It is true?
Is it kind?
It is necessary?
The New York Times’ columnist David Gelles suggests these questions as mindful guidelines for posting on Facebook.
At first glance, fair enough. But on second thought, at least in my case: stifling.
To tackle them one at a time, I will begin with is it true?
We live in a post-truth era, conscious of the fact that at any point the truth can be altered, in effect–or rather, with effect–so that consequences (sometimes global) derive directly from a perceived truth only. We won’t give up even our simplest of stories: Van Gogh committed suicide, Gandhi is a positive role-model.
Though largely free from the constraints of an imposed dogma, we have truth as a populist construct(s). Our decisions are so often based on misinformation, that some facts are entirely, and literally, inconsequential in regard to the values we hold, the decisions we make.
I would argue that there is a difference between facts and truth. Some facts are omitted from the histories, and others are largely unknowable, glimpsed only on occasion, in hindsight and even then often obliquely from behind a veil (of the current) truth. The coastlines are flooding. The bees are dying. Not because of a lack of facts, but because of faith.
We find our respective narratives. Stick with them. Repeat them.
Truth will always be a matter of faith.
The specific faith of those who write the history books.
Even on a personal scale: whose truth is the truth? Compare two people’s recollections of an event and there are two truths. Both would bet their lives on their version. Simple things, like who ate the last piece of cake all those years ago, that Saturday (or Friday) night when Aunt June came by drunk (or not), with the pink (or brown) bakery box.
And science? Which scientific truths would you bet your life on? In the 1800s “psychiatrists” could read the bumps on your head, and there would be real-world consequences. Bumps in the wrong places might land get you identified as a criminal and land you in an institution for “rehabilitation”.
What is your measure of truth, should you choose to pronounce one on Facebook? Is it an obligation to correct misinformation? To challenge every person’s faith with facts? (While I doubt such a practice would be unkind, is would certainly be unpleasant).
What about opinions? Educated guesses? Ethical standpoints? Are these untenable as public posts? On Facebook, among “friends”? How do you learn if you limit yourself to making statements regarding what you already believe is true?
I am in no position to know all the truths. And uncertain where my threshold is for defending what I do have faith in.
I am obviously over-thinking this one. Maybe I am not ready for Facebook.
Is it kind? I will admit, I am not always kind. In fact, I am suspicious of people who are only kind, or silent. Silence can be manipulative. And cruel. “Cruel to be kind” is a cliché. And kind to be cruel is, in praxis, a common tactic.
Does this mean it’s not mindful practice to denounce that which one finds inhumane? To denounce it in a way that doesn’t soft-pedal, or back-pedal, or tolerate what one believes should not be tolerated? Does “generous of spirit” have a limitation, an obligation to shut down in the face of… well… (perceived) evil? Or do you just throw your hands in the air in the face of multiple truths and say, “anything goes”?
Alain de Botton describes tolerance as leaving space for concepts we find incomprehensible. To coexist, parallel without the drive to convert or squash. This is generous. This is kind.
But incomprehensible is not the same as reprehensible.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”―Edmund Burke
There need not be a binary at work: not being kind is not necessarily being “unkind” (dictionary definition).
No, I don’t have a good grasp on the concept of being kind. Not yet. I don’t have faith in the absolute goodness of it.
Is it necessary?
I need a definition of necessary, as well. Because this seems like the easy one: the world will keep turning, and human beings will either continue on generation after generation, or destroy our own habitat and leave the earth to the beetles. In either case, I am not necessary.
I might be important to specific people, be able to make a slight difference here and their on a personal level, but still not necessary. At least, I am in no position to assume so.
Even if I subscribe to a faith that deems every person’s existence as integral and meaningful in a cosmic whole, it sort of follows that even worrying about the necessary-ness of things would be unnecessary.
Clearly, I need to find something better to do with my time.
I can’t function with Geller’s mindfulness guidelines. In my mind, to attempt to do so would be to accept a gross oversimplification of applied ethics. Perhaps Geller tried to boil things down to positive bullet points, which is helpful. But if I haven’t worked along through that process, the bullet points looks like platitudes to me.
So, grateful for Geller’s suggestion, I’m making up my own guidelines for mindful posting on Facebook: in positive and negative terms.
- Do I suspect this to be a lie, a distortion or oversimplification of what is likely true?
- Am I posting with a malicious or selfish motive?
- Is this noise, or do I believe it is useful contribution to a social discussion?
One of the things that keeps me on Facebook is the daily post from Frankie Zelnick. I believe that making people smile is probably one of the most useful things one can do in this world.
I’m still not sure I will ever post again.