That sounds almost like clickbait when I write it out, but it’s a true statement so long as I give you context and definition.
Note: this is not some attempt at having you deny my statement in order to encourage me. Why? Because your voice doesn’t matter either. Not, at least, in the way our world wants us to believe it does.
Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why comment sections on literally ANY website are the host to a parade of human depravity not typically on display in casual human interaction? A Youtube video where a guy records himself singing a song he wrote for his dying wife will have encouragement from people to kill himself. Young men and women get graphically wanton sexual advances no matter their age. God forbid you do something unintentionally funny and go viral. A political story on a news site? Nowadays you have to specifically expand the comments section because it’s not good practice to have “OBAMA IS LITERALLY HITLER” as the highest ranking comment in the thread at the bottom of a story about bipartisan national parks funding.
There have been some theories floated around, one of which I won’t link to but does a fine job of articulating this phenomena in that an audience + anonymity = people being horrible. And though I agree with that sentiment, it doesn’t actually capture the reasoning behind the vitriol and hate, I don’t think. You can make a case for people being horrible for the purpose of “entertainment” certainly, but you really can’t make a case for why some people suddenly spend hours and hours and hours fighting on the internet with strangers.
Unless, of course, you zoom out a little.
So imagine for a minute that you turned off every single piece of social media. No more Facebook, no more Twitter, no more Tumblr, no more Instagram, no more Snapchat, no more Gryzzl. All of it, gone. In the blink of an eye. Some of you can’t actually remember a time when those things didn’t exist, but I can. I started blogging in 1996. 1996, for you math majors, was 20 years ago. I have been doing this blog thing, in one place or another, for twenty years. And I remember my first blog was just a single page of index.html that I manually updated with animated gifs, links I liked, and occasional stories.
I can remember when you could count the major players of any topic by their traffic stats. I can remember learning how to play that game like crazy. I remember the onset of CMS platforms like Blogger and Movable Type and WordPress. And I remember things changed so hard when social media finally arrived. RSS was the beginning, to a degree, but soon everyone, as a coked out Justin Timberlake said in The Social Network, “We’ll all live our lives online.”
Social media became a place where your voice, finally, was heard. It was heard by those, first, who you knew personally. Your close friends and family. Then it became a broadcast medium. Now it’s a game. Now it’s an effort to rise higher and higher in volume than others. I know what it feels like to suddenly get ten thousand favorites on Twitter. (Not literally, but I have seen one innocuous thing I’ve said get retweeted for hours.) That feeling of affirmation, of proof that I’m okay and good. And I’ve felt the strange sort of cousin of that feeling when something I say gets some splinter group of a splinter group riled up and they all come waving their flags and pitchforks and torches. This happens less often for me, and likely because I try to say what’s in my heart, not just blast the world with caustic nonsense for the effect it has.
But those feelings, as I call them cousins, are much the same. The feeling of fighting for good. For justice. For right. That feeling of being high-fived by random strangers. And then that feeling of being hated, opposed, attacked. Those feelings are really just two sides of one coin:
“MY. VOICE. MATTERED.”
But did it? Did it really? Does it? Can it?
No. Not in the way those feelings assure me it does. If ten thousand people agree with me and ten thousand people burn an effigy of me, nothing has changed at all. I’m still me. I’m still a hurting, hurtful, bag of human problems. And if I play that game, if I keep pushing into it over and over and over, eventually I’ll learn the worst thing of all: how to win.
See, I don’t play games very long until I have mastered them. And this game is no different. This game is no different. Whether my arena is writing books or making movies or whathaveyou, I find a way to do it the best I can. And the game of VoiceMatter? That’s a game I know well. I know how to make people agree with me. I know how to provoke. But see, I don’t want those things.
I want people to see and hear and understand Jesus. I don’t need a fan club or a league of arch villains. I don’t need a tribe of people throwing gold at me or people sniping at me from the tall grass.
And neither do you. If your hope is built on people’s affirmation or their anger? Stop. Get away. Take a break. Unplug from that silly game and connect with a real human being in real life. Spend time with people you have to disagree with and still love. Spend time listening to their music because you want to know them. Spend time hearing their story, face to face, and let go of this need to be promoted. Become less. Decrease. Be humbled. The longer you stay in it, the more attention you pay it, the more detrimental to your soul it becomes. Let it go. Breathe.