When my husband and I were dating, the trendy thing to do among couples was to “take a break” from each other. To break up to see if you were really meant to be. Everyone was doing it. I mean everyone. We may have been the only couple that refused to do what we knew would only end in us getting back together anyway. Like pretty much everyone else did. But from time to time we did, and still do, back away from each other. Give each other space. Refocus on what our purpose of being together is.
Like any relationship, the internet can feed you or it can drain you, depending on what you focus on. Depending on what you make the focus to be.
Why do so many people break up with the internet? Even when they know it will most likely only last a few weeks to a couple of months? Why do so many people feel they need to “take a break” from it all? And why do they usually come back to report they feel so refreshed and wish they could disconnect forever?
Because the internet is distracting. It’s depressing. It’s competitive and cynical and assertive. Often, it’s even hostile.
But it has become a necessary relationship in our lives. It has created new ways to communicate. It has allowed everyone to have a voice. Everyone has a platform from which to say what they want. What they feel. What they think. I remember Twitter and Facebook were so thrilling in the beginning: I could post a status about whatever I wanted and someone who lived miles and miles away would actually comment back. Someone I didn’t even know on a face-to-face basis! Talk about connection! Talk about being heard!
It’s amazing how quickly the initial thrill wore off and how easily these platforms have become so comfortable, so freeing, so … important. Even those who would rather die several times over than have to climb the steps of an actual, physical platform and speak into a microphone to address hundreds of people, even just to say “Hi” never mind to say anything worthwhile or – kill me now! – personal, are grabbing their virtual mics and declaring whatever it is they want. And we’ve learned to do it within the posture of a monologue, not a dialogue.
George Orwell said, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” I saw this on Facebook as one of those inspirational quotes you often see floating around. The kind I’m sometimes guilty of perpetuating. As you can imagine, there were lots of Yes!es in the comments, most likely from people like you and me who believe they own the right that Orwell was speaking about.
But what if someone were to tell them – US! – something they do not want to hear? Would the quote apply equally to the other person as well? What if someone were to try to turn their platform monologue into a dialogue? Would they still wholeheartedly agree? Would they still shout an emphatic, “Yes!”? Would I?
History is written by the victors. We all know that Churchill saying. But what about present, popular thought? Who is that being written by in this age of millions of voices shouting from their self-created platforms?
By the victors. By those who know how to wield (s)words. By those who display empowerment and authority via the Mighty Written Word. They are seen as the victorious. They are hailed as the heros. And we let them tell us how we should live:
We are to fight for our own empowerment. For our own rights. We must never let anyone else tell us what to do or what to think or who to be. We don’t ever have to agree or compromise or extend ourselves because we have the right to tell people what they do not want to hear, because we are liberated. Because we have rights. And we are right. If others don’t agree with us, so be it. Cut them loose. We’ll be better off without them.
It’s an appealing message. It’s powerful. It makes us feel powerful. So we all write it. We all say it. We all do it. Even with complete strangers via our new mutual friend, social media.
But how’s it working out for us? Truly?
We focus on differences.
We are isolated.
We are angry.
We have no faith in humanity.
We need to “take a break.”
My husband always wisely councils me not to participate in social media smackdowns. Sometimes I heed his advice, sometimes I don’t because, you know – ugh! – that person really needs to be set straight! But every time I engage – Every. Time. – I walk away feeling one or more of the things listed above.
Who out there aims to draw out what we have in common, rather than what separates us?
Who out there uses words to create harmony, rather than using them to stir things up?
Who out there seeks to eliminate the noise and clatter, rather than contribute to it?
What if instead of seeking individual empowerment, we sought out unity?
What if instead of demanding our own rights, we extended grace?
What if instead of embracing our freedom to tell people what they do not want to hear, we actively rallied peace?
What if instead of being so self-reliant, we entered into relationship to learn from one another?
That would be truly counter-cultural. It would be refreshing.
And it would bring us together. It would create authentic solidarity and justice and kindness and restoration and quiet. It would eliminate the urge to disconnect.
That title up there? That’s my moto for 2015. But I’m not going to break up with the internet because I know we’ll just get back together again anyway. I’m just going be more cognizant of when we need to give each other space. I’m going to refocus on our purpose of being together. I’m going to try to be counter-cultural in my use of it. And I’m going to try to turn my platform monologues into comfy couch dialogues.
Who wants coffee?