As many of you know, this past week marked the 3rd anniversary of 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion (#1000Speak). Although I’ve already written, and shared, an anniversary post, I wanted to see if I could manage one that was closer to this month’s theme. The question posed was essentially (I think): How we can use the social media we live with, which is often used as a mechanism for harm, to possibly help people, or prevent tragedies? Particularly given that concerns about the Parkland shooter were expressed to the appropriate agencies, but were not acted upon?
Those that know me, and/or regularly read this blog, know that I am concerned about the instant information, sound bite driven, world that we inhabit. There are significant drawbacks – the light-spreed movement of information allows for wide dissemination of misinformation, which in turn feeds conspiracy theories; the sense of anonymity has made bullying, and outright harassment easier than ever; it allows manufactured outrage to proliferate, which in turn increases polarization, and encourages an “us against them” mentality. Most alarmingly, truth seems to be becoming an abstract concept.
What is, perhaps, less obvious, is that I also recognize that I, and millions of others, have also benefited. Social media sites – particularly FB, have enabled us to find old friends that we’d lost touch with years ago – and sometimes we’ve, to our sorrow, discovered that some have already passed away. It’s allowed us to watch our children, and their children, grow, and made it possible for people to share experiences that distance would otherwise prevent. All of the sites enable us to let friends and family – near and far – know our status during disasters – both natural and man-made. The rapid spead of news keeps us informed of things that we actually do need to know – things like local events, or emergencies, or things of significance happening near loved ones. These are all good things. As is, if we permit it, the ability to easily expose ourselves to multiple points of view – if not to change our minds, to at least understand the views of others. And that understanding allows for empathy. And the more we empathize, the less we hate.
But there are other, tangible and already existing benefits to our constantly wired world. The much maligned millennials & the teenagers that are bordering the next pick-a-label generation, are the ones that have truly grown up in the digital age. They know how to use the various forms of digital communications far better that their elders. In fact, hey have already answered the question posed to to the #1000Speak bloggers. Yes, they may seem to be perpetually connected to something. And yes, they frequently overshare information. But that sharing is what made it possible for a high schooler in the Hudson Valley of New York to be credited with preventing a school shooting in Vermont – one day after the Parkland shooting. And this is not the only time – before or since. There have also been potential suicides prevented by others that were paying attention to what they saw on their feeds and ‘stories’. There already are people using social media, and what they find there, to help others. Although we, of the two dominant older generations, seem prone to dismissing them (as our elders did us), the fact is that they are, in the aggregate, well educated, technically savvy, and they care. They are living more compassionate lives in a ways that we boomers thought we would, but ultimately didn’t. And, although it may seem counter-intuitive, social media has helped them far more than it hindered them. It broadened their exposure, and in doing so, it gave them a greater reach. We could learn a great deal from them, if we were willing.
They are the future, and that bodes well for humanity.
I came across this quote from the Dalai Lama on a wall hanging yesterday, not quite related, but meaningful nonetheless:
Never Give Up
No matter what is going on
Never give up
Develop the heart
Too much energy in your country
Is spent developing the mind
Instead of the heart
Not just to your friends
But to everyone
Work for peace
In your heart and in the world
Work for peace
And I say again
Never give up
No matter what is going on around you
Never give up