You’ve seen it. A friend posts something on Facebook and directs you to “copy and paste” the text onto your own page as a post. Sometimes it’s a “fun” message or game. Sometimes it turns out to be a hoax.
Too often, it’s a little more threatening: “My friends will post this. Or, you can just keep scrolling. I’ll know who reads to the end.”
Although I haven’t seen one in a while, there was a time when I received “chain” emails with the threat of seven years bad luck if I didn’t pass it on to my list.
What’s that about? Seeing these kinds of messages brings back the terror I felt in junior high school when I didn't want to go along with the "mean girl" plot, but was afraid they'd turn on me next. I'm way too old to fall for peer pressure now.
Aside from flashbacks to my insecure teenage years, I also feel deep resistance to taking another person's words and duplicating them in spaces that represent me, especially on social media.
It may be a bit of hubris on my part. It’s true, it’s rare that I don’t mentally correct sentence structure or spelling in printed material—and most memes are grammatically incorrect, even if I like the message.
But the essence of why I won't ever “copy and paste” and use the share button only sparingly is my deep concern that those activities have contributed to a growing, dangerous trend of repeating other people’s words and thoughts without evaluation.
People jump to conclusions, repeat wrong or slanted information, and are generally swayed by emotionally charged headlines, videos, memes, and more. Too many otherwise smart, educated people have adopted the lazy habit of “copy and paste,” “forward this email to your whole list,” and “share on social media.”
Too few people stop to evaluate the source or the meaning. Sometimes it's painfully obvious that they haven't read the material to the end, or perhaps at all.
Even fewer bother to string together a couple of their own sentences to form an original statement or interpretation of the thoughts voiced in the shared article, post, or video.
I am often amazed (not in a good way) and disheartened by the amount of foolish, sexist, racist, and often hateful things that are shared by people who I know to be basically kind, caring and intelligent. Sometimes it’s outright bigotry, but most often it’s presented as “funny” memes or jokes that perpetuate systemic racism and sexism.
On the occasion I comment about the lack of humor for me, I’m accused of not being able to appreciate a joke. For me, depreciating humor is only mildly amusing when the presenter is the target, not someone else. Even then, it makes me uncomfortable, but at least the laugh is at the expense of the presenter, not an innocent third party.
If you think I’m being overly concerned or that misuse of words is no big deal, think back to a little over a year ago when our previous president suggested that drinking Lysol or Clorox could kill the virus in us as well as on laminate surfaces.
Within minutes, the manufacturers of those products as well as the media and health agencies sprang into action with cautionary messages not to ingest the poisonous liquids. Despite the warnings, poison control agencies across the country reported increases in emergency calls.
Politics and absurdities aside, this incredible scenario is the direct result of acting without thinking, albeit an extreme example.
I believe the vast majority of the crises we face today—political, social, environmental, health, or [insert any number of other explosive issues]—stem from the lack of emphasis on teaching critical thinking skills in public school. Instead, generations of humanity have been taught to memorize information and spit it back out with very little attention to evaluation of events or ideas.
This process is known as socialization, conditioning, or eliciting a desired response. I call it spreading propaganda or brainwashing.
I could go on here with examples of how world views are shaped by how “history” is presented in schools and textbooks. I’ll give only one personal account. In 2016, I lived in Wilmington, NC, for one year. As part of exploring my new city, I visited several history museums. A port city, Wilmington played a major role in both the Revolutionary and Civil wars. It was interesting how the Southern accounts of events from both, but especially the Civil War, differed from what I learned in the New York public school system.
But my reason for this post is not to enumerate ways our education system is faulty. I’d rather focus on what we can do with what we’ve got. And despite what outside forces would like us to believe, we do have choice over our minds, thoughts, and words.
As a reader of this newsletter and blog, you were likely drawn to my mission of using words, ideas, and stories to heal our souls and the planet. Perhaps you, too, feel called to shine your light and improve the world.
This big mission can be accomplished with tiny individual steps and actions taken collectively.
No one needs to be a writer by trade to scratch out a few lines to post on Facebook or Instagram with a photo.
Nor do your words need to be written at all. What you say speaks volumes too.
However we choose to transmit our ideas, the key is to be original. Not necessarily by originating the idea, but by writing or speaking your version of it. Instead of copying and pasting the “If you can be one thing today, be kind” meme, post something kind or an uplifting story—or just show kindness yourself. Despite a pretty background, words posted in a meme are just platitudes, nice thoughts without substance.
If you do link to an article or post you find interesting or important, put a few words in the message area about the content you are sharing. If it’s something that angers or upsets you, tell us why…in your own words. One sentence or a short phrase will do.
We don’t need to agree with one another all the time, and there’s never only one way or solution. But until we learn to communicate our own thoughts and are willing to listen without judgment or need to validate or contest, we will be stuck mouthing the words put in our minds by other people.
I don’t know about you, but I find that very unappealing.
Still, it can be scary to voice your thoughts publicly, especially if they don’t express mainstream opinions. I suffered that repression for years, and even now sometimes spend sleepless nights prior to a controversial or revealing post about myself.
You are probably familiar with the quote:
“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”
Like me, you may attribute these words to Abraham Lincoln. However, as I just did a Google search for accuracy, I learned that Lincoln adapted this quote from a poem by John Lydgate. (Another glaring omission from my social studies textbook.)
Sort of sums up the theme of this post quite nicely. You can take someone else’s original thought and adapt it to your own audience. Of course, it is nice to cite your source, but it also shows that you have something important to add.
And that’s how we’ll heal ourselves and the planet, one word, one thought, one post, one page, at a time.
P.S. You can share this post, but be sure to add your own two cents as an intro :)
P.P.S. I also invite your feedback in the Comments below.
Image: Sailboat and Golden Gate Bridge ©Gemignani. Prints available here
Text ©Shelley Lieber.
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