Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Language Matters—Now as Never Before

You have to be pretty old to remember “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” That’s what we were told as kids when the taunts of schoolmates on the playground upset us.

That was then, this is now.

Tell that to a parent who just buried a child who ended their life after being bullied on Facebook or Twitter. Words do hurt and sometimes they kill.

Bullies have been around forever—at least as long as two or three kids ganged up to embarrass a fourth. But we knew who they were. They had names and faces we recognized. Because our kid-worlds were small and those who picked on us came from among us, at school or down the block.

Social media changed all that. Now your or my kid has a thousand ‘friends’ on Facebook and no one to hang out with after school. Social media is anti-social in the extreme…

…and that would be okay if it wasn’t for what it does to a kid’s sense of self-worth at the most vulnerable time in their life.

Self-worth begins with family, but it gets fine-tuned or trashed by years of face-to-face interaction with other kids. Call them a ‘peer group’ if you want to sound sophisticated, but they’re the people you know and who know you.

We’re losing that, because no one is responsible for who they are on social media. You can tell the most outrageous lies and no one knows the difference. So you do and begin the process of building a self-image that is not you.

Your online-self is smart as hell, fun to be with, outrageously daring and available. Not available to meet up, that would be (and is) dangerous, because everyone’s exaggerating or downright lying about who they are and what they do.

But available to respond in the moment, because if the moment slips by, you’re no one, out-of-the-loop and yesterday’s news.

Of course the self-image you walk around in in this world is pretty much a long-term project, because it’s measured by showing up when a friend needs you, doing your part in a team and looking in the mirror each morning. That’s the stuff of face-to-face, particularly the mirror. 

Learn to love the face that looks back at you. That’s the essence of being truthful and having an arm to put around a friend when they need an arm put around them.

It’s not always easy.

But it’s never a lie.

So, there’s the easy way of Facebook, Twitter and the others…and the easy way looks pretty good when we’re lonely and down on ourselves. The fact is, there are times when we’re all lonely and down on ourselves. That’s what being a human and giving a shit about the world is all about…reaching out, when we need an arm around us.

So, there’s a choice to be made and no one to really help us make it. Join those around us with heads bent, furiously thumb-typing on their cell-phones—and there are plenty of them—or don’t.

There are not that many who don’t, but then there are not that many who care about each other anywhere in the world. They’re a special commodity and they’re worth seeking out.

The good news is you don’t need very many of them. Two or three at a time is usually enough. If you have four, count yourself as blessed.

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