The Echo Chamber of Social Media

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I have been caught in the echo chamber of social media for a long time, but the last few months it has become significantly worse. All around me people rise up, whether on Twitter, Facebook or comments, letting everyone know their strongly held opinions.

But nothing is original.

Everyone is echoing everyone else. As is usually the case, there are two sides and both are extremes. Nuanced opinion and thinking outside the box? That doesn’t happen in echo chambers.

Every once in a while, the echoes collide, creating a palpable dissonance, and then the echoes go their separate ways, making sure they land with what and who is most comfortable. No one ever changes their minds in an echo chamber. We change our minds when we connect over shared bread and real relationships.

Dialogue is best done in relationship, over breaking bread, over coffee.

This echo chamber is bad for our health. I’m convinced of it. I’m convinced that future research will show an increase in ulcers, heart disease, depression, and other stress related illness based on our being unable to turn off the chatter, remove ourselves from the echo chamber.

The echo chamber is even worse for our souls. My soul was in bad shape last week and it was directly related to the social media echo chamber. Because too many echoes create chaos. Information and beliefs are amplified out of proportion to what I can handle.

I am as guilty as anyone, probably more so. I participate in the echo chamber, getting caught up until my head aches from the sounds reverberating around me. Until I am so tired of the sound of my voice and my own opinion that I want to scream.

How do I separate myself?

It’s simple, but really hard. I turn it off. I turn off the echo chamber and I dive into real life and real relationships.So since last week, that is what I have done. The likes or dislikes of social media, the sharing of often useless information, the over abundance of opinions — I had to separate myself so that I could breathe, so I could think clearly. More importantly, I needed to hear God. When you are surrounded by such a cacophony of echoes, you can’t hear yourself, much less God.

Not surprisingly, only a week in to the separation and I can think more clearly. I get home and listen to Mozart and drink a London Fog. I read articles from all sides that I want to read, not those that are stuck in my Facebook face. I pray in ways that I can’t pray when I am surrounded by echoes.

I will not stay off line for long. I have good connections on social media and I know it can be used in great ways. Separating myself in this way is helping me see how I can better use social media when I do return.

But for now, the echo chamber has been banished from my heart and my soul, and I am a healthier person.

[And just in case you’re wondering how I posted this since I have supposedly left Facebook for a time, I have a little secret – I linked accounts so that it would automatically post.]

Really?

 

Toddler falls over railing at zoo into gorilla area.

Gorilla killed to save toddler.

Public outcry from impulse culture addicts.

Parent crucified by public opinion. Have to delete all social media, go into hiding. Told they are the ones who should have been killed.

Meanwhile,in Syria:

NOTE: Quote from Kay Bruner in The Curious Case of the Outraged Amygdala. Kay is author of the book As Soon as I Fell: A Memoir available on Amazon. You can find her blog here. 

Stop Dismissing Millennials

Last week, my husband and I had dinner with some friends. We ate fish tacos, caught up on each other’s lives and laughed until we couldn’t breathe.

Our friends are a lot younger than us. They are millennials – that group of people who are analyzed, written about, and talked about.  And I realize that I need to speak up about something.

This conversation on millennials being lazy and disrespectful, lacking in everything from common sense to brain cells has to stop. It’s gone on too long and it damages all of us.

I like millennials. They are my kids and friends of my kids. They are my nieces and nephews. They are my cousin’s children. They are my colleagues and students. They are my friends. (To be honest, we probably have more friends who are millennials than we do friends our own age – so there could be something very, very wrong with us….but that’s another subject.)

Of course they drive me crazy at times. So do people who are my age.

Millennials have grown up in a rough world. A world that on the one hand tells them they can be anything and have it all, and on the other hand saddles them with school debt and confusion. They have watched those of us who are older use and abuse social media just as much as they use and abuse it. Civil discourse was disintegrating when they were little, and has all but disappeared.

We need to stop making millennials into a single story. Contrary to what the media and others have led us to believe, millennials are creative, donate goods and services, and are worried about the state of the world and how they can make a difference. They value family and will work to create community.

Here’s what I want to say to those of us who are reading the articles and shaking our heads in despair about the next generation:

  1. Shaking our heads at the ‘younger’ generation is an ‘old people’ activity. Don’t do it. They need us and we need them. It’s called the “Circle of Life.” Go see Lion King – then let’s talk.
  2. It’s okay to disagree, but in our disagreement we need to be careful that we don’t dismiss people. There is inherent value in every human being, even when we disagree with them.
  3. Make friends with millennials – like real friends. Have people over for dinner, learn to laugh and talk with them. Relationship changes everything.
  4. Remember when you get really angry and want to lash out at someone who is younger – they are someone else’s son or daughter. The person who serves you coffee has a mom – and almost assuredly that mom loves them deeply and worries that people like you and I will treat them with contempt.
  5. Do what you can to make the life of a millennial a bit easier – that may be giving them an unexpectedly big tip, it may mean encouraging them to leave a job, or stay at a job. It may mean sending them money – just because you know they have college debt that will last ‘to infinity and beyond.’
  6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from someone who is younger than you are. Most probably, the millennials in your life are tech savvy and can teach you things that will make your life so much easier. Let them teach you. You will both benefit.
  7. For decades, older people have used the words “Well, when I was young….!” The problem is, it usually prefaces a comment that says we are superior. That is not an effective way to build bridges with people who are younger.
  8. Enjoy millennials – don’t let labels get in the way of enjoying the stories and lives of those in your life.

Now here are my words to the millennials in the room.

  1. You are a targeted generation – people want to look and point and make assumptions. Don’t let the Debbie Downers steal your spirit. It’s easy for the nay sayers in the world to have the loudest voices. Don’t let them.
  2. Find ways to work around the system.  Do not let rules prevent you from doing something that you know will work and work well.
  3. Be nice to the mean people.
  4. Work to defeat ageism. Don’t dismiss those who are older just because they may dismiss you. We need each other. I’ll say what I said to the non millennials: It’s okay to disagree, but don’t dismiss.
  5. Find your community but also make friends with people who are completely different then you in looks, beliefs, and values.
  6. You are the multitasking generation. So go on Facebook, go on Twitter…just don’t stay there. Your communication on social media is not a good substitute for the real thing.
  7. The grey buildings where you may begin your jobs will make you color blind. Don’t let it happen! Keep on seeing the color in your world.
  8. Remember to always operate by this question: “Who do I want to like me when I am 80?” It is an excellent life guide.
  9. You are the Harry Potter generation. You know what Dementors are and you know what the Dementor’s Kiss does. Don’t let the world’s Dementors steal your heart and soul. Guard both of them.
  10. Take care of your eyes and your soul. You’ll want them both to last until the end of your days.

This post is dedicated to some of my favorite millennials: My children, my nieces and nephews, Caitlin, Mary, Tayo, Ashley, Amanda, Amel, Caroline, Mason, Lara, Eric, Tina, Erik, and so many more – you know who you are! 

Beware: the Language of Heaven is Hell for the Passenger

no arabic

While living in the Middle East, we would often quote Islamic scholars and proclaim that we were “learning the language that we’ll all speak in Heaven.” We were not joking. With its rich phrases and flow, Arabic is a beautiful language.

After five minutes in a taxi in an Arabic speaking country, the beautiful sound of Oum Kalthoum’s voice will lull you into relaxing and enjoying all that surrounds you. You would never say a mere “Good Morning” in Arabic; rather you would say “Morning of Goodness!” to which another would respond “Morning of Light!”  You don’t say the mean-spirited “She talks too much!” Rather, you would say the descriptive “She swallowed a radio!”  And nothing so plain as “He’s crazy!” Instead, you would say “His brain is like a shoe!”

Twenty six different countries speak Arabic. It is a language that is centuries old, spoken by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. It is used in worship by both Christians and Muslims. It is a language with a history of narrative and poetry, a language of song and speech, a language of expression and beauty. While sometimes I shake my head at the impossibilitiy of the ‘ta marbuta’ and the fatḥah(فتحة) /a/, ـِ a kasrah (كسرة) /i/ or ـُ a ḍammah (ضمة) /u/, I absolutely love this language and I will continue trying to learn it until the day I die. 

Evidently, not all think as I do. Earlier this month, a student from University of California, Berkeley was removed from a flight. A passenger heard the student speaking Arabic and reported him. As reported by the New York Times, the student was from Iraq and had been to an event where the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon had spoken. The student called his uncle in Baghdad to tell him about this event. Unfortunately for the student, an arguably sheltered, bigoted, and clueless fellow passenger headed to the front of the airplane to report him. The rest, we might say, is history.

When I first read about this story, I thought I had no words. Anyone who reads CAB knows that I speak out about these things regularly. And there are times when I want to hear other voices, I want others to do the talking, the writing, to ask the hard questions. But there is a dearth of Western, White People willing to speak into the current climate of fear and xenophobia that creeps like a cancer through our country. This climate is perpetuated by ill-mannered politicians who vow to police Muslim neighborhoods; who ‘one-up’ each other on who can be the most bigoted.

When did we decide that Arabic was the language of terrorists? When did the 295 million Arabic speakers in the world become suspect? A passenger made an assumption based on limited knowledge and world view. An airline heeded that assumption. Instead of questioning her further, asking her if she knew Arabic, finding out more, a decision was made by the airline to remove a man because of the language he spoke. Deanna Othman says this in an article on Alternet: “Southwest Airlines has set a precedent with its action on that flight. It has validated the insidious paranoia that has become rampant in our society. It will unjustly lead Muslims and Arabic speakers to rethink their language of choice when boarding a plane.” 

This should trouble, if not terrify, all of us. It’s one thing when a passenger is misinformed and foolish. It is entirely another when a corporate entity asks no questions and falls into the reactionary fear that causes poor decisions. 

Because here is the truth: 

Unbreakable stereotypes, xenophobia, racism, bigotry, and fear of the one who is ‘other’ – all of these are far more dangerous than any language will ever be.

To you I pose these questions: When did fear begin to replace common sense? How can we change this? What can we do indivdually and/or collectively to respond? إن شاء الله [Insa’Allah] we will find a way to move forward together.

After the Outrage

Sirnak

The outrage that echoed loudly through social media the last few weeks has left us for a time.  It is now old and uninteresting, sort of like leftover turkey that sits, covered in plastic, in the refrigerator a week after Thanksgiving. No one cares anymore, and so we gladly throw away the carcass. We are ready to move on.

But after the outrage there is still a refugee problem. After the outrage, Lebanon, Baghdad, and Paris still cry out from a wounded place. After the outrage, there are still faces of human need that flash across my mind.

Outrage seems to do little to motivate for the long term. It may cause a one time gift of time or money and it certainly feeds the conscience, but it is not sustainable.

But mercy is sustainable. Mercy and compassion continue long after the outrage passes. Mercy and compassion are borne out of love for God and for those who are made in his image.

This next month, the Western world will focus on a day that has come to mean glitter and stuff. A day that has slowly eroded in meaning, coopted by money and market. And in truth, I love glitter and sparkle. I love lights and baubles.

Competing with the glitter and glitz is the Season of Advent. A time of silent nights and candle time. A time of waiting and longing, a time to pray for the refugee and the broken one. Advent is not a time of outrage, but a time of mercy and compassion. It is a time to live beyond the outrage, in a place of quiet consistency and anticipation. It is the time of the irrational season, where mercy and love trump reason.

The outrage is over, and Advent has begun. Refugees still try and get through unsafe waters onto safe shores; millions on millions are still displaced, violence still breaks our hearts and takes those we love.

The outrage is over, but a broken world remains in desperate need of our mercy and compassion. Can we live above and beyond the outrage? 

Ways to live beyond the outrage:

  1. Make refugee kits
  2. Show this movie to some people in your life: Overview of Refugee Crisis from the Refugee Highway. Think about showing it to a community group, your church, a group of friends and use it as a time to learn more about the world of refugees.
  3. Work in a soup kitchen this holiday season. There are huge needs during the cold weather and volunteers are welcome.
  4. Set aside a time each day to pray for the world.

We pray for all whose lives
have been touched by tragedy,
whether by accident
or a deliberate act.
For those who mourn,
immerse them in your love
and lead them through this darkness
into your arms, and light.
For those who comfort,
be in both the words they use
and all that’s left unspoken;
fill each heart with love.
We ask this through Jesus Christ,
whose own suffering brought us life,
here and for eternity. Amen

©John Birch Read more at: http://www.faithandworship.com/prayers_peace.htm#ixzz3t4dzO796
Under Creative Commons License: Attribution
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Light Shines in the Darkness 

I woke up early to a grey sky and soft summer rain falling. I could hear water on the pavement sloshing as cars went by.

All was peaceful inside, and then I made the mistake of looking at the news. From harvesting babies to refugees trapped at sea,I saw a world of evil and horror. I began to cry.

I don’t want to live in a world that aborts live babies and cuts them up for profit, saying its only “3% of the total budget.” I don’t want to live in a world that turns people away from its borders, that they might die at sea. I don’t want to live in a world that sees Donald Trump as newsworthy and turns its back on the homeless. I don’t want to live in a world that stays silent in the face of evil.

I don’t want to be part of a nation that calls itself progressive as it drones other parts of the world.

And I don’t want to be that person that stays silent and apathetic.

I don’t want to participate in evil because of my fear of speaking up. I want to love with abandon, to give my life with joy, to turn the other cheek, to pray for my enemies, to speak up for those with no voice — the refugee, the disabled, the unborn.

I have no more patience for politicians and televangelists, for those who manipulate words and cover truth.

I suddenly feel too old to play the games of a politically correct society; a society that sees itself as so progressive that it’s regressive. Because you know something? We are not evolving–we are devolving.

I want to live my life in faith and honor of the One who made me, who gives me breath each day, who understands the human heart and sees beyond the surface to the hurting, the hungry, the lost.

This Sunday I feel old and tired, and I have to believe there are others out there who feel the same.

I read these words and I am encouraged:”In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”*

Light shines in the darkness.

It’s  still raining outside, and the news is still beyond believability. But this truth I know: this truth I need to live by today: Light shines in the darkness. 

Blogger’s Note: It was after I wrote this that I read an article that lightened the grey of the day with its hope. It’s of a Syrian family that makes it safely to the Greek Island of Kos after traveling on a small raft all night long. They are taken in and given security and safety. And the light shines in the darkness.

John 1:4,5

For my Friend and the Kids he’s Raising

I sit in a row of cubicles toward the front of a large building in downtown Boston. One of my cubicle mates is a man from Malawi that I’ll call Paul. He is a handsome, intelligent man and we have become good friends in the past few years.

Today he asked me if I had seen what happened in McKinney, Texas. McKinney, a suburb of Dallas, is described as a “fast-growing, mostly middle-class suburb with deep racial and economic divisions.”*  The setting was a suburban neighborhood on the west side of the city that is described as racially diverse. It is considered a place where there are good relationships between a diverse group of people.

The details slowly emerge. A pool party in a subdivision. A lot of teenagers. A white woman making a racial slur, telling the kid whose mom was hosting the party to “Go back to Section 8 housing; a physical fight; police called; and then an escalation of violence. It had all the ingredients of a tragedy. There was none, except for in the life of a 14-year old girl. 

McKinney now joins the infamous ranks of places that have highlighted the racism present in the United States. Boston, Ferguson, Tamir Rice, “I can’t breathe”, Black Lives Matter, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin – these are the household words of the past couple of years.

And so I had seen what happened in McKinney. I had watched the video feeling sick to my stomach. I wanted to throw up as I saw a man who should know better escalating a situation. I thought of my black friends and colleagues, and realized yet again that the world they live in is different from the world I live in.

But back to my colleague — Paul has two children: a beautiful daughter who just finished her freshman year of college, and a son who is in middle school. And when he saw the video of the 14-year old girl in a bikini, a towel wrapped around her, he saw his daughter. He saw his daughter thrown on the ground, her face in the grass. He saw his daughter, crying out for her mama. He saw an officer, knee on the back of a little girl, his little girl. Because he is black, and his daughter is black.

I have two daughters, and they are strong young women. One of them has been known to yell at a police officer, to shake her finger in his face. I am not proud of that, but I never worried that she would be thrown to the ground — because she lives in a different universe than Paul and his kids.

I’m not arguing the full case of McKinney here. I was not there. I know some of the story, but I don’t know all the story. I am arguing that you don’t throw a 14-year old girl to the ground. It’s not okay.

My heart is breaking for the Pauls and those they are raising – their girls and boys. My heart breaks for that little girl. I don’t care what she was yelling, that she was thrown on the ground, face to the grass, is not okay. She calls for her mama at least three times, and each time my heart breaks.

The United States is grossly arrogant when it comes to the world stage. We claim the moral high ground on every issue. We claim freedom, justice, liberty for all.

For all but Paul and the kids he’s raising. 

**********

I highly recommend this article from Austin Channing – This is What it’s Like. Here is an excerpt:

But for a moment. Before this becomes about you and your actions and your reactions and your thoughts and your assessment and your judgements, i need you to know two things. 

1. I need you to know that she is fully human. I need you to know that she is a full person who exists outside this one moment and also felt every yank, tug, pull, press of what you watch. I need you to know that this is not “just another” anything. This is a moment in this girls life forever. She slept in her bed this weekend, and ate breakfast prepared by her momma, and received phone calls from her girlfriends, and is right now trying to make sense of how her body, mind, emotions and spirit will carry on in the world. She is human. 

2. I need you to know that whatever feelings I had as I watched this unfold, whatever pain I felt, whatever reaction I had, God had tenfold. God felt every yank and pull. God felt every shooting pain and press of the body. God felt her sobs. For God knows the violence of this world, is intimately aware of state-sanctioned brutality. God needs not imagine. God knows. God knows this little girl’s pain, a pain she didnt choose and should not have endured. – Austin Channing

*Jarring Image of Police’s Use of Force at Texas Pool Party – NY Times