My last blog post was three months ago – a relatively innocuous review of an important book I had recently read. Since then, I’ve written lots of partial drafts on scratch paper or notebooks but never finished them, and have thought about more that I never even started. As I read, listen to, or watch the news each day, my frustration (more honestly called outrage) almost motivates me to write, but I don’t. Over the last several years, I’ve written about the political state of affairs in the United States, but now for the most part, I remain silent, only occasionally reacting to something someone else shares on Facebook and rarely commenting. Why? Because I don’t know what to say anymore:
- I don’t want to offend friends who may see things differently than I do.
- I don’t want to say something that is based on incomplete information and therefore not wholly true (and consequently be accused of sharing “fake news”). I don’t want to be another of those knee-jerk responders who allow their chains to be pulled by yet another outrage and don’t bother to understand the whole story.
- I don’t want to contribute to the nastiness that is so prevalent on a platform like Facebook.
- I have a hard time deciding when something is so important that I have to speak out, especially in this atmosphere when there are so many things happening that go against everything I believe is right.
- It is difficult to address in one Facebook post or blog entry all the nuances and complexities of a story or situation, so one risks oversimplification or reductionism.
- I’m tired of all the “what-about-isms,” even though they are sometimes helpful for putting things in perspective. But the whole “both sides” thing, while important to keep in mind, sometimes leads to false equivalencies and leaves people off the hook when they should be shouldering much of the responsibility.
- I am only too well aware that some of the negative characteristics I want to call out in other people may be in me too, and I don’t want to be guilty of the same kind of hypocrisy I see in others. I also know that I often fall short of the ideals to which I call others.
- If I wrote something every time I am outraged, it would be difficult to get anything else done.
- I often feel helpless to do or say anything that will make a difference.
I am also trying (not always successfully) to put into practice in my own life my church’s commitment to being a “third way” church. I published an issue of Shalom! on the subject last fall, so I’ve been thinking a lot about what that means for the way I act in my little corner of the world. As a Christian, I believe that the kingdom of God is more important than any earthly kingdom, and that I am first of all a citizen of God’s kingdom. I don’t want to exclusively identify with either Republicans or Democrats, with one side or another. I want to be a bridge-builder and understand other points of view; I generally think most issues are not clear-cut or easily characterized as either-or; I don’t want to be just another partisan contributing to the extreme polarization of our time; I want to be a peacemaker.
For all these reasons, most of the time it is so much easier, less risky, and more fun to limit my participation on social media to posts about our travels, family birthdays and anniversaries and holidays, our wonderful grandkids, and (more recently) our cute new kitten (see above photo!).
BUT, and it is a huge but: My reluctance to speak out on one of the most important social media platforms often feels cowardly – a classic example of “silence is complicity.” I do not want to appear complicit in so much of the awfulness that happens every day. While situations are often more complex than they initially seem, there is often nonetheless a fundamental wrong at stake. Naming that wrongdoing, based on what I believe in the innermost core of my being, might appear “partisan,” but should that disqualify it? While I often feel like I don’t have anything new to say, I also recognize that because of many years of writing about difficult issues, I’ve developed some credibility that perhaps I should put to use.
Social media (in my case Facebook, since it’s the only platform besides my blog that I use regularly) is under attack with good reason, and we all either have to decide to abandon it or choose our own form of engagement. Some stick with cute babies and kittens, some share humorous or amazing things, others share a wide spectrum of content from other people and organizations, and others bravely and intentionally try to engage in constructive dialogue. My own informal rules of engagement are somewhat eclectic, although I rarely share anything controversial from other sources without adding a little commentary of my own and I rarely respond to controversial posts unless I feel very strongly about the issue. Whether those are good rules is another question, and part of what prompted this essay since I am uncomfortable with how I feel like I’ve allowed myself to be cowed into silence.
So what do I feel strongly about right now? Here’s a partial list:
- Racism, white supremacy, and xenophobia are wrong, wrong, wrong. We are in a moment in the U. S. where all are being sanctioned, whether explicitly or implicitly, at the highest levels of government, with really nasty results in all kinds of places. All human beings – regardless of race, country or nationality, whether they’re “legal” or “illegal”, political party, religion or ideology, or economic status – deserve to be treated kindly and with dignity and fairness.
- Lies and dishonesty do not help to establish trust between people. While many politicians stretch the truth (and sometimes blatantly lie), the frequency of lies and misrepresentations from the President is truly mind-boggling and deeply disturbing. Repeating the same thing over and over again does not make it true if it was false to begin with. I hate that I have to rely on a daily basis on fact-checking entities like Politifact.com and FactCheck.org to explain what’s true, half true, or false. I hate that we seem to be living in an Orwellian world where up is down and black is white.
- “America first” philosophy is fundamentally self-centered and short-sighted. Whether we like it or not, everyone living on planet earth is interdependent and interconnected, and we should be forging alliances with other peoples and nations, not disrupting or ending them.
- Basic democratic values feel like they are constantly under attack: freedom of the press, the rule of law, the checks and balances and accountability that come with three independent branches of government, etc.
- If implemented in good faith, the Golden Rule, common to all the world’s major religions in one form or another, could transform our words and actions: treat others as you want to be treated.
The dilemma: I am deeply troubled by lots of things. I don’t want to be complicit in wrongdoing and injustice by my silence, so I often feel responsible to say something. But I can’t and shouldn’t respond to everything. How do I choose when to respond, and how do I use the influence I have in forums like this blog and social media to be a force for good? Perhaps others also struggle with this same dilemma. How have you chosen to deal with it?