it’s time to stop this train

he didn’t say it to my face.

“he’s queer as a football bat.”

i remember feeling like my skin was turning clear, exposing all of the places deep inside me that this most recent dose of venom sunk into.  i sat a few seats ahead of him in algebra class and was used to his daggers, but this one was particularly painful.  i’ll never know if i was able to maintain my composure in that moment.  at that point, i was very familiar with how difficult it was to keep cool and pretend that the sting i felt wasn’t visible to everyone around me, but i’m not sure if i was ever proficient in my ability to appear unfazed.  i’m fairly certain that my teacher heard the comment, probably because he managed to say it in a split-second moment of silence, and she managed to come to my defense without further embarrassing me.  while i’m thankful for her stepping in, looking back i don’t feel as if her normal teacher discipline was enough for such a hateful remark – even if i was grateful for someone coming to my defense at the time.

this is the same guy who called me “faggy” every time i happened to be in his presence, and probably not surprisingly, never to my face.  you’d think that in a relatively large high school with several thousand students, my path wouldn’t have to cross with his more than once each day.  no such luck, of course.  i can remember everyday walking towards him on the way to what was probably one of my last classes of the day.  i’m not sure if i was dejected or exhausted enough to not pay any attention to him, or if i was just so angry that i literally couldn’t look at him.  either way, i stared straight ahead, as if he didn’t exist, waiting to hear that 5 letter word, knowing full well it was coming.  “faggy” this, “faggy” that…i can’t even tell you anything specific he said, probably because it was all nonsense used for the purpose of calling me “faggy.”  regardless, it was never as i was looking at him.  always beside, far off, or behind.  i wish i had had the guts to square up to him and demand him to say it to me.  to say it TO me.  i think i was too fragile at that point, even as a sophomore in high school, from enduring the years from middle school until that point of being talked AT.  not to mention, he was a senior.  that would have worked against me.

naturally, i have no clue what exactly he had against me.  i had never spoken to him before he narrowed his sights on me.  did he know i “did ballet”?  big deal, by the way.  was it because i didn’t have the typical persona that high school boys think they need to have in order to be relevant?  was it because i didn’t have a problem being myself in front of people who accepted me?  is it because i was willing, at times, to bare my soul a little bit?  do i even do that anymore?  i can’t even remember if i was someone who wore his heart on his sleeve because i was too busy guarding it.  or trying to, anyways.

still, for the purpose of what i’m trying to convey, that’s not the point.

i’m worried about us.  more specifically, i’m worried about the way we address each other.  more specifically still, i’m worried about the way we address each other on facebook.  i feel dumb for even typing that sentence, but i think most would agree that it’s becoming a huge problem.

i decided about 4 years ago to consciously change the way i use facebook.  i had become too arrogant in my opinions and as it was pointed out to me, quite negative.  even now, if i look back on my timeline to that time, i seem like someone who spent his life annoyed and cynical.  it’s certainly not something i’m proud of.  even worse, my willingness to be openly negative and annoyed spilled over into what i said to people in the trusty ‘comments’ section.  yes, even as a victim of verbal attacks, i dished it out (even to the point of delight at times, admittedly) from behind the protection of my computer screen.  hopefully i’ve improved in these areas.

over the past several years (and since trying to change myself as i pertain to and use facebook), i’ve noticed that facebook as a whole has been becoming increasingly vitriolic, probably at the same rate that facebook has been becoming increasingly more of a platform for many things.  this medium of social connection has now become an arena of self-bolstering for our quest to be superior in knowledge and right in opinion.

here’s why i’m worried: because we have turned facebook into a medium for our self-centerdness, we have turned ourselves into the guy that sat behind me in algebra class.

i challenge you to take a scroll through your facebook news feed and find an opinion based post.  we all have those friends who relentlessly stir the pot, so finding something like this shouldn’t be difficult.  once you find it, read the 37 comments.  it won’t be long before you find someone insulting someone else or a group of people.  some of the things people are willing to say to and about someone that they may or may not know actually blow my mind.  i’ve seen, and some sense been victim to, some pretty awful attacks.  i almost don’t feel as if i need to explain what happens, because you’ve all seen it, but the comments section gets out of control because somebody gets mad, then makes someone else mad, then someone else, and still someone else, and before you know it, everybody is mad and trying to outdo each other.  the once debate is now an argument, and the subject matter is now far from that of the original post.  i’ve seen it most when it deals with politics, religion, sports, or the mommy wars.  i’m starting to wonder if some people actually thrive off of these kinds of arguments, which is an entirely different problem.

the more i would read these arguments with waxing frustration, the more i realized that i would ask myself repeatedly “would he/she say this to his/her face?”  because of the nature of facebook commenting, people are indulging in the luxury of being able to take a good amount of time to formulate the best possible argument they can, to make it sound perfect and infallible, all while adding the perfect amount of insult and sarcasm.  they are literally taking time to write the perfect putdown, knowing full well they won’t have to deal with actually saying it TO someone.  i can hardly think of any greater cowardice.  what if these arguments WERE face to face?  would we be fine with saying the exact same things that we so easily say on facebook to the face of the person we are saying them to?  sadly, i’m not always sure the answer is ‘no.’  think about it…it’s way easier to let your fingers loose to just type away as they please than it is to say something from a few desks behind someone in math class, right?  this is getting scary.

the problem is that we are getting so comfortable saying whatever comes to mind on facebook, that it won’t be long before this keyboard confidence spills over into daily life, and we’re ignoring the respect we should have for each other, social cues, tension, or accountability.  we’re going to be ok with openly and freely insulting, tearing down, and attacking someone to their face…more ok.  probably the most painful thing about the insults that i got hit with from the kid from high school was that he must’ve known how hurtful the things he said to me were.  so hurtful that he couldn’t bring himself to say it directly to me and hold himself accountable.  he knew what he was saying was hurtful but said it anyways.  and safely from a distance.  we’re doing the same thing on facebook.

facebook isn’t all bad.  i have no problem with well thought out, respectful opinions and/or debates, and sometimes people truly feel they are shedding light on some things/opinions that may be misunderstood.  this is not in and of itself bad.  but facebook has given voice to the voiceless, and has given most of us an audience bigger than we have had or will have access to, so we need to remember that with great power comes great responsibility.  those aren’t just names and avatars you’re seeing, they’re people.  people with real feelings and struggles.  people who are sensitive, people who hurt, people who feel. and they can hear you, whether virtually or physically.  be careful with them.  know when to speak and not…you don’t have to say something about everything.  it’s a great skill to hold your tongue and be wise about weighing in.  holding our tongues doesn’t make us wrong or defeated, it actually breaks the cycle.  “when words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”  (prov 10:19)

i’m not sure if i even brought my point home here.  basically, next time you start to get “turnt up” by somebody on facebook, picture yourself sitting with them over coffee before you respond.  it’s time to stop this train.

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