dark side of social media, the people who use it as a forum for hatred, bullying, and spreading lies.  I got a taste of this yesterday when I commented that somebody's argument was irrational given that they based all of their assumptions on incorrect information. I got nasty messages in return that made me really sad (about the lack of reasoning skills in the general population) and angry (that the guy felt he had a right to attack people in general, and I see him do it often, so I know it's not just me).  On my Facebook page, I've accepted friend requests from people I can't stand in an effort to maintain the peace.  It's not working; I can't just sit by and ignore misinformation, lies, and bigotry (especially when the bigotry starts out with "I have nothing against those people, but...").  I've found that many people I know have a nasty side that comes out online in ways I never saw in face to face interactions, and that really disturbs me.

So the lesson is, at least for me, among strangers there are many friends waiting be discovered.  The internet makes it possible to communicate with people from many places, of differing backgrounds and an incredible diversity of viewpoints.  We can use this to foster understanding and expand our worldviews, or we can choose to use it as a platform for hatred. The choice is ours.

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