When I started maternity leave, I removed the Facebook app from my phone. I thought that more free time, combined with the allures of Facebook, would mean I spent endless hours of meandering the interwebs without a purpose. Instead of supporting my aspiration of being intentional, I would fritter away my time with nothing to show for it.
A month later, after being a relative shut-in for many long breastfeeding days and nights, I realized that I missed my connection with people. However faint, impersonal, or manufactured, there’s nonetheless a closeness that Facebook fosters. Even if I’m one of three-hundred people liking your birth announcement, I am still celebrating the birth of your first child. Even if we haven’t spoken for twenty years, I still like the Atlantic article you posted and appreciate knowing how you’re thinking about things. I found that by cutting out Facebook, I cut out a useful connection to the people in my life. And so, for my benefit during both the 2AM breastfeeding sessions and the afternoon naps breaks, I reinstalled Facebook.
This was back in September, when we also found ourselves in the run-up to the presidential election. In addition to providing a form of connection, Facebook became a core news source. Versus other presidential elections, I was more engaged. Like many other Americans, I may have existed in a bit of an echo chamber, hearing only the news posted by like-minded friends. That said, I did make myself keep clicking on the hyper-conservative articles from a handful of friends. Things got tough, but I tried to keep my eyes open.
And what now? In our post-election world, not just politics, but everything seems be falling apart. It’s not just the most recent articles on Trump tweets, Cabinet appointments, and international threats. Now, I can barely open Facebook without observing even more heartbreaking new: searing images of children under siege in Aleppo, exposes on puppy mills, or graphic videos of crocodiles slaughtered for fashion. It’s not the fake news out there that I’m referring to; it’s the painfully real reports of life in our world.
My instinct is to recoil. There are many reasons why I have wanted to quit Facebook, including my pre-maternity inklings: there are better uses of time! I should prioritize in-person connections! I want to live intentionally! But this seems like a better reason than them all to shut down Facebook: it is just too painful.
In the midst of this Facebook crisis, I am reminded of some very wise advice: it is the things that we cannot be that drive us. When you are not able to be with some aspect of life, you spend your time avoiding it. And, what’s more, when others need your help, you are unable to ‘be with’ that thing on their behalf. Get sick at the sight of blood? You are unlikely to become a doctor and heal others. Hate to read about Trump? You probably won’t intervene on behalf of democracy. Recoil at the sight of evil? You are unlikely to help to bring more light. I find myself increasingly recoiling from the hate and the pain in the world. But if I do not bear witness, who will? If I cannot look on Facebook, how much less likely am I to look — and help — in real life?
Simply bearing witness on Facebook — via reads, likes, or comments — is not sufficient action. But, on another level, my empathy expands with each disruption. It makes me more human to face the evil, to grapple with its reality, and to figure out my place in relation to it. So I am trying to look straight into the pain. I am trying to feel every bit of it. As a result, I am overwhelmingly saddened and often completely frightened. But with some perseverance, I will grow bigger, braver, and better able to fight.
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