A friend of mine told me he was on Facebook and got involved in an argument about “bullying.” Bullying is the latest focus of society’s meandering sense of injustice. Is bullying bad? Of course. But there have been bullies as long as there have been people. From the momentum the anti-bullying movement has gained in pop culture, news, and the like you’d think it was a recent development.
But I think there’s something else going on here, which brings me back to my friend. A young girl had given a little boy a valentine saying she liked him and asked if he’d like to come to church with her sometime (the boy was the son of my friend’s friend.) The mother got on Facebook and apparently ranted that she was offended. Her friends chimed in in agreement claiming this was “religious bullying.”
Oh, hi Irony! You’re nothing if not punctual.
As my friend pointed out (and later the mother relented and admitted it was a harmless gesture) bullying comes from mean intent. This was obviously not ill will. The girl, who obviously liked the boy, wanted him to be a part of another area of her life. The commenters on the thread however failed to ease up on their accusation that this was some sort of persecution, aimed at bullying the little boy around because he didn’t share her beliefs.
Bullying is a buzz word, and it’s become the catch-all term for any action that makes us feel less than comfortable. It’s as if the first one to make the accusation wins. The other party is automatically charged with defending themselves, no matter how innocent the action.
Should we act to stop actual bullying? Yes. Should we stand up to face bullies when we ourselves are pushed around? Yes.
Especially when they are the ones throwing the word around.
Last year I met Mark.
Mark and I hit it off great. He just started teaching high school and I did that for a couple years, so we traded war stories. For a whole afternoon we shared tales and complained about the ridiculousness that can be public education.
Later in the week I got a Facebook friend request from him and accepted it. Why wouldn’t I?
Then I learned that for him Facebook was an outlet where he poured out his utter contempt of all things religious and conservative. Every sardonic post was heavy with disdain for those ignorant morons who did not share his view. They hate science. They hate gays. They hate reason. They hate women. They hate…they hate…they hate. With as much bile, sarcasm and mockery that one could muster he decried the “hate” of those who differed with him.
I didn’t mind. I have no problem with people who have strong opinions that differ from mine. Even when they hatefully accuse those who share my views as ignorant, stupid, and…um…hateful.
But then I realized something. After a few months, whenever I thought of Mark I didn’t think of that guy that had a great conversation with me. I thought solely of his Facebook rants. Facebook, and the way he used it, were altering my perception. I began to have this image of a hate-filled, belligerent Mark. Filled with rage and mockery. Why would I want to ever be friends with a guy like that?
Even though he may feel this strongly about certain issues, they do not encapsulate his personality. Yes, they are part of him…and I disagree with him on these issues profoundly. But Facebook was reducing him to a characture of himself.
So I hid his updates.
I have to date, hidden a few people for the same reason. Not because I disagree with them, but because I realized Facebook statuses were replacing their personalities as mental icons. And that’s not really the way they are.
I’m learning that social media not only requires wisdom in representing yourself accurately, but also in what you read. Our perceptions are easily skewed.
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