Tuesday, January 9, 2024

It’s Time to Love our Neighbors As Ourselves

Recently I read an article with this headline: “Love your social media target as yourself.”

Obviously, this was a play on the biblical command to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

In our modern world, our digital neighbor can be 10,000 miles away physically, but nasty and insulting comments online can hurt just as much as a hard slap in the face from two feet away. (Actually, many people would say that a slap in the face is less painful. After all, your face will heal in a day or two. But especially vicious online comments can wound a person’s soul for years.)

Social media and other internet-based forms of communication seem to make people much nastier than they otherwise would be. And when the topic is politics, religion, or the latest cultural flash point, whoa, the needle on the Nasty Meter spikes past the red line. (There actually is not a device called the Nasty Meter, but maybe someone should invent one. On the other hand, it’s probably not necessary, since reading the first sentence or two usually lets you know how toxic the comments are.)
There is a phenomenon known as the “online disinhibition effect.” The National Institute of Health explains that while on the internet, “some people self-disclose or act out more frequently or intensely than they would in person.” The NIH claims the causes of this behavior are “dissociative anonymity” and “invisibility.” In other words, people can comment online anonymously, which removes the usual social guardrails on a person’s behavior. 

This is true, but there are many people who are NOT anonymous, and are much nastier online than they’d ever be in person. This is one of the main reasons I deleted my Facebook account five or six years ago. At first, it was nice to reconnect with old high school and college friends I hadn’t seen in years. But after a while, I noticed I was making the same observations repeatedly, such as: “Wow, I didn’t realize he was a psycho,” or, “Man, she really hates EVERYBODY.” 

Full disclosure: before I deleted my Facebook account, I went back and reviewed some of the comments I had posted. To be honest, I wasn’t very proud of the nastiness I often displayed. 
Since I’ve been writing a published weekly humor column for about a quarter century now, I think I’ve developed the ability to deftly employ the “Four S’s”: sarcasm, satire, snarkiness, and cynicism. (OK, I know the last one begins with a “C.” But it sounds like an “S” when you say it out loud, and in our “spelling-and-grammar-don’t-matter-anymore” culture, a lot of people probably think the word is spelled “sinnasizzum” anyway.)

I try to tone down the harshness in my essays, and if I make a deprecating comment, half the time I make it about myself. However, what I noticed about many of my old Facebook comments was that they were often just plain ol’ mean. The whole social media universe is kind of like wrestling in a pigsty. You’re already getting dirty, so you might as well start throwing mud at everybody. 

(Now that I think about it, some of my old high school friends probably read my Facebook posts years ago and thought, “Wow, I didn’t realize he was a psycho.”)

So, you very likely can make the case that this current essay is a classic “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” situation. OK, guilty as charged. When I was on social media I definitely typed out comments I never would have spoken in-person and face-to-face. (And I’m sure many folks have been offended when my published attempts to deftly employ the “Four S’s” fell short of the mark.)

Well, this brings us back to Jesus’ words, quoted at the beginning: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you watch the news at all, you know that very few people nowadays are following this divine command. This would be a good time for all of us to commit to taking the Lord’s words to heart. Whether the neighbor in question is actually in the house next door, or 10,000 miles away online, we need to bring some love back into our world. If not, we surely will self-destruct. If that happens, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves. 

1 comment:

  1. Oh, lots & lots of people are trying hard to love their neighbors as themselves. Every holiday season there are news stories of folks who pull together and set up a holiday meal to be offered to anyone who has no place to eat or is just simply alone. And think of the folks who run the soup kitchens and shelters all year long.

    I travel to VT often and the town of Brattleboro is very responsive to international situations....the refuges they eagerly took in from the Ukraine is but one of many examples.

    This past snow storm a young neighbor was at my door reminding me that if the snow was too much for me he'd clean off my car himself. He's not alone. Lots of people help others when it snows.

    Plenty of people remain in low paying, difficult jobs like social work, for example, because they care and want to make a difference. Think of all the teachers, nurses & other therapist. They spend all day and all of there career loving their neighbor.

    When the war began in the Ukraine, there were several stories of young men from here or a few other countries going there and volunteering to fight....putting themselves at serious risk. And as always there was a huge surge of response from agencies and individuals to immediately
    set up funds to help. This happens with every crisis. People care and want to help. And they do.

    Just this week I was in a huge traffic jam due to a serious accident and a lovely young woman allowed me to cut in front of her so I was able to maneuver closer to an exit lane.

    Human beings have a huge capacity for good. And they do a lot of loving their neighbor.
    Ruth O'Keefe