A few weeks ago, my dear friend Penny and I had the opportunity to see one of our favorite authors, Glennon Doyle Melton, speak. Glennon is a truth teller and hope spreader, with a delightful wit and a spiritual gift of bringing graceful and peaceful (or simply hilarious) words to any situation. I started following Glennon several years ago, when her "Don't Carpe Diem" post went viral. Her words cut straight to my heart and I quickly proceeded to read every word she had written and become a part of the Momastery community. Instantly, I knew I had found my tribe. The women who follow Momastery are kind, gracious and accepting. They have a heart for the world. . ."there is no such thing as other people's children" and "sister on" are the kind of battle cries you find there. They don't sugar-coat the brutiful nature of life, but they choose to be grateful and embrace laughter over complaint. And they lift their sisters up both in words and deeds, such as through togetHERrising. To be in a room full of "Monkees" with my dear sister in Christ, Penny, was an unforgettable experience. With light slanting in the gorgeous stained glass windows and the laughter and tears of women who just "get it" raising up to the rafters, it was pure Love, Spirit and Grace. Glennon said so many amazing things, but one of her final thoughts that came from an audience question has really stayed with me.
A young woman a few pews away from us stood up and took the microphone. She asked Glennon how we should approach social media. There are so many good things (like Momastery!) and so many negative things, especially in this very political year. How do we use it the right way?
"Wow!" I turned to Penny. "That was a great question." We all hung expectantly waiting for Glennon's answer. In typical G fashion it was brilliant and helped give us clarity. She discussed how social media is a real world for us, we live our lives there. . .people fall in love, make friends, laugh, cry and all of the things we do face-to-face. But we have to be smart about how we use it, as social media shapes our reality. I wrote down these words of wisdom she shared at the end.
"Choose who you follow on social media intentionally. That is who you give power to."
"You form your thoughts by who you follow. Who do you want to be? Arrange your social media news feed to reflect that."
"We will always be what we consume, be intentional and choose wisely."
How beautifully she articulates and confirms the things we have all suspected to be true. My reality is very much shaped by the media I consume. When the kids were very little when someone asked me if I had heard about (insert globally significant current event here), I would ask, "Um, was that on Sesame Street?" because if it wasn't, I was pretty sure I hadn't seen it or heard it. I lived in a bubble of DVR'ed episodes of Mister Rogers, Word World, Ellen and Sesame Street. This was before I had a Facebook account, and now I am a little embarrassed to admit I really do get most of my news from Facebook. (I'm pretty sure I am not the only one, though!)
Since social media is my reality, I have to be careful about how I spend my time there. As my television friend Mister Rogers says, "Do you ever grow ideas in the garden of your mind?" My head is a precious place, and I have to be careful about what I plant there, right? The internet is full of weeds (COMMENTS SECTIONS, anyone???), and also full of seemingly delightful things that can take over if we let them. I remember my neighbor Jo Ann telling me over the fence when I was quite new to gardening to plant my mint in a separate pot or it would take over everything else in my garden. I think the same kind of principle can be true of our internet lives. Even things that seem good and entertaining can choke out the other good things growing there if we let them. FOR EXAMPLE. . .following the local news SEEMED like a good idea. Until I ended up so heavy with the weight of the sadness in our city that I would end up angry and depressed with the articles popping up in my feed every three stories. I decided to unfollow the local news and instead just follow trusted friends who follow the local news, so they could alert me to the important stuff. Only you know your mind and what you can plant there!
It was delightful one day when a friend introduced me to the "unfollow" button. I had no idea that this existed, and it is incredibly useful for the people who try to plant weeds in your mind, but you still love them and don't want to unfriend them. Unfollowing is like, "We're still cool if I saw you face to face, but I can't let you in my head every single time I get on the interwebs. Not happening." If you tend to carry the weight of other's problems like I do, unfollow can be a powerful tool for helping manage the load. If there is someone I haven't seen since 1994 and they enjoy using social media to vent about everything under the sun, you had better believe we are moving our friendship to unfollow status. Other people may be able to brush it off easily, but I am too susceptible to letting other people's problems take up precious head space.
The other thing Glennon urged us to consider is who we DO follow, as in following the people who live lives that we admire, who call us to be our best, who reflect our hearts. I am fortunate to have a lot of those friends. I love encouragers, and we all need more of them both virtually and in our real life. Don't you just love those people who just make you smile every time you get on facebook?? And it is helpful to follow people with views different from our own. . .they expand our perspectives! So I don't instantly unfollow anyone who votes differently than I do or eats differently or spends differently or lives differently or whatever. I look, I watch, I listen, I learn. That's what being human is all about!! But if someone constantly uses an attacking, negative, hurtful, or complaining tone, I need to make the same kind of decision about them that I make about people in my real life- If I know someone like that, we're not going out for coffee or sitting at the same lunch table, OK!? We're just going to be on, "I'll say hi to you when I run into you in the grocery store" status, and maybe I'm not even stopping. We can't let those toxic peeps in our personal space on social media, either.
Since I'm seeing more how media shapes our reality and Glennon's words are so fresh in my mind, I am going to take a few days off of Facebook to really contemplate them. I've been really upset recently about some things that have been going around in our community and in our nation. Since Facebook is shaping my perspective of the humans around me, I feel like the world is angry at each other- everyone from my friends to our local and national leaders and POLITICS- UGH!!! - and my heart hurts. It just hurts. And then my mind just starts spinning and I'm sad. I was worrying over this in my kitchen last night when Paul came home.
"What's wrong, Jen?" he asked, as I forlornly dropped sun dried tomatoes on some pizza.
The kids were arguing in the basement and my mind was spinning with something angry someone had just written to a friend of mine on social media and I was just so. . . SAD. I wanted to fix it all and I couldn't.
"Honey, I just want peace on earth. I want peace in my home and in our town and in our world. How do I get that??? I'm just so heartbroken."
"Jen," he said. "Start here."
And he yelled down the basement stairs, "HEY YOU GUYS!!! BE KIND TO EACH OTHER!!!"
And we laughed.
I need to start here. Peace starts here. Just like Mother Teresa said. . .it begins at home. I need to immerse myself in my surroundings to get a more real perspective, and do some serious reflecting on who I follow and read on social media. . .who do I give power to? Who do I let live in my head? I hope after I do this, I am able to come back with a more fresh and healthy perspective of the good in the world. I know Facebook will go on without me for a few days, as much as I like to imagine that everyone NEEDS me to like all of their pictures. . .their pictures are super cute and lots of other people will like them in my absence. LIFE WILL GO ON WITHOUT YOU, Jen. Step back. Plant your mint in a separate pot before it takes over.