“We are all just waiting for someone to notice – notice our pain, notice our scars, notice our fear, notice our joy, notice our triumphs, notice our courage.” Rachel Macy Stafford
Despite the fact that the number of unique monthly visitors seem to tell a different story (Facebook – 900 million, Twitter – 310 million, LinkedIn – 255 million, Pintrest – 250 million, Tumblr – 110 million, etc.) and that the population of available platforms is growing rapidly, there are still lots of people, especially in my generation, who look upon Social Media with a jaundiced eye (okay, 2 jaundiced eyes!!!). Having never sought to understand it, let alone experience it for themselves, these folks are nonetheless convinced that if Social Media hasn’t already permanently defaced the fabric of our society, it is well on its way to doing so. In their mind, time spent posting, pinning, tweeting, snap-chatting, attending a Google hang-out, vlogging, blogging and vining would be much better spent in face-to-face conversation over a cup of tea or coffee at a local café, out socializing or playing with friends, reading a book, taking a walk, exercising – in short doing just about anything else. I know, because not so long ago, I was one of those people. In fact, in my book, I made a rather impassioned plea imploring my readers to “step away from the multiple keyboards that populate their lives and allow themselves to be fully (i.e., emotionally and physically) present in the lives of others.” And I still fervently believe in the indispensability of in person, one-on-one human connection.
But, at the insistence of my publisher, I decided to stick my little toe in the Social Media waters (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google+ and blogging) back in 2013 and I’ve never looked back. During that time, I’ve witnessed the power and the promise of Social Media. I’ve watched inspirational women like Glennon Doyle Melton assemble a world-wide army of “Love Warriors” that now numbers in the hundreds of thousands, who, in a matter of hours can transform the holiday Wish Lists of 100’s of families in need into Dreams Really Do Come True Lists or raise hundreds of thousands of dollars overnight for a single family near financial ruin as a result of the unexpected loss a loved one. I’ve also had the privilege to see equally extraordinary people like Rachel Macy Stafford, Kari Kampakis, Amanda Magee, Anne Lamott, Dr. Kelly Flanagan, Garth Callaghan and Kid President – to name just a few – use Social Media to inspire and transform hearts on a grand scale – none of which would be even remotely possible were it not for Social Media. On a personal level, Social Media has given me a front row seat to life-changing displays of courage by everyday heroes, a vehicle for interacting directly with state and national legislators on critically important issues, a means of affirming acts of selflessness by celebrities and others and a way to respectfully call out acts of cowardice and ignorance by people who should know better.
Don’t get me wrong. Social Media has more than its share of shortcomings. Among them is the fact that it’s become supersaturated with people and businesses trying to market themselves and/or their products. It also provides a mostly unregulated space for hate speech, bullying and the promotion of ideas and ideologies that many would prefer didn’t have outlets like these at their advocates’ disposal. In fact, even the most avid of Social Mediaphiles have had moments where they’ve questioned its usefulness, as did this Twitter friend just the other night: “Y’all, why are we on Twitter? What’s the endgame? Twitter is an interesting community, but we’re also assuming that random people on the internet care to hear us pontificate about our lives. We’ll never meet the vast majority of the people we chat with, and nothing really takes the place of ‘real’ friends. At the end of the Twitter day, we’re still getting drunk with our computer and going to bed alone. Not sure what the point is anymore. If I delete or deactivate, then what – my scope of the world is simply narrowed (for better or for worse)? The reality is I’m just one random person who really likes cats and makeup, and occasionally rants. It might be time to let it go. But I might just be acutely lonely right now and mopey and too far up in my head.”
I’ve had those moments myself – many times. Moments when I wonder whether the time I’ve dedicated to writing more than 100,000 words worth of tweets, blog and Facebook posts, etc. has been time well spent, especially when those words are met with silence as they often are. But every now and then, usually when I least expect and am most in need of it, as I was in the wake of my friend’s suggestion that we just shut it all down, I am reminded of the opportunities Social Media affords to be there in another’s time of need, to step into the void, to notice, to validate, to offer a word of encouragement and maybe even plant a tiny seed of hope. No sooner had one friend finished her friendly anti-Twitter “rant”, than a second sent me this note, via Twitter messenger:
“Hey, Don. Do you have a minute?”
And then, without waiting for my response this:
“I hate to be a burden, but I need a dad tonight.
I need a shoulder to cry on.
I need someone to tell me it’s going to be alright.
I need reassurance that the sun is going to come up tomorrow.
I need to be reminded that I’m good enough.
I need a heart so filled with love that it has no space to be ashamed of me.
I need to know I’m not a disappointment.
I need someone to check under the bed and in the closet and tell me it’s safe to sleep.
I need to know I’m someone’s pride and joy.
I need someone who will listen without judging me.
I need to know I’m loved and that I matter.
I feel worthless and abandoned and alone – and I’m tired, so tired of fighting.
Please tell me that you’re out there and that you have a minute . . .”
“I am,” I wrote, through a sheen of tears, “and I do”. Then, without a second thought (and with gratitude for Twitter) I hit “Send” just as fast as I could.
Truth is: We all have a minute and, thanks in large part to Social Media, sometimes that minute and a willingness to open our hearts and listen is all it takes to make a difference and hold the light for someone struggling to find their way in the darkness.