When Social Media Does Good
Social media is a much-maligned form of communications and information these days, and justly so.
It makes my heart sink when I read of the President's use of Twitter to send the most vicious and disturbing messages, so often aimed to denigrate and ridicule people who disagree with him or criticize him.
He did not invent hate online, but he has legitimized hatred in our new digital communications in a society that depends on civil disagreement for its very existence.
It will be a long time before those wounds can heal. And it will not work. Good people don't like it, left or right.
It makes me quite sad to be living in a society much like the ancient Romans, who gathered in the Coliseum to watch lions eat Christians and tear their bodies to pieces.
Is this what we are becoming?
It seems to me that so many of us are learning to communicate in this cruel and de-civilizing way.
I do not understand how or why any leader would communicate in this way or how and why so many of my fellow citizens applaud it or ignore it.
If there is any lesson for me in the Trump era about social media, it would be this:
Social media can be used for good or evil, depending on what we believe and hope to do with our lives, and what kind of people we wish to be. No one is going to build a monument to people who trolled online.
It breaks my heart to see how much cruelty and rage has been spawned by the misuse of social media, when I think of just how much good it can do. And when I am learning just how much good it can do.
People often write me angrily to jeer at my insistence that I am not a political person. They say my writing says otherwise, and I am being false, but what they cannot see – anger and suspicion is a thick smog – is that I am not only apolitical but antipolitical. This system is not working for anybody who is not rich or angry.
"Good works," writes Arendt, "because they must be forgotten instantly, can never become part of the world; they come and go, leaving no trace. They truly are not of this world." And that is what makes them so important and powerful.
I would drool to have to have 45 million Twitter or Facebook followers just like our President has, and use them to do good. They just might build a monument to me then.
Imagine what the Army Of Good could do with that money. We could send every refugee child to college, but a new van or two for RISSE. We could build a luxurious new wing for the Mansion, and take the residents on an ocean cruise.
Every day I might write about a bright child who can't afford college, and send him or her to a great school on full scholarship.
We would re-build homes destroyed in fires, pay for expensive and urgently needed operations. We could make people's dreams come true.
We do so much good here every day with our much smaller audience, and our good-hearted people very few of whom, if any, are wealthy, and feed thousands of hungry families, we could help many more pay their rent or even buy a house. Just one or two fewer aircraft carriers would pay to treat every opiod user in America.
I suppose anything is what I make of it. I could jump to the dark side and use my large Facebook base – more than 52,000 likes – to call people fat and ugly, to single out people with deformities or who are obese, to send legions trolls to attack them and threaten them with death.
From what I see, that would be the path to fame and glory.
I am not troubled by Mr. Trump not because of his politics, I'm not even certain what they are. But because of his mean-spiritedness.
I am troubled every day by his use of the world's most powerful new information technology as an instrument of cruelty and revenge, to diminish or hurt people. I feel this acutely now because I have learned in recent years to use this technology for good, every single day, and have come to see what a powerful tool for good that it is.
I can no longer list or even remember the number of people we have helped, the small acts of great kindness we have initiated, the amount of good and love we have generated, the lives we have eased or lifted up or dignified.
Love, by its very nature, is unworldly, wrote the moral philosopher Hannah Arendt. It is for this reason rather than it's rarity that it is not only apolitical but antipolitical, perhaps the most powerful of all antipolitical forces.
What my President cannot see or imagine is what might happen if he called on his 45 million Twitter followers to do good. What a remarkable tone that would set for the country. We might just stop raging at one another and grasp the humanity in all of us.
To begin each day in this hopeful and generous and affirming way.
If Mr. Trump did that, he would become the most powerful and beloved politician in world history. The tools are right there at his fingertips, just a couple of keyboards away, just a paragraph or two.
He could invite all of us to submit nominees to help, and many of us would.
Cruelty, not politics will be his undoing, because I believe in what Hannah Arendt wrote. Love is the most powerful political or antipolitical force. In the end, it always prevails. More than anything, it is what the human spirit craves and seeks.
The ugly divisions and politics of our time is teaching me how to love and what it means, and I have never felt stronger or more determined. I know now that I am certainly not alone in this, I wish you could see the messages I get every day. I have an Army Of Good marching alongside of me.
I do not write on social media in isolation, but in community. Action, as distinguished from lies and fabrications, is never possible in isolation, to be isolated is to be cut off from love and humanity and to be deprived of the capacity to act.
I act every day.