How do you behave when you can be completely anonymous? The internet can shield us from face-to-face contact, and for many people that can lead to snark….or worse. As Glennon Doyle Merton points out, the internet itself is neutral. We bring to it what we are. We get out of it what we seek:
The internet is neither good nor bad. It’s neutral—it becomes for each of us exactly what we bring to it. In our real life and our internet life, we live inside whatever we build. Since we are spending more and more of our lives online, our internet selves must be decent, courageous healers so we can inhabit communities of tolerance and humanity.
Here are a few gut checks:
1. Remember, you are what you post.
Integrity means there is not a real-life you and an internet you. The two are one and the same. If you’re not kind on the internet, you’re not kind.
2. Post with intention.
Before you hit send, ask yourself: Why am I sharing this picture, meme, idea, article? Is your true motivation to spread joy, encourage, enlighten, teach? Or is it to brag? To shame someone? If your intention is pure, then the response will be, too.
3. Dispense compassion.
When people express opinions that differ from yours, take it as a chance to grow. Seek to understand over being understood. Be curious, not defensive. The only way to disarm another human being is by listening.
For those of us with Facebook feeds who follow sites other than just friends and family, we can choose whether we follow fake news or hateful sites. Instead, we can choose sites that help expand our knowledge and compassion. Our feeds are like gardens we can choose how to plant.
And we always have a choice of whether we want to pass on snark, or hate, or false information, or sarcasm. Whether we want to pile on a mob mentality of attack and destruction.
We can choose to make our responses to other people’s posts measured and kind, to rely on facts rather than innuendo, and to simply not respond. We can help build the type of world we want to see, right here on the internet.
Do not lose heart. The challenges you see today are the ones you must face. You are strong enough to do your part, and you will find allies everywhere you look.
Do not be afraid.
You may feel you are riding on stormy seas, but look around you. In the words of Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes:
Look out over the prow; there are millions of boats of righteous souls on the waters with you. Even though your veneers may shiver from every wave in this stormy roil, I assure you that the long timbers composing your prow and rudder come from a greater forest. That long-grained lumber is known to withstand storms, to hold together, to hold its own, and to advance, regardless.
In any dark time, there is a tendency to veer toward fainting over how much is wrong or unmended in the world. Do not focus on that. There is a tendency, too, to fall into being weakened by dwelling on what is outside your reach, by what cannot yet be. Do not focus there. That is spending the wind without raising the sails.
We are needed, that is all we can know. And though we meet resistance, we more so will meet great souls who will hail us, love us and guide us, and we will know them when they appear. Didn’t you say you were a believer? Didn’t you say you pledged to listen to a voice greater? Didn’t you ask for grace? Don’t you remember that to be in grace means to submit to the voice greater?
Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.
You do not need to do everything. Do what you can, where you can, with what you can. Your actions combined with actions from millions of like-minded individuals will make a difference for good.
Do not lose heart.
It is so easy to work, work, work, building up our resumés. Noses to the grindstone. Shouldering on. But, when it all comes to a stop, when we are done on this Earth, have we built up what really matters?
Will we leave behind people who loved us, who we loved with everything we had to give while we had the chance to give it? Have we showed our people how much they mean to us? Have we dared to truly love?
Or will we leave too much left unsaid, unfelt, unloved?
We still have time to choose.
Once there was a man who found a penguin covered in oil, suffering, unable to move, on a Brazilian beach. He took mercy on the penguin, fed it sardines, cleaned it, and nursed it back to health. And, after 11 months, the little penguin returned to the sea.
But the following year, that penguin, Dindim, came back to the 71 year-old retired brick-layer who had saved him. And Dindim keeps coming back, traveling over eight thousand miles, to visit Mr. De Souza every year since 2011. When Dindim sees Mr. De Souza he wags his little tail and barks like a dog, settling into Mr. De Souza’s lap for cuddles and sardines. Dindim won’t let any other animals near his man.
Every year, while others of his kind are nesting, Dindim returns to Mr. De Souza who thinks of the little penguin as his child.
Every year for six years now.
What kind of miracle is this? An abiding love between a man and a penguin. A wild animal filled with love and gratitude. Nature more complex and rich and full of mystery than we ever could have imagined.
“I don’t know.”
Why does it seem like these are such difficult words to say? With the vastness of the universe and multitude of things to know, why is it surprising that there are things we simply don’t know? Why are people afraid to say these words? More, important, why are people so insistent that they alone have all the answers? Wars are fought, friendships lost, research thwarted because people insist they know and everyone who disagrees doesn’t. Doubt is derided.
Does this make sense?
Even one of the wisest men around, the Dalai Lama, frequently pauses to say, “I don’t know.” It’s refreshing, isn’t it? That frank acknowledgement of the simple reality that there is much we just don’t know.
Not knowing stuff makes us want to learn, to research, to stretch, to consider the opinions of others, especially authorities on the subject. Not knowing is liberating. It sets us free to inquire and learn rather than puffing up in false bravado.
Only when we are free to ask questions and explore can we hope to get answers.
Sonder. A made-up word for a very real emotion. In his Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, John Koenig defines it: “sonder, n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.”
It’s a remarkable realization. We are all the stars of our own lives. We have our supporting casts filled with friends and families, maybe a foe or two, and then a whole world of incidental extras to our story. People behind the lit windows or sitting quiet on a shared bus or in some far off country. When we pause, we realize that they, too, have rich and complex stories filled with their own casts of characters. Their sorrows and joys are as real to them as ours to us.
Koenig has created a remarkable video to illustrate this notion of sonder. And his Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows is well worth your time. It is filled with profound insight and wonder.
But what to do with this realization, this feeling of sonder? It creates more than a passing fancy in us, doesn’t it? It leads to looking others in the eyes with respect rather than dismissing them as somehow lesser. It leads us to want to help ease their pain, as we realize that pain is as deep and biting as any we ourselves have felt, maybe even worse. It leads us to reevaluate our own centrality. Yes, we are central to our own stories, by virtue of our limited perspectives. But we don’t need to be bound in the fetters of our own subjectivity. We are central to our own stories, but not to the whole story, the world’s story, humanity’s story. There we are part of a vast cast of players, each at once both the star of their own story, and an extra in someone else’s.
Have you ever heard of Sybil Ludington?
How about Paul Revere?
In 1777, 16 year-old Sybil rode 40 miles (twice the distance of Revere’s ride) through the raining night to warn the Colonial militia of the advancing British army. She was thanked personally by George Washington for her service and bravery and yet few now know her name.
What’s most important in a war, of course, is who wins, and battlefields are littered with fallen soldiers, some remembered, most forgotten. Behind the scenes are countless more. Some heroic, some cowardly. Some remembered, most forgotten.
Fame is ephemeral. It doesn’t attach itself only to heroes or the deserving. If you chase it, you may well find yourself doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons. And, even then, if you do the things that you think will make you famous, fame could well elude you.
Character, on the other hand, is everything. Doing the right thing regardless of whether you will be remembered for it or get credit always wins. Again, your actions may go unnoticed or unappreciated, but that doesn’t change the inquiry. Doing the right thing is its own reward.
What is the right thing in these morally ambiguous and complicated times? Faith, hope, and love remain. And the greatest is love.
Do the loving thing. Spread light, not darkness. Work for peace, not division. Let your words and actions be gentle and true.
Love each other.
Tomorrow is such a complex word. On one hand, it is reassuring that there is always a tomorrow, a fresh start, a day to begin anew. But, on the other hand, the concept of tomorrow can be beguiling and seductive and keep us from starting what can be done right now today.
What is it you would like to start or do that may, frankly, take a while? What have you been putting off, perhaps for an endless cascade of tomorrows? Those tomorrows are now yesterdays.
Today is as good a day as any to plunge in and begin.