Friends in the age of social media (revisited)

*** Opening disclaimer – nearly all of this post came from my July 30, 2016 post on the same topic. A couple of things were bothering me today: one relates to the known falsehoods still being shared by some friends/”friends” on social media – some of which, it now seems, were part of an orchestrated attack, by Russians, intended to influence our 2016 election (indictments were made public this afternoon); and one was a disturbing display of anger in a response to a offensive comment someone had made on a news item

The relationship to the first thing is perhaps clearer, since that was essentially the topic of the original post. The second was not behavior that I covered in the original post, but I have, in other posts, discussed our perpetual state of manufactured outrage, and the impact that it can have on people with emotional control and anger management issues.

So now I have an excuse to vent/pontificate a bit about the nature of friendship and how social media not only taxes friendship, but also reduces its meaning. But before venturing into that aspect, there is the subject of what to do, or perhaps say, when a friend/”friend” turns out to be one of ‘those’ people that threaten instead of ignoring. Now, there have been other times when friends/”friends” said incredibly offensive things to other friends/”friends”, but eventually those things were worked out, hurt feelings acknowledged, and escalation avoided – or sometimes social media-only friendships were severed, but this was different in that it was a threatening knee-jerk reaction to something that was out of proportion to the trigger. And it disturbed me a great deal. It was also a fluke of timing that I saw it at all – if I’d logged in at a different time of day, I would have missed it. And then I wonder – does this happen often? with this particular friend only? are there others? And does it matter? I honestly don’t know. What does matter is that I did see it this one time because a thing once seen cannot be unseen. And that leaves the conundrum of what, if anything, to do. I don’t know that, either. But I’m both disheartened and concerned, so I’ll work it out somehow. But in the meantime, Thomas Paine had very some very wise advice for those that are quick to anger: “The greatest remedy for anger is delay.”  

As far as the primary topic of friendship and social media is concerned, in the days before social media and the internet, we had friends, we had acquantainces, we had coworkers. Sometimes, for many reasons, those relationships shifted and changed over time – close friends became more distant, acquaintances became partners, unbreakable friendships shattered and new ones replaced them. Most of us knew, understood, and respected our differences (or when we didn’t actually respect them, we knew to choose our battles). Most of us, too, were raised with certain social boundaries – especially with acquaintances – don’t discuss anything more controversial than the weather. So mostly we didn’t – and maybe sometimes opportunities to understand another point of view better were lost, but mostly, especially for women, it kept the peace. Something we were also raised to do. I should note that I’m not only NOT waxing nostalgic here – I think that those lost opportunities should not have been necessary. I think there are always ways to respectfully discuss our differences to try to understand. Not to try to change an opinion. Just to understand. And I should also offer the disclaimer that I suck at social convention – but fortunately for all concerned my introversion kept me from saying too much to people I didn’t know well too often.

Now, though, friend is not only a noun relating to someone with whom you have a bond or feel affection for, but refers, too, to a member of your social networking circle, and the word has also become a verb related to the act of connecting to someone in social networking. It is the broader application of the word that gives me pause.

For most of my life, I’ve kept my personal life separated from my work life  – there were exceptions, especially as a young adult. For the most part, though, I’ve shared little personal information or views with most people; and I can honestly say that I’ve never ended a friendship over differences in politics, religion, or whatever, but I have over issues of honesty and trust. And therein lies my social networking dilemma.

We all use social networking differently. I’m not big on personal sharing, so Facebook, for me, is far more a combination of interesting information shares, humor, inspiration, politics, but very little personal stuff bleeds through – except, perhaps, for my blogging which I also do share on my personal Facebook.

With that baseline established, I can get back to my dilemma. I sincerely live by the idea that ‘you are entitled to your own opinion (or belief), but not to your own facts’. I understand that ‘facts’ can sometimes, although perhaps less often that some may think, be open to interpretation. And sometimes, especially in the realm of scientific discovery, something thought to have been fact can change with new information. That’s all okay. It’s actually a good thing. And I also don’t get overly rigid in holding onto my own opinions – I can, and do, change my mind based on new information. My current quandry is that not everyone thinks as I do about truth. Anyone that knows me – or has been reading this blog – knows that I am a critical thinker by nature. I live by the rules of logic. Somehow this is woven into the very core of how my brain functions. I research pretty nearly everything that interests or worries me – and I don’t limit my sources. This sometimes puts me at odds with my friends/”friends”‘s thinking on some issues, but that’s okay, too. Dialogue is good and the world would be awfully dull if we all agreed about everything all of the time. The problem comes in when I give in to my natural tendency, when I encounter something that isn’t true – be it a misattribution or a debunked urban myth, to call it out. Especially on social networking, where things spread like wildfire, never retract themselves, and prove Lenin’s infamous “a lie repeated often enough becomes the truth” axiom. For indeed, now more than ever, this is true. We are in an age when information travels at lightening speeds, and corrections get lost in the uproar. But I try. Perhaps I’m wrong. Sometimes I just don’t know. Perhaps I’m just being a pain-in-the-ass-know-it-all. But today’s indictments bear out my concerns.

To be fair, many of my friends/”friends” do take the more inflammatory posts down once they realize that they aren’t true (and in some cases have been repeated periodically for years). But some have said that regardless they though the meme was funny, or the quote too good not to share even if it wasn’t real. I’ve been argued with about the veracity of a quote even if the attribution is incorrect. I’ve been told, more than once, that I lack of sense of humor (this is likely true in certain instances), and most alarmingly, that the poster didn’t care if what they were posting was true or not since a) some percentage of news is untrue, anyway, and/or b) since whoever the story was about (& this crosses ideologies) is generally bad, it mattered little that this particular story was proven false, and/or c) both parties/all religions/whatever all do the same thing, anyway. None of these rationales make sense to me, and, although my circle of social networking friends is larger than the circle I would normally have been sharing “controversial” topics with in an earlier era, these are all family, friends, former coworkers, or others that I’ve forged a relatively comfortable relationship with & that I respect. But it’s hard for me to respect people that don’t place the same premium on truth that I do. But for a variety of reasons, I will not ‘unfriend’ them – much like with classically defined friends, it would take something quite egregious for that to happen, but it does make me uncomfortable. And it leaves me respecting their judgement just a bit less. And in the dark, pre-internet, ages, this would have been something that would probably have led to friendships fading away over time, but social networking makes it feel trickier. So I content myself with continuing to call out the truly inflammatory posts (since there is just too much hate out there already without fueling the fire with more misinformation), and just ignoring the rest.

Does anyone else have a magic formula for dealing with this? Does anyone else share my concerns at all? Among my friends/”friends”, I think I may be an outlier, but I find it hard to accept that this would be true. Maybe everyone else is just better at ignoring it? Maybe I am just a pedantic pain-in-the-ass.

To borrow a quote from Thomas Jefferson “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” Yet, I’m not so sure about that when it comes to different sets of priorities when it comes to truth.

“People who fail to regard the truth seriously in small matters, cannot be trusted in matters that are great.”  — Albert Einstein, 1955




Love and Compassion

Originally posted February 20, 2017 on the second anniversary of 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” — Albert Einstein

The ancient Greeks defined four distinct types of love, and modern psychologists and poets and philosophers have expanded the list a bit, but at the core of compassion lies “Agape” – which is defined as the love we feel for our our fellow humans, warts and all. We don’t necessarily need to ‘like’ them, but as fellow humans, we do love them –  and it is from this love that compassion springs forth.

In the two years since 1000 Voices Speak for Compassions first began, bloggers from across the globe have been contributing their own posts and sharing the posts of others.  We covered a range of topics through the lens of compassion, but the overarching theme of these posts is love. The subject matter may be different, but love it surely is. Love, and hope for the future, is why we participate.

“Love and compassion benefit both ourselves and others. Through kindness to others, your heart and mind will be peaceful and open.” — Dalai Lama

Reflecting on the past two years, I think that participating has made me more aware of my words and actions – and of the impact that they have. I still find that I sometimes focus more on the global than on the local because there never seems to be enough time, but that’s okay, too. And I still believe that as we act with compassion within our our own small parts of the universe, when and how we can, those acts ripple out. And if enough of us are acting compassionately, and kindly, the message, and the love, will spread. The world is often a terrible looking place these days, but we humans are, by an large, caring, compassionate people who just need to see that we are not alone in order to rise above the darkness. We all have the capacity to bring about change. And that change has to start within ourselves. And when I started writing this, I was infected by an ear worm of Under Pressure a collaboration of David Bowie & Queen, that is one of my favorite songs:

“‘Cause love’s such an old-fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And love dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves
Under pressure”
— Queen & David Bowie “Under Pressure“

And love, compassion, does indeed call for us to care for our fellow humans – and it is crucial to human survival that we heed that call.

This weekend, the Charter for Comapssions email newsletter arrived, and within it I found this reminder of why it is so important that we keep on doing what we can to make the world a better place:

Hold on to what is good,
Even if it’s a handful of earth.
Hold on to what you believe,
Even if it’s a tree that stands by itself.
Hold on to what you must do,
Even if it’s a long way from here.

~Pueblo Prayer

Omnia vincit amor

Image from

Merry Christmas 2017

“Christmas is not a time or a season but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”

~Calvin Coolidge

The scale of annual holiday celebrations varies greatly in my household from year to year. Neither my husband nor I are particularly religious, and, before children, we let our families handle the celebrations. Around the time when our eldest was three, we caved on the idea of a tree – especially since our families had grown more scattered over the years, and the annual shopping event that Christmas has become pretty much required that we do something.

We started out with living trees. Ones that we could plant out back when the ground unfroze. They did not fare particularly well, so after three years, we gave up, and tried an assortment of cut and artificial trees. The one in the photo – taken in 2014 –  was about 10 years old and had lights wired in, but it is now wherever artificial trees go when they die. At this stage of our lives, with a retirement move looming a few short years ahead, we aren’t planning to purchase another large tree. This year we just a small potted evergreen perched on a footstool.

The numbers in our household vary from year to year also. High school age foreign exchange students for several years – all adding their own traditions (which included the Asian New Year twice). Extended family members, and friends, living with us or just visiting. One child became two, then one was away, back again, and now away again. Our youngest child is not really young anymore, so the nature of the celebrating, and the types of gifts, changed over time. The year that we went to Williamsburg for a colonial Christmas experience we put up no tree except the small fiber optic one we brought to the hotel.

For many years my husband worked all holidays, so we juggled our day to fit the family dinner and something festive in – especially when we had visitors. It’s been easier for the past couple of years now that our schedule is more ‘normal’ – whatever that is. And it’s even easier now that my husband has retired, and my younger daughter is not working retail.

This year we have no high school exchange students, our elder daughter is now living & working in Japan, and our boarder has left the nest. It is only my younger daughter, my husband and myself these days. Still feels kind of strange after so many busier holidays, but actually kind of nice. The past couple of years we opted for dinner out, but this year we’re staying in (given the forecast, that was probably a wise decsion).

Merry Christmas to everyone that celebrates.

The photo is of 2014’s tree, lovingly decorated by my daughters and several of their friends.

Another weekend to think….

I can’t quite recall why, but I found myself using HL Mencken’s words, “There is always an easy solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.”, in a discussion with my husband the other day. Oddly, I don’t think it was political, but I’ve certainly found that it seems to fit much of our current climate in Washington – and the populism that led us to where we are.

Finding genuine solutions to what are, often, very real problems, takes time, energy, and inclusion – no problem can be solved, or threat eliminated, by excluding those that disagree from the discussion. Or by having a wholly unqualified outsider take them on. Yes, some views are so intractable that the chasm to common ground may seem unbridgeable, but people do open themselves up to other points of view, and possibly even to a change of opinion, when they are treated with respect, and they know that their concerns are being heard.

There is no easy answer. There is never an easy answer. But that does not mean that you have to either give up, or resort to the “easy” answers – it just means that you have to be willing to expend the energy that it takes to find something that works.
Food for thought on a potentially snowy weekend – enjoy!

Of mice & dogs

Winter is coming, and the mice are back inside. Most years they stay out of the living spaces. Often we don’t even hear them in the attic because there are many feral, and merely stray, cats around that deal with them before they have a chance to come in. One year we took out 4 early in the season because they cannot be allowed in the living spaces. I have nothing against them staying warm (and it is close to impossible to completely seal them out & still breath inside) – but I draw the line at sharing the human living spaces. Or seeing them at all, actually. But at least one broke through this year (the traps are out waiting patiently for any others…)

The mouse was the boldest mouse I’d ever seen. I spotted him first in the upstairs hall on Wednesday afternoon, but he bolted and vanished before I could track him down. We have baseboard heat, and I’ve found that they love those little openings that the pipes come through. On Thursday morning, I saw him bolt into our bathroom while I was getting dressed. My husband caught him & lost him while trying to remove him. We put a trap in that bathroom as well. On Friday, he began taunting us. He deftly avoid the traps, and had a marked preference for high ground (up the vertical blinds we go). My husband caught him & lost him twice – once upstairs and then a bit later downstairs. In between, he kept appearing upstairs while I was working, and my aging dog – fully animated with wagging tail, twitching nose, and ears at full attention – kept trying to catch him. It was clearly the best toy the dog has had in years. And the mouse kept appearing. I think he didn’t understand the dog. Alas, moving downstairs was his undoing.

For the next couple of hours the dog waited between appearances for the next one. Not paying much attention (humans are not nearly as fond of the game as dogs, I guess), I barely registered it when I heard the dog snapping in the kitchen. Then she came back to the family room and laid down looking at the kitchen, and I assumed the mouse had disappeared again. But shortly after, my daughter got home and announced that the mouse was on the floor not moving – well trying to move – well there’s some blood – & no, not moving. So my husband collected it, tossed it into the outside garbage can, and cleaned up the floor. And the dog, already looking sad that the toy stopped playing, was clearly upset that we took the toy away. Game over.

The good news is that it’s 48 hours later, the traps are still unsprung, and I haven’t even heard the mice in the attic since (although I’m sure that’s temporary). The dog has proven that her killer instinct still works (when she’s awake, at least) – not bad for a nearly 9 year old rescued mountain cur based mutt. I apologize to anyone upset by the fate of the mouse – I’m not enthusiastic about killing things either. This was kind of a microcosm of nature playing out in my house, though. And it was fascinating. And now I know that dogs can also be as good as mousers as cats.

And on that note…

“Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly;
Man got to sit and wonder ‘why, why, why?’

— Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle

Picture of Crystal, taken last winter by my GoPro.

Thoughts about gratitude and compassion

Originally posted November 21, 2015

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

— John F. Kennedy

The quotes above is one of my favorites. It serves as a reminder that expressing gratitude is more than saying ‘thank you’.

It’s fitting that this month’s optional theme for the #1000Speak posts is ‘gratitude’. After all, here in the US, the Thanksgiving holiday falls on the 4th Thursday of the month. And, although, I have no regard for the highly idealized, largely untrue, story of the Native Americans and the Pilgrims sitting around a big table eating turkey, I do appreciate the notion of having one day a year set aside to think about what we have to be thankful for. Especially those of us living in an area not plagued by war or famine, with steady jobs, and homes, and cars, and families to connect with – even if not geographically close.

So then, this month’s post should have flowed so easily, but it hasn’t. Just as Pope Francis has recently expressed his frustration with the state of the world at to the start of global Christmas celebrations “We are close to Christmas. There will be lights, there will be parties, bright trees, even Nativity scenes – all decked out – while the world continues to wage war. It’s all a charade. The world has not understood the way of peace…. The whole world is at war.”

I, too, am having issues expressing gratitude for what I have when so many have so little. And when many others have no regard for human life. And it’s discouraging that the kindness in the world, and there is still quite a lot of it about, gets lost in all of the reporting of violence, and the fear-mongering hate speech that drowns out the voices asking for reason.

“Whether one is rich or poor, educated or illiterate, religious or nonbelieving, man or woman, black, white, or brown, we are all the same. Physically, emotionally, and mentally, we are all equal. We all share basic needs for food, shelter, safety, and love. We all aspire to happiness and we all shun suffering. Each of us has hopes, worries, fears, and dreams. Each of us wants the best for our family and loved ones. We all experience pain when we suffer loss and joy when we achieve what we seek. On this fundamental level, religion, ethnicity, culture, and language make no difference.”
― Dalai Lama

Fundamentalists from all three of the major Western religions have convinced themselves that the end times are upon us, and they seem to feel obligated to do their part to make sure it happens. There is a massive refugee crisis now due primarily to the wars and terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa. And yet, too many people choose to focus their time and energy on manufactured outrage – like whether or not Starbucks’ holiday cups are an affront to Christianity. Which is discouraging, at best, when there are so many real things happening that we should be concerned about.

So yes, I feel like what I have matters little in comparison. Which is not to say that I’m not grateful, I very much am. But I’m frustrated. I just wish that there was more that I could do to affect a positive change for the rest of the world.

And so I have to remind myself that, while changing the course of the rest of the world is out of my hands, the small things I can do for others, and even continuing to share thoughts about compassion in my writing, do in a small way help bring about change. Every person that I touch in a positive way has the potential to share that positivity with others that they come into contact with. And the very fact we do pay positivity forward, even when we don’t realize that we do it, is something else that I’m thankful for. AIt demonstrates that there is hope for humanity  to somehow move past the current traumas, and find a way to build a better tomorrow.

“To be hopeful in bad times is based on the fact that human history is not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand Utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
– Howard Zinn

The future is indeed a succession small events. And in order to maintain our own inner balance, and remind ourselves good can be done, we need to build from the small. Self-improvement and spring cleaning gurus will always tell you to break your list down into small manageable pieces so that you don’t feel overwhelmed and just give up. So it is with life and hope. Focus on what you can do, and work from there.

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”
― Marcus Tullius Cicero

Happy Thanksgiving.