“Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.” ~Rumi
Everything is terrible. And everything is beautiful.
It’s a paradox, but it’s also true. Everything is both better and worse than it used to be.
On one hand, we are wealthier, healthier, safer, and more informed than ever. Global life expectancy has more than doubled in the past century. Far fewer people live in severe poverty. War, disease, and natural disasters now claim fewer lives than at any point in human history.
But on an individual level, we generally feel poorer, sicker, and more traumatized than we used to. Every day brings more bad news about the world’s climate. Another mass shooting. More examples of socioeconomic inequality. Did you know that the world’s 26 richest people own as much capital as the poorest 3.8 billion humans combined? The metrics might indicate that most of us are better off than the generations that came before us, but that doesn’t always square with the sense of chaos and impending doom that follow many of us like a black cloud.
Should we feel optimistic or pessimistic?
Statistics from the last decade of surveys from The American National Family Life show a pretty even split between the half full and glass full people. 47% of Americans are hopeful about our future and 53% of Americans are pessimistic about what’s to come.
My knee-jerk instinct is to blame the cesspool of cynicism and gloom we call the internet. We’re all digitally connected without being humanly connected.
But the data doesn’t bear this out. Social media use is not correlated to pessimistic nihilism. But it isn’t correlated to feeling optimistic either. Basically, social media is a zero sum game. We get out of it what we put into it.
We have to be very intentional in our social media life to cultivate an experience that leaves us feeling hopeful and encouraged.
Want to know how I have curated a feed that actually feeds my soul instead of ripping it out of my body? One word: unfollow.
You love Donald Trump? Fine. You have that right. But I’m gonna unfollow you. Love your guns? Unfollow. Are your posts even vaguely homophobic, racist, or misogynistic? Unfollow. Lots of Confederate flags or swastikas? Unfollow.
Arguing with those posts is pointless and destructive. I decided long ago that I would not engage in online discourse because of the disinhibition effect, or the lack of restraint people feel when communicating online. People can hide behind a Twitter handle, spewing hostility and hatred in an amplified way they might not in a face-to-face conversation. My friend Robert put it this way: Choosing to argue online is like seeing a steaming pile of dog poop and then choosing to step right into it.
I actively choose to prevent these ideologies from clogging my flow.
Try it. The next time you’re scrolling and feel an urge to defend your opinions on someone’s post, keep scrolling (misinformation should be reported, but you still needn’t engage personally).
And once you’ve used the unfollow button liberally, you’re free to rebuild a feed that supports your better nature. My social media feed is a celebration to, as Rumi says, raising my words instead of raising my voice. To sweet and funny animal videos. To enlightening posts about important social issues, with phone numbers of the congressmen to call to voice my opinions. Lots of Mary Oliver poetry, because she helps me see the world through a lens of beauty rather than through the more depressing goggles of habit. Yoga sequences led by people with real bodies. Tons of lyrics from 80’s music, because – and I cannot overstate this – music never got better than the 80’s. Except for Taylor Swift obviously, so you get a lot of Tay Tay in my feed too. Hilarious memes about this crazy ride we call life. Informative posts about mindfulness, neuroscience, and ways to down-regulate the nervous system. Videos where people put hats on their pet turtles. Social justice posts because there are injustices we should not look away from. Book recommendations. Sky maps alerting you to look up to the heavens.
My feed is intentionally curated toward connection and not just attention. I’m not trying to beat the algorithm. I’m trying to inject positivity into your day. Is everything terrible or is everything beautiful? The people you choose to befriend online have a lot of power in your decision.