Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit stillTS Eliot, Ash Wednesday
We are a mere ten days into June and woketastic outrage mobs have already cancelled Drew Brees, “Cops” and “Live PD,” the opinion editor of the New York Times, the editors of Bon Appétit and Refinery 29, J.K. Rowling (again), Gone With the Wind (again), Crossfit, the largest (and, incidentally, most diverse) church in the state of Alabama, Abraham Lincoln (who signed the Emancipation Proclamation and took a bullet in his brain for it), Winston Churchill (who navigated Britain through a war against bona fide fascists), LEGO police officers, and Paw Patrol (for having a cartoon police dog). The bar for what constitutes a thought crime keeps getting lower and lower.
There is a Google spreadsheet floating around to track every corporate entity and nonprofit that has not yet issued a meaningless and performative statement on racism. There is a Twitter influencer with half a million followers who is doxxing CHILDREN (yes, children specifically) who say anything that could be even remotely construed as politically incorrect online (your regular reminder to forbid every minor in your house from having a social media account), usually submitted to her by their young peers who effectively want to see the kids “swatted” by a wannabe celebrity. (She’s actually getting encouragement from real celebrities, who send her their traffic, because Hollywood is beyond awful.)
For any thinking person, social media has the atmosphere of a hostage situation or skipping through a field of land mines.
I have received endless text messages, emails, and phone calls this past week from friends and family members who feel like current events are taking a meaningful toll on their mental health. I get it, pop culture and political discourse is physically depressing. Most of them live in blue states where the crazy has been cranked up to 11 for several months now and it has been magnified by unrelenting stress over work and kids. Some have told me they are thinking about walking away from the communities they have built there wholesale and moving. (I’ve moved so many times, I can’t tell you what a relief a fresh start and fresh faces can be. So don’t confess this to me and expect me to talk you out of it. I will only talk you into a new adventure.)
That’s why you should turn it all off.
Stop scrolling out of habit and boredom. Cultivate a new, more positive habit to fill that space. Punish yourself every time you mindlessly check your phone. When you poke the Facebook icon, get down and do 50 push-ups. Use that time to pray or reflect on things in your life you are grateful for instead. Whatever it takes, but just stop.
Stop talking to friends and family who are too deeply invested in this stuff and consistently ruin your day. Be frank with them about it too. Tell them “I am sorry, but I have to have an honest conversation with you about how I do not like how you behave these days. I do not like the destructive and unfair way you think and talk about other people and our country. Our conversations have become toxic and they make me unnecessarily angry and upset all the time. I don’t enjoy talking to you anymore. I am genuinely worried about you living with this kind of toxic content in your head. I would love to have you in my life if you can find some way to put all of this down, but until then I have to think about what kind of environment I am placing my kids in. And I need to protect my own purity of mind.” Have the same intervention conversation you would have with a relative if you found a bag of cocaine in their house. Because that is what social media slacktivism and hatescrolling are – a drug that will rot your mind and destroy literally every relationship you have (unless everyone you know is already a loser).
The people who shitpost on social media are addicted to participating in the outrage. They get a thrill off of wrecking some stranger (and increasingly, people they actually know). It is not normal to be consumed with this stuff, but their minds treat it like a form of getting high. That’s also why their attacks, insults, and the objects of their fleeting but obsessive hatred do not have to make sense. They are not accidentally or involuntarily behaving this way, any more than the people in the traditional media who live to defame and destroy. They choose it and they will do anything to service it. They construct social bubbles to surround themselves with other people who engage in this behavior in the same way that a junkie will start hanging out with other junkies. In their upside-down world, you are the outlier who wants to live a clean existence or to mentally balance different perspectives. Everything and everyone is a means to an end for them. If you stick around them, they will lash out at you too over whatever nonsense is driving them that moment. They might even do some permanent damage.
You do not have to let these people shitpost all over your very real life.
Log off and pick up a book. Go for a hike. Buy a kayak. Take up photography or sketching. Build a telescope. Write poetry. Introduce yourself to new people at church and make an effort to go out to dinner with them. Throw a party where everyone checks their what-fresh-hell-is-this devices at the door.
Months ago, I wrote a post Pruning and Weeding as Frames of Mind, and I think I need to refer some folks to it again.
In it, I wrote:
[A neighbor] asked me how it is that I do not spend all my time in the gardens weeding. Do I have some secret? Are my beds lined with that plastic sheeting they sell in garden centers? Do I know of some awesome chemical?
I told her that her main problem is organic – that she doesn’t plant enough of what she likes. Have you ever thought about why you weed a garden? It’s the same logic as pruning – you are eliminating that which competes with positive growth for resources. The best way to eliminate weeds is to suffocate them with plants that you do like. Plants that fight back. I don’t have a lot of weeds because I have been known to plant 300 impatiens in a single afternoon. Weeds can’t compete with hundreds of flowers that derive their name from their impatience to spread and reproduce.
It actually requires less effort to be surrounded by beauty than it does to be surrounded by negativity.
I have adopted this practice in my life as well. I have become shameless in cutting off social relationships that fill me with anxiety, anger, or other toxic emotions. I don’t do social media anymore. I don’t hate-follow people or the news. As far as my life is concerned, all of these are just weeds and crossed branches that need to be eliminated.
Instead, I try to fill as much of my daily life as possible with things that are beautiful and good. I devote time to reading good books, going hiking or kayaking, sitting outside with a cup of coffee and listening to the birds, teaching Elise how to play soccer. Just sitting outside soaking up the sun. It’s not that difficult to smother the bad stuff with good stuff.
The garden is an excellent metaphor for living because the Garden is the primeval classroom for human activity. It’s our holy education on how to exist well in this world and enter into a positive relationship to what is transcendent, beautiful, and good. It is the space, physical and intellectual, that routinely brings us back to first things – to “paradise,” which literally means an enclosed park.
Still true. If you have too many weeds in your garden preventing it from flourishing, start chopping and let the sunshine in. Who knows, you may find that some of your negative influences are desperately looking for the impetus to change as well. You may be the kick in the pants that helps them look toward paradise instead of the gutter.