Since leaving Facebook

It’s been awhile since I did a blog post, but I would say it’s safe to say I’m officially back, and before I launch into other more interesting topics I thought I would start with a little update on where I’m at in life, and how I’ve been feeling since leaving Facebook.

I am not sure how many of you know but I teach at a university where we are literally under a 9 month contract and so I do have the summer’s off.  Now that I am department chair it is not quite true, but summer is still a time where I tend to shut down from communication in general.  This summer it is a confluence of factors that have led me to disappear for awhile.  The respite, I feel, has overall been a benefit.

I guess I’ll start with my leaving Facebook.  I said a lot of things about how I thought it would benefit me.  An important piece of wisdom that I’ve gained later in life is that it is important to change things up, to get out of habits as best as possible.  Habitual behavior tends to be what makes time go by more quickly and also I think has diminishing returns for things that even initially made you feel good.  So I’ll start by saying that I certainly don’t regret leaving Facebook one bit if not simply for the sake of just seeing how life would change.  And there is no question in my mind that it was in fact a habit, and that there were some signs of addiction.

When I left Facebook I deleted the app from my phone, and I was shocked to find out how many times I would pick up my phone to get on Facebook, only to stare blankly at my phone at an app that wasn’t there, and it took me a couple of seconds to remember that I wasn’t on Facebook anymore.  Despite consciously knowing that I left, my unconscious movements to reach for my phone and look really gave me some insight as to how much time I spent checking Facebook.  This made me happier that I left, but there was still this feeling of frustration that I assume to be akin to withdrawal symptoms.  Fortunately, after a month or so this diminished.  I’m in a place now where I spend very little time on my phone.  Sometimes now I forget to look at it for entire half days.  I also find that I spend much more time looking for my phone (which is annoying) but I think this is because I am not always looking at it.  It’s hard to lose something you are checking frequently and always have near you.  I don’t like wasting time looking for my phone, but overall I’d say it’s not a bad thing that I am away from it enough to misplace it.

One thing I expected, that didn’t happen, was having extra time.  I think this can largely explained by having another child.  We’ve had a lot of family visiting as well, so things have been a little hectic at times over the summer.  I guess I do feel like I have had more time, but that time has been filled and so I woudn’t say that I have had more time to relax.  I will say that overall, I feel a better sense of fulfillment with what I spend my time doing, even if it isn’t always fun.  There is a solidity to life now that I have a hard time explaining clearly, but overall I like it.

I think it was pretty clear that when I left Facebook that I was experiencing some depression.  I didn’t think that Facebook was necessarily the cause of it, but I didn’t feel like it was helping me overcome it either, and if anything exacerbating it.  Having left Facebook I have to say there are still times that I feel depressed about where our society, particularly in America, is going and I’m not sure how to make that go away.  I mean I could simply choose to be more optimistic and focus on that, but I somehow worry that this will make me less vigilant.  I feel this is a time for vigilance.  You can of course be so depressed to the point of apathy, but I think you can also be to cheerful and optimistic to the point of ignorance.  Neither of those are where I want to be.  Trying to find a state of mind that makes me feel strong without depression but without some sort of drug-like optimism is challenging.  Overall though I would say that leaving Facebook has helped me compartmentalize better, has allowed me to say, “Alright right now I have to focus on this…” and I am able to do so. There are times that I spend worrying as well, but I don’t think I do it as much, and sometimes I feel like I am able to filter out the noise much better and really think about, even some of the bad things, in a meaningful and deeper way.  This is something that I hoped for leaving Facebook.  The biggest thing for me is how noisy life felt and that I really couldn’t think deeply about things very well.  So maybe I’m not free completely from the state of mind I was in before, but I feel like I am progressing, and that is something.  Facebook seemed like a fairly endless stream of bad news, and people fighting, and being free from that, as often as I was on it, has been restful…peaceful…and given me more moments of contentedness.

There were many people who felt like was bashing Facebook when I left (there are reasons to be concerned of course about Facebook’s ethics) but my leaving was more a reflection of my personal relationship to it.  It wasn’t healthy for me, and I still maintain that can be used beneficially.  I know many people who aren’t on Facebook who are still as confused about facts from the media they consume, and so I certainly don’t see it as a soul source of how we can be misled in our society.  There is a larger problem with all sorts of media which has been discussed by ethicists like Tristan Harris on the “attention economy“.  This is something we all have to be mindful of, and getting off Facebook is no solution there.  The important thing to recognize also is that we are all being unconsciously influenced by the media we consume, and it’s important to be aware of that and be aware of how that’s affecting your life.  Think seriously about it all, weigh the pros and cons, and ask yourself are you as happy, courageous, and effective as you can be being plugged in all the time.  In a podcast I listened to recently a doctor was saying how boring the message of moderation is, and yet it’s probably the one we should be hearing the most.

My world has certainly gotten smaller, but I think there is just as much value at making the 10 mile radius around you a better place as trying to make the world a better place.  Moving the world requires a much greater force, and as an individual I constantly feel like I am inadequate to the task, and Facebook was a constant reminder of that fact, just as it was also a constant reminder of all the things that we need to make better in this world.  It’s important to know all of that, but it’s also important to recognize your limits.

There is much that I miss too, I knew this would be the case.  I wonder how a lot of the good people I got to know on Facebook, and think of them often.  But I have gotten to interact with more friends and people in my community than before.  There are a lot of people in my city who probably have quite different political views from me, but I haven’t talked politics with them, but I am getting to know them, and I haven’t met a bad person yet.  Maybe they voted for Trump, or maybe they are very religious, or maybe they have no problem with guns…I don’t know, but I think it’s important that we really get to know people first before judge the entirety of their being based on who they voted for, or what they believe.  There’s much more humanity there that I think we miss on social media.  There’s value in understanding where people are really coming from and recognizing their common humanity.  There may come a day when the truth of our political views comes out, but maybe then it will be a better conversation, maybe then there own beliefs will be as challenged as mine our and maybe even if we can’t be friends we walk away being better people than we were.  I don’t think this is possible on Facebook as we just tend to get to know the people who agree with us, and fight with the ones we don’t.

Well this is already a bit long, but I just want to say that, at best I can say that I am spending more time with my children and more time just enjoying a breath of fresh air.  I think that I will one day be able to return to Facebook and use it in a better way, but I don’t think I’m there yet.  I am thankful for all the good people I know and have known in this world even if there isn’t enough time to stay in touch as frequently as I’d like.  I wish all the best.

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Finding Equilibrium

In a previous blog post I wrote about some of my questions about equality.  Why do some people actively seek it and why don’t others?  Is that they already see the world as equal as it can be?  Do they simply accept a natural order in which things are going to be unequal?  Or are they simply selfish, knowing inside that equality might remove them from a position of privilege?

Whatever the answer to that question is, a recent conversation with a friend, and articles about the inequality that exists in areas of Baltimore, got me thinking a little more about equality.  I started to think about the question:  What does equality even look like?  Is equality a state of perfection that we cannot attain?  Are we caught in idealism and not being practical?  How can equality be achieved, when we are all different?  I think those of us who fight for equality have visions for what that might look like, but have we ever actually seen it?  Does this sense of equality only lie in our hearts and we push in a direction not really thinking about where we end up?  Even though nature often tends towards balanced, it is state rarely reached if ever.  Instead we find most things oscillating about a state of equilibrium.  Many times that oscillation is damped, meaning that while we never quite reach a state of balance, each oscillation is not as wild (or in other words doesn’t take us as far from equilibrium as the preceding oscillation).  Is this perhaps what the fight for equality looks like – swinging back and forth until finally the oscillations about that state of equality or so minute that we can no longer detect the inequality anymore?  In a complex society where one can find many areas in which inequality exists, do we prioritize the most obvious ones first, until other ones seem resolved to the point that new areas of inequality see more important?  Or as a fellow blogger wrote when addressing the issues of vaccines, can we sometimes make the issue worse by continually fighting for something even when the problem doesn’t exist because of the time and energy we have invested into a cause?  A recent Daily Show piece discussed how anti-GMO groups have actually helped large corporations, like Monsanto, to gain more of a stranglehold on the food supply because they are now the only ones with the money to be able to afford all the bureaucracy it takes to get a patent on a genetically modified seed.

It occurred to me that although we might be great at pointing out inequality, how often do we have a conversation about what equality looks like, and does it exist anywhere?  Are there real examples we can use?  Are there any microcosms of the larger society we all want to live in?  It is has only been within the past 30 years or so that a lot of psychological research shifted away from just looking and ailments of the mind and started focusing on the more positive aspects of our humanity, like happiness.  While depression is terrible and it is important to help those with depression out of those states, is learning how not to be depressed that same as knowing how to be happy?  Can we always derive what a good example is, by simply only looking at bad examples?  I believe the answer to that is no.  Growing up with an alcoholic father, I learned about the kind of husband and father I didn’t want to be.  But as I had marriage troubles in my own life it occurred to me I never thought enough about what a good father and husband is supposed to be like.  It required a certain rewiring in my thinking.  When it comes to studying happiness it required asking a set of questions that haven’t been asked before.  What makes people happy?  What kind of behavior to happy people exhibit?  What kinds of societies are happier? These questions are important to ask and science has helped make a lot of progress in the area of happiness.

So while we are all pretty great at point out inequality maybe we should shift our focus to talking about what equality would look like.  Find real world examples.  Analyze how and why those societies work and how they are advantageous to what we already have.  Pointing out inequalities between men and women have value, but let’s have a conversation about what are the positive values we want a human to have, regardless of gender.  Let’s have an idea of where we are going, before we push.  It might even help us get there faster

Do you really want to hurt me?

I have always been interested in how the emotions we feel translate into behaviors actions.  One of the things I have always wondered about is why feelings of hurt make us want to hurt others.  Now I don’t want to over-generalize, but I think all of us, at some point in our lives, have felt hurt to the point that if we didn’t lash out at another person, we have really thought long and hard about it.  I am not talking as much about physical pain here, although there certainly is an instinct to obviously fight back at times physically.  I am talking more about feelings of hurt at the emotional level.  Sometimes we have inflicted pain upon those closest to us and people we love.  Such things never lessen the pain, and tend to only make it worse since we are, in general, compassionate beings who know that we’ve inflicted pain upon others.  This usually just adds guilt in with the emotional pain we are already experiencing.  The question becomes why do we think it, and why do we do it?  As usual I don’t really have any answers, but will just explore some possibilities.

While it’s true that perhaps we do end up being strengthened by the hurt we feel, there is a period of time where it doesn’t feel that way.

The first thing that comes to mind is that it is sort of a primitive survival mechanism.  If you’ve ever felt really hurt by someone’s actions towards you, you know that it takes a toll on you physically.  Our emotions are a product of the release of various hormones and other chemicals in our body, and so a certain emotional state can have a strong effect on our physical systems.  Thus we can actually feel like we are in a fight for our life and the only way to win is by defeating the threat that has impacted us so strongly at the emotional level.  This can also be done on a larger scale.  Governments can (and have) play up threats to one’s existence and way of life, and dehumanize the enemy to rile up many people into an emotional state where they want to lash out at the threat.  It seems clear that feeling threatened on an emotional level, by making it feel personal, making you feel fear, can incite one to fight back.  The simplest answer is very often the right one, so perhaps feeling hurt simply makes us feel threatened so fighting back feels necessary to our survival.

 

Of course what it doesn’t explain is why we might inflict pain on those that we care about.  When unknown

enemy or someone you don’t really care for who has hurt you or who you believe is hurting you, it almost makes sense to want to hurt them back.  But if you’ve ever lashed out at your spouse or partner in anger, at your child (either physically or verbally), it almost seems counter-intuitive that this would ever be a solution to alleviating your own feelings of hurt.  Sometimes those that we lash out at, aren’t even the ones that have hurt us, and so it seems even more strange that we should have such behavior.  On a more personal level, it seems to me that in my life when I experience a lot of hurt I often feel like I’m in the dark.  Perhaps that is not necessarily the best analogy, but what I’m getting at is that the solution for making oneself feel better is not clear.  So perhaps that’s why I equate it to being in the dark, because when you are in the dark it is difficult to find a way out.  Depending on the depth of the pain we may start to panic and fear sets in, so we get desperate.   We want the pain to end, and get out of that darkness so bad that we claw, and scramble, and we try to move quickly.  But like any fast movement in the dark we don’t know what we are grabbing at, we don’t know what we are reaching for and we hit all sorts of things along the way, hurting others and ourselves.  Flailing in the dark is never going to be best solution over keeping calm and thinking our way out of that dark palce.

 

Delving deeper I wonder if there isn’t something uniquely human about this quality that goes beyond some

From http://www.verybestquotes.com

sort of animalistic behavior and is perhaps darker, even if it isn’t necessarily malicious.  When I’ve felt really hurt by someone, it’s easy feel like you don’t matter to them.   Just like I said it is counter-intuitive to hurt people we care about, so when you feel hurt by someone who cares about you, it’s easy to arrive at the conclusion that they don’t care about you anymore; that they are indifferent.  I think apathy is one of the toughest emotions to have to deal with.  When you feel like nobody is paying attention to you, it’s easy to get depressed, and more often than not we react in a way that tries to get us noticed. Usually in not the most healthy way either.  The feelings of hurt may have us thinking that the world is so indifferent to us that our existence does not matter.  Many suicide attempts are simply cries for help from people that do not feel “noticed”.  In some way I think we’d rather somebody hated us than were indifferent to us.  And so it seems sometimes lashing out at someone may simply be a mechanism for being noticed.  If someone is angry at you, it means you matter.  It means that they can at least feel some emotion for you even if it is a negative one.  To reach that point though it is truly sad, because what we usually want is love and compassion, and when we become so desperate that the opposite becomes the next best thing, perhaps then we truly are in the dark.

 

The real problem is that I don’t know a good way out of this behavior.  There are all sorts of clichés and memes, and self-help books that tell us that harming others is never a bona fide way of alleviating our feelings of hurt, but nevertheless we seem to drift towards hurting others who hurt us.  Most of the time we just hurt people in a moment and then we quickly realize what we’ve done and apologize.  Sometimes we feel justified in hurting others for the short-term satisfaction it brings, even though it doesn’t end our suffering over the long-term.  When I look at war torn countries, where so many people have lost loved ones, and you wonder how can they alleviate the hurt that they feel without continuing a cycle of violence and feelings of hatred?  I wonder if this just isn’t a darker part of who we are, and the only thing we can really do for ourselves is to be aware of it, and hope that in the moment we can focus on what will eventually lead to true happiness in the long-term instead of just hurting others, especially those we care about, even if they’ve inflicted pain on us.  Maybe they are just as in the dark as we are.