Man, sometimes it really feels like this world sucks. Social media has given new meaning to the old adage “ignorance is bliss” because, after all, wasn’t it better when we didn’t know EVERY time a politician said something dumb? And wasn’t it better when we thought zoos were fun places to take kids? Wasn’t it better when we didn’t know if we were parenting correctly? Or eating correctly? Or if our opinions were never challenged? Ignorance does, in fact, create happiness, but I’m not sure it’s a happiness any of us want.
After 9/11 I remember talking to my mom about my feelings of fear, confusion and sadness. I remember feeling that things would never be normal again. That I would never feel safe again. And she said, “Think of how the country must have felt after Pearl Harbor. We were involved in a world war – people probably thought it was the end of the world.” And truly, if you look back at history you see that these things end, life goes back to normal, life is cyclical. Recessions end, heck, depressions end.
Now I’m not here to offer some sort of rosy view of things. My plan is not to offer you a “look on the bright side” approach to life. I’m too cynical and sarcastic for that. And while I know it is true that ignorance is bliss, it is a bliss that I am uninterested in. If we want to remain education, all we can do is cope, adapt, and survive. Here are a few things I attempt to keep in mind while flailing through this world:
Appreciate awareness. It’s true that social media has given us a thousand new things (daily) to think and worry about. Some of these things are dumb (like the color of a dress), but others are important, like the kidnapping of 250 Nigerian school girls. And while I know that “sharing isn’t helping”, raising awareness is the first step. Consider the ice bucket challenge. I know that not everyone who did that actually sent money to ALS, but enough people did to raise $115 million dollars. And if people are now talking about the validity of zoos and how we treat animals.
So when you feel like you could pull your hair out if you see yet another meme about that damn gorilla or another one of your friends pouring ice water over their head, you can take solace in the fact that someone somewhere has been introduced to something that never occurred to them to think about. Even that dumb dress spurred classroom conversations in classrooms across the country.
My only caveat to this, to all of this, is fact check and know if you are being informed of the truth. Before you click “share” run a google search for legitimacy, use Snopes.com. I do it all the time and it only takes a few seconds. Spread accurate information.
Remember that conflict is not always bad. Social struggles bring about an awareness of flaws in our society and that’s depressing. It is nice to float along assuming that everyone has equal opportunity, fair treatment, and safety, but that’s not our current reality and facing this head-on is depressing and overwhelming. However, social struggle can bring about positive change. So while it can be frustrating for members of the Black Lives Matters or LGBTQ movements, for example, the struggle is important and outcome will hopefully be victorious. I try to find positivity in any example of people fighting for change. Sure, you won’t win every battle, but the fight is important.
I do feel unsettled by the conflicts arising at Trump rallies. The media footage is violent and the anger is disturbing, but, as a person who opposes everything Trump stands for, I
am proud of those who are willing to go out, protest, and fight for what they think is best for this country.
Choose a cause. Everyone can’t care about everything – that would just be too overwhelming. If you are going to take on a cause, don’t feel obligated to take on every cause. I think people look at problems in the world and feel overwhelmed and so they don’t do anything. In reality, it starts with something. And usually that something is small in the beginning. I’m a high school teacher and my sociology kids recently completed research and presentations about popular hashtag movements of the past few years. Almost all of these movements had one thing in common: they all started with one tweet: ALS ice bucket challenge, Black Lives Matter, Shout Your Abortion, Yes All Women, Bring Back our Girls … all of these tweets went national (and some international) and many spawned organizations that continue to do real work.
I tend to spend my time reading about our food and water system, sustainable practices, public education, and politics. Sure there are other things I have an opinion about and I might, from time to time, get involved in something else, but I am only one person with so much time and I do what I can. My husband and I garden organically, we raise bees and chickens, we buy local, I participate in union activities and some political events. That’s it. That’s a small contribution to the world, but at least it’s something. And, more importantly, I can model to my kids that as long we we are doing something to make the world a better place, we are doing the best we can. So cut yourself some slack, stick with the thing(s) you are passionate about and know that others will stick to different things and this will result in positive change.
Turn it off. When I get to my peak depressive-ness about the world we live in, I take a break. For example, I rarely watch local news because it is not informative so much as a collection of bad things that have happened to local people. It’s awful when car accidents happen, but rarely is it news that I can do anything about. So I take a break. Sometimes I disable Facebook and Twitter for a day or two at at time to force myself not to look at it. Sometimes I refuse to click on a link. You have to manage your own stress level. If I’m stressed out by things in my personal life, then I don’t allow myself to engage in the larger world: I snuggle my kids, walk my dog, recharge…or stress eat…or drink…let’s be honest.
Keep it in perspective. What my mom said is true, things have felt this bad before and things have improved. So if you find yourself victim to memes such as this
then remind yourself that there never was a magical “yester-year.” And if you find yourself pining for “days gone-by,” you can remind yourself that those days didn’t actually exist. You have what’s called “amnesic nostalgia.” No matter how old you are, your version of the “good ole days” could reflect various decades, but let’s take a quick look back through American history – the Reader’s Digest version, in no particular order (and by all means, not an exhaustive list) – we had all of those years before child labor laws and before women and Blacks could vote, we had all those years when our society was not accepting of interracial marriages or homosexuality. America has survived a Great Depression, a couple recessions, a Cold War, a Vietnam War, two World Wars, Gulf Wars, Pearl Harbor, and 9/11. Let’s see there was Jim Crow, McCarthyism, Watergate, White Water, and Monica Lewinski. How about Swine Flu (H1N1), BPA, lead, trans fats, Bird Flu, SARS, MRSA, and Anthrax. And this list doesn’t include high-profile murders, thefts, and kidnappings. So, don’t let yourself get sucked into the “things are falling apart, the world used to be better” because it didn’t, you were maybe just younger.
I don’t have it figured out (or anything, for that matter). I’m only here to tell you that if you feel like the world suddenly feels confusing and overwhelming, you’re not alone. I’m also not here to tell you that eliminating social media from your life would make you happy, because few actually want to do that. And also, you’d be happier at the cost of ignorance, and I’m pretty sure no one wants that. So soldier on, good friends, choose your click bait wisely and temper your outrage. Choose those things worth fighting for, and then fight with a vengeance, but let some other stuff go.
And if that doesn’t work… drink more wine.