Eighty-two more emojis

I seldom make the near-fatal mistake of reading the Comments in social media. I mean just good golly, Miss Molly.

But when I do, there seem to be only a few categories into which I mentally file them:

  • “I agree with you completely.”
    This comment can stand alone or can be accompanied with a personal story or experience to illuminate agreement and solidarity.
  • “You are not only dead wrong. You are also either stupid or naïve or you live in a cave.”
    This comment is often salted with profanity, ugliness, and name-calling, and almost always reveals that the commenter did not really read the original post.
  • “Interesting/I don’t understand, but here’s what I want to talk about.”
    Interesting? I don’t understand? Yeah, no, you didn’t really read anything. You looked for some key words – like vaccine, COVID, politics, election, fraud, Christian, evangelical, or maybe pillow – and proceeded to create your own post about something thinly related to the original idea.

There are all kinds of variations to these broad categories, but, for the most part, comments fall pretty easily into one of them.

This morning, while randomly scrolling, a comment by someone I know caught my eye, so I returned to read the original post, a quote by grief expert, David Kessler:

Each person’s grief is as unique as their fingerprint. But what everyone has in common is that no matter how they grieve, they share a need for their grief to be witnessed. That doesn’t mean needing someone to try to lessen it or reframe it for them. The need is for someone to be fully present to the magnitude of their loss without trying to point out the silver lining.

 Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief

The Facebook post, by author and speaker Brene Brown, was prompted by the more than 500,000 deaths due to COVID and accompanied by a meme that said “Grief requires witnessing.”

And we’re off the to races.

As you can imagine, some people said Amen, sister.
Some were miffed that COVID was mentioned as in Why in the world are you throwing yourself into the crazy, covid chaos?
And still others insisted that their experience with grief was completely different, so you must be wrong and I don’t understand you and how dare you speak of such things, so let’s make this about me.

Now there were significantly less push-back comments to this particular post. But as I read through critical comments and responses, I could not help but wonder why are people arguing about something as tender as death and grief?

It’s almost as if the world is working hard to pick a fight – about anything. As if there aren’t enough crummy things over which we have no control, we have to look hard for things to whine about.

Has it always been this way? Maybe so, but has there always been this much of it?

So we just love this quote: Be kind, everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. It helps put things into perspective. In fact, we have an entire handbook, full of sage advice and wisdom…

…words we are quick to repeat when we are not the ones in the thick of it. We drone away to our kids that kindness is more important than being right. We try to brighten the spirits of those deep in mourning or loss with words of encouragement about God’s will and all things working together. But most of the time, it feels like we resort to platitudes because we just want someone to stop talking.

Unfortunately, despite the calligraphed and frame-worthy versions of this wise statement, and others, they seem to remain just that – in a frame on the walls of our kitchens, classrooms, and boardrooms.

The truth is, as the world becomes more polarized, we forget that everyone has history. Everyone has a reason, good or bad, why they respond the way they do and with what level of emotion.

Many of you know I have carried a load of grief for almost 30 years. Over time, it’s diminished, the rough edges have smoothed out, and it’s softened a bit, best now described as bittersweet. But even after all this time, the only thing I can state with authority about grief is that it is completely unpredictable.

Just like everyone else, the way my life started, changed, was shattered and put back together, turned upside down and turned out so far is what makes up the landscape of circumstances and happenings completely unique to me. It is from these first-hand looks at life that my entire catalog of responses to the world comes.

And for all that I’ve done and will do, there are millions of adventures, losses, celebrations, and viewpoints I’ve never experienced: the loss of a child, loss of a home, or financial ruin. Having twins, an African safari, or a book publication. Although I can witness and mourn or celebrate these occasions, it is audacious for me to assume that I have any right to speak of them as if I had. It is beyond the pale to believe that what I have to say is worthy of a loud voice or any significant attention.

Unless we have walked the same paths of those who have lived through combat or the loss of a home or even witnessed a bad accident, we can empathize with them and have compassion for the trauma, but we honor them best by listening.

The lack of nuance in social media, given its delivery method, causes a lot of problems that could probably be avoided if there were eighty-two more emojis available. (Thank goodness there aren’t.) And given the multiple reasons to be testy the last few months, nuance has been more vital than ever. I’ve noticed the people who disagree with my point of view just ignore, unfriend, or block me instead of starting a conversation. And I guess if that’s what we have to do to get along, it’s better than the alternative.

I wish it didn’t have to be that way, though. I wish there was some fancy air filter or a fragrant room spray made to help us keep our cool and remember that everyone is going through something hard. Even the ones who are not very kind… maybe especially if they are not very kind. Even if they disparage everything we cherish, even if they mock and scorn, even if they find fault with every breath we take.

Yes, the Comment section is one of the biggest, blackest holes known to man. Once you enter, clawing your way out can be both exhausting and dangerous. Forgetting what you read and witnessed can suck the life right out of you.

My lovelies, there is no question:
our experiences
+ what we want people to know
+ how we deal with our past
+ the choices we make based on our past
+ the choices we make to improve our futures
+ a whole lot of other complications
determine how we connect with people, strangers, friends, or enemies. Sadly, some of us have lost our sense of balance between “telling the truth in love” and “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Truth be told, if there’s a ghost of a chance that things can change, we need to collectively and mutually approach our conversations, virtual or face-to-face, with a bit more kindness, a whole lotta self-control, and a clear understanding that they will always see things differently than we do. Always.

All the best in these prickly times. Until we write and read again, I pray for you …

Photo by Jakayla Toney on Unsplash


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