Life tends to become repetitive. If you look carefully you can see the patterns.
Star Wars actress Daisy Ridley offers compassion for victims of gun violence in Orlando on Instagram.
Olympian Gabby Douglas doesn’t place her hand on her heart during the National Anthem.
Comedian Ellen Degeneres shares a Photoshopped image of herself on the back of Track and Field Legend Usain Bolt.
Begin immediate and unrelenting social media sh*t storm.
Open up the floodgates for The Internet to be outraged.
Cue millions of us falling over ourselves to fire off the Tweet that will be heard ’round the world the next morning.
Commence the incessant public badgering of complete strangers.
Enter an army of finger wagging, shame-throwing, just-add-water keyboard activists to save the world.
In every case and dozens like them every single day, history repeats itself:
We pile on relentlessly with expressions of volcanic indignation, as those involved explain their misinterpreted intentions, defend the purity of their hearts, apologize profusely, and then limp away battered and bloodied—and we all go back to keeping up with the Kardashians and sharing cat videos, feeling the momentary intoxication of our own self-righteousness.
Then we simply turn our gaze away from the feigned interest we had in whatever deep, underlying issues of humanity we claimed to care about in the moment—and scan the screen in front of us for whatever else is trending.
We aren’t known as a deep people anymore, as much as we are a combustible people.
We’re all brilliant at generating instant, scalding anger and packaging it in 140 characters, but not as adept at doing our homework or sustaining interest. The extent of our historical research tends to involve retweeting excerpts from books we’ve never read or sharing memes we haven’t fact checked and believing we’re authorized to speak—and not just speak, but speak with volume and venom.
Never mind that an entire world is within the reach of our finger tips, and that we could learn and dig deeper and begin the real work of addressing the pervasive ills of our world. But that’s too time-consuming, too laborious, too boring, and not as good at producing endorphins. We’d rather just put people we’ve never met and have no relationship with on blast and soak in the cheap applause of the gathering crowd.
And yeah, maybe it’s redemptive, but maybe it’s just bullying for sport.
It might be compassion, but it might be anger created for public consumption.
It could be speaking truth to power—or it could be just throwing shade to gain followers and grow our brand.
This isn’t a question of whether one or all of the examples above resonates with you or me as insensitive or misguided or dangerous or historically ignorant. Of course it might. It isn’t a question of whether or not we should speak into issues of injustice, bigotry, institutional racism, or any other social sickness. Of course we should. It isn’t a question of whether we get to police what moves someone else. Of course we don’t.
The question, is whether or not we really give a damn in these individual moments or whether we simply want to feel or appear like we do.
It’s about whether the fire in us is for the cause—or whether it’s just to start a fire.
It’s a useful thing every once in a while to ask ourselves if we really care about whatever it is we say we care about in the middle of our daily online engagements, or whether we just need an object for our anger. And we can only answer this question for ourselves. I get worked-up almost every single day, but more times than not what begins as righteous anger quickly morphs into a desire to be angrily right.
This world is broken, friends. People are hurting.
Racism, violence, bigotry, terrorism, poverty, and illness are real and insidious and they deserve our sustained attention. There are a billion things that are calling out to us and asking our hearts to respond, asking our voices to speak, asking our feet to move.
But they aren’t likely to be easy to hear above the din of our self-made social media storms, and they’ll require a whole lot more than the time it takes you and me to share a graphic, compose a Tweet—or to write or read this post.
There is more than enough injustice and suffering in this world to merit our outrage.
May we choose those things carefully, so that our time here isn’t just filled with momentary bombast, but with meaningful, redemptive passion that makes the planet better, not just louder.