Friday, January 1, 2021

A Rule of Life for Facebook Posts--thoughts after reading Michael Curry's "Love Is the Way"


I recently took part in an Advent book study of Bishop Michael Curry’s Love Is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times. Partway through, we were given an assignment: to consider the section on creating a Rule of Life, and think about how we might apply it in our own lives. I ended up missing the subsequent discussion session, but decided to write up my thoughts and use it as a blog post.

A Rule of Life is meant to be a set of personal guidelines to help us do a better job of living in accordance with our own highest values. Rather than try to compose a Rule of Life for my whole life, which is a huge thing to think about and really requires a continuing effort, I decided just to formulate a Rule of Life for Facebook posts. If I want to post on Facebook in a way that accords with my values, what should I do or not do?

I’ve narrowed it down to three rules, more or less: one “Do post,” one “Don’t post,” and one “Maybe post.”

Do: post funny and hopeful things from my life. Silly cat photos, attempts at creative bread-making, a special star, colored lights. These are the kinds of things I enjoy seeing from others, and these are the posts that are more likely to be enjoyed by others and very unlikely to upset them. (Okay, it might be annoying if I actually posted photos of every loaf of bread I ever baked, but I’m assuming common sense here.)

Don’t: rant. Rants should be reserved for people who know and understand me, delivered in person or by phone, and given plenty of context. An out-of-context rant can make a person seem considerably more ugly than they really are. People who know me can sympathize with me or tell me if I am going off the deep end, and either way, won’t hold my rant against me. (Again, I’m assuming common sense here. Choose an appropriate person to rant to.)

There might be an exception for rants about things that don’t involve other people. It might be okay to rant about mosquitoes in summer, or about the way I utterly messed up a loaf of bread.

Maybe post: responses to other people’s posts and comments on current events or world situations, if they can meet three criteria.

First, is the post based on good information? This is a lot like saying, “Is it true?” There have been too many times when I read about something that happened and immediately reacted to it, only to later read a different account and realize that I hadn’t fully understood the situation. Sometimes I think I have informed myself well enough by looking at several articles on-line, and then discover I haven’t actually looked at conflicting views and so have still missed a lot. It isn’t possible to be fully informed—but it’s possible at least to read more than one person’s take on a situation.

Second, is the post courteously worded? In Love Is the Way, Bishop Curry lists MLK, Jr’s Ten Commandments of Nonviolence. Number six is “Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.” When you post on Facebook, you are addressing human beings, mostly friends, but possibly also foes. (Remember, you can never be sure who will end up reading anything you put on-line.) Be courteous. Don’t name-call.

As a practical matter, I find that posts that do a lot of name-calling make me angry with the person who posted, even if I actually agree with the general message of the post. The words come across as venomous and spiteful. There is nothing to be gained in being deliberately offensive.

Third and most difficult to determine, is the post well-intentioned? No matter how politely worded the post may be, is the point of posting it to be helpful, or to be subtly snarky? To inform, or to show off one’s superior knowledge? To encourage someone to think about something differently, or to score a point?

Here I’ll cite Number Two of those ten commandments: “Remember always that the nonviolent movement seeks justice and reconciliation—not victory.” In posting, am I really trying to do something productive, or do I just want to be right? Or more exactly, am I seeking to make other people admit I am right?

There’s a saying that I think is quite wise when properly interpreted: “You can be right, or you can be married.” I interpret it to mean that if you insist your partner acknowledge that you are right every time you are right, you aren’t going to have much of a relationship. Especially since sometimes you will actually be wrong.

The fact is, people hate being wrong. If you press them hard to admit that they are wrong, they are likely to try to defend their view even if they are having doubts about it. Worse, defending their view will make it even more difficult for them to give it up. If instead you reduce the cost to them of admitting that they are wrong (even just admitting it to themselves), that  makes it easier for them to change their mind.

Going back to the original question, “Is the post well-intentioned?”, I have to admit that sometimes the answer is going to be “Yes…and also, no.” Sometimes I can’t help wanting to show off a little, or be acknowledged right. But at least it’s worth thinking hard about when choosing my words.

A Rule of Life (for Facebook posts or otherwise) is supposed to help you express your highest values in the way you live your life. I haven’t said what those values are, in my case, and it occurs to me that I am doing things backwards—coming up with rules before coming up with the values they are meant to promote. Oh well. Working backwards,  my highest values, at least as far as Facebook posts are concerned, are not clever wit (though that can be fun to read) or the promotion of creative endeavors (though I know some very creative people I would like to promote and know of many more) or making myself look good (though admittedly I’m trying to post from my best side). I guess that when it comes to Facebook and my Facebook friends, I value people working together--hopefully to make the world a better place for everyone.

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