Staring into the flames is how I seem to be picturing my engagement with the news, social media, and a large part of the world about now. The events of 2016 are spilling into this new year and fear seems to be prominent in thoughts of the future. Even those who are seeking to encourage a fight or protest, to assist in movements of climate change, human rights, and poverty, even they are struggling to not see those in leadership as people attempting to at best ignore the vulnerable in our society, and at worst rip us back decades into an era of oppression and tyranny.
But last weekend hundreds of thousands of women (and men) across the globe stood in solidarity resisting the changes in the world which allowed a misogynist into the White House. They stand, rather than wrapped up in a cocoon of comfort zone, facing the issues in the world head on, refusing to be silent, refusing to look away, even stepping into the flames which hope to burn them.
I had a conversation recently about how depressing social media can be, particularly when those around you might repeatedly (and understandably) share the latest bad news making it almost impossible to avoid. Once upon a time, you might catch the daily news at 6pm or pick up the newspaper, but now there is virtually no way to avoid the very latest (to the minute) information. There are clearly some sources which are less reliable and more hateful than others, adding to the misery rather than providing the simple facts. It was suggested that I could, and should, block out these fragments of my social media environment as many have by simply changing my settings. This does make perfect sense: don’t want to see it, turn it off.
However, I am aware of my world containing targeted advertising, targeted search engines, everything already tailored to a perception of my preferences, affiliations, and even mood. This results in a bubble that is hard to pop, not fragile and flexible, but a gradually thickening skin around me only showing me what I might already agree with, already know, adding to a dangerous level of confirmation bias and ignorance.
This is why I try not to block out those pieces of a newsfeed I might dislike, and why I will probably not quit social media altogether. It may hurt me, even be adding to my depression, to see continually negative news. Worse is seeing friends or acquaintances joining in with and encouraging the injustices, prejudices, and fear-mongering I see everywhere. Even so, if I deny it exists I can’t fully involve myself, counter falsehoods, or offer an alternative viewpoint. No man is an island, and as social media tightens the bubbles around us, I want to avoid the risk of convincing myself that everyone agrees with me.
Theologically fires are sometimes connected with refining a person, and I’m feeling like the last few years have been hard enough to be considered a refining fire. At times it has felt like survival would only come to those who were able to fight through and adapt. Staring into the fire may hurt but I am still fighting, still adapting, and surviving. I wrestle with issues for days, weeks, months or even years but that fight is important, because the issues I debate with, the ones that really hurt, are the ones that matter. The fire burns; the issues that hurt me I have to take as my burden on my back and the heat may make my eyes weep…
but I blink, just a little, then force myself to look back. Because it’s important to look, because you can’t fight with your eyes shut.