Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Blogging in a Noisy World: Why it Matters


You may not have noticed my absence but I am fully aware of the neglect of my blog. Aware, I say, because I miss writing here. I miss the process of mulling over topics, asking questions of life and writing my way into the answers. That’s not to say I have not been mulling, asking and writing! I’ve been doing plenty of that by way of meditating, talking with friends and writing in my journal. It’s only that I haven’t been sharing my thoughts and words here.

Why?

Because it’s become such a crowded and noisy app-happy world out there. Besides Blogger (where you are now), there is Facebook and Twitter, Instagram and Snap Chat, Pinterest and LinkedIn, Tumblr and Google Plus, YouTube and WhatsApp. To name a few. There are so many ways of connecting it makes my head spin. It also makes me want to unplug and crawl back into an electricity-free cave.

It’s not just the plethora of social networking sites; it’s what’s on them. I believe everyone has a story to tell. I believe everyone should have a voice. But when I read some of the mean-spirited stuff out there it gives me pause. Worse, it makes me afraid to put my own words—myself—out there. Not only am I reluctant to heap more on the slush pile of chatter (and, god forbid, with the incoming administration end up on some watchlist), I am reticent to subject myself to the vicious comments of some who feed on ripping others apart—trolls, as they are called, who unleash an unbridled viciousness that is, unfortunately, on the rise. We’ve seen this kind of unseemly behavior growing in the past several years with politicians decimating each other like Barbarians in the Coliseum. We’ve heard the rhetoric sink so low it has been deemed hate speech, only to see it repeated and reprinted as headline news. That’s a lot of noise. Mean-spirited, negative noise.

I got a taste of this negativity, albeit a tiny morsel, a few months ago on Facebook when I posted a photo of President and Michelle Obama that included a caption (not mine) asking people to share if you wanted to thank the Obamas for their grace and dignity through these past eight years. Yes, I did want to thank them. I marveled (still marvel) at their strength and grace, diplomacy, class, and integrity as they’ve handled all the *&$%# that’s been flung their way, all the obstacles so obnoxiously placed in their path. (Which, I consider our path, the path to health, human rights and individual freedoms.) So I posted.

In response to this post I was greeted with comments negating my fond sentiments—and several people voiced some pretty harsh opinions. So I hastened to add, “In the spirit of what this post says about grace and dignity, I will delete any negative comments.” I deleted a disturbing number, including one from a high school classmate—from our Catholic high school. Upon noticing her comment had been removed, she shot back with claims to her right to free speech. In turn, others jumped in on her angry response, until there was a long thread of people arguing back and forth about free speech, about how a person’s Facebook page belongs to that person and therefore exempt from any constitutional rights, followed by more polarized opinions about the Obamas. On my post. A post that was supposed to be positive, an innocent means of saying thanks.

My parents. I appreciate
their old-fashioned values
more than ever
All through my childhood, my mother hammered us kids about minding our manners. I can still hear her voice: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say it at all.” And her other frequent refrain: “That’s not charitable,” a reprimand in response to any of our unkind or selfish missteps.

Say something nice or don’t say anything. Be charitable. These are the simple rules I learned from my mom. The ones I learned from my dad are just as important: Surround yourself with positive people. And, above all, always remember to say thank you.

But it has become glaringly evident—from my fellow Catholic school classmates to our president-elect—that not everyone was raised with these rules.

I really do believe that each of us has a story to tell. But stories need to be told in a way we can all hear. Shouting doesn’t work. Negativity is unnecessary. And bullying is unacceptable. Without civility and good manners our society will topple faster than a tower of Jenga blocks.  And you shouldn’t need me—or my mother—to tell you that. It should be common sense!

I kept wondering about the high school classmate and why her reaction to my post was so strong, so angry. So I dug a little into her Facebook page and saw that she was divorced and a single mom. I am cautious about making assumptions, but I wondered if her anger had more to do with her and less about the Obamas or free speech. Maybe she was devastated by her divorce. Maybe she was struggling to raise her kids on her own. It made me think of another of those oft-reposted Facebook quotes:

“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.” 

So I held her in my thoughts, sending her telepathic waves of love and compassion. And then, in a proactive move of self-protection, I unfriended her.

Forget your closet, apply this
method to your social media 
My sister would advise, “Garbage in, garbage out. What we take in affects us and we send it back out. So best to avoid the garbage.” I am not saying this in reference to the classmate; I’m referring to the bigger picture. I’ve needed to do a Marie Kondo on social media, my blog included, and tidy up. Sharing my innermost thoughts, my hopes and beliefs, was not sparking joy; it was invoking dread, even fear.

And yet, my profession is writing, communicating, networking. It’s my calling. I need connection the way Simone Biles needs backflips. Even if it means spending time on social media. (And when you live on a farm in rural Iowa, sometimes social media is the only practical means of having a social life.)

Even when I have vowed not to, I have continued to post on Facebook, and sometimes Twitter. I have also continued to break my personal rule about staying politically neutral. For years I have preached that pie was not about politics, that pie creates community, unifies and bridges some of the most disparate gaps. I’m confident that I have proven this principal over and over—all the way around the globe, in fact—by baking pie with people from some of the widest ranges of cultures, socioeconomic groups, religions, and political beliefs.

Making pie with kids in a South African township.

Pie, for me, has always been a metaphor for peace. (As if that wasn’t already obvious.) And because peace is eluding us in our current climate, it’s time for me to drop the “no politics” rule entirely. It is time for me to speak up. To add my voice to the noisy world. To contribute any constructive, positive, peace-making thoughts I can to help counter the dark forces of fear, greed, ignorance, and bullying.

My politics are not about party-based divisiveness. My goal going forward is to keep bringing the conversation back to basic values, like empathy and inclusiveness—you know, the foundations of Christianity—while keeping the conversation polite. My mission is to preserve decency and manners, and to promote respect—for each other, as well as for our environment. We all have to breathe the same oxygen from our atmosphere; we all depend on clean drinking water for our survival. Forget politics. Preserving earth’s limited resources and saving our species starts with remembering we share just one planet, and therefore we all have to get along.

Obviously “getting along” is a hard charge for us. But we can at least try. For example, even if it takes some effort, we can start by restraining ourselves before venting on social media. Instead of making negative, contrarian, inflammatory comments, how about not saying anything at all. The journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. Even a baby step like this is a good start.

And lest I sound like a hypocrite, let me say this blog post is not meant to be a rant or negative commentary. I am simply trying to sort through the confusion of life and use my best means of solution seeking: writing an essay.

Mull over the topic. Ask the questions. Write my way into the answers. In this case, the answers are really very simple, so simple I could have conveyed them in five words instead of 1,500:

Have courage and practice kindness.

And write more. On my blog.

It may be a crowded, noisy world out there but everyone has a story, everyone has a voice. This is my story, my voice. And just like I would with a homemade pie, I’ve put my heart and my best intentions into my words before sharing them. Thank you for reading them.

13 comments:

Jane Gatzke said...

Love, love, love what you wrote Beth. I agree with you 110%. I, too, have been shocked really at the reactions of people and how they choose to verbalize their feelings. Goodness knows that we can agree to disagree on something, but there is no reason for the hate that people share. I am truly stunned that given the character of our president elect and the things he has said, on Twitter alone, let alone on the campaign trail...that Mr. Trump was elected to the most important position in our country with zero experience. I am truly concerned for what is to come and am highly concerned with international relations. You definitely have a way with words and I look forward to reading your posts. Good luck!!

menzrob said...

Your post was neither a rant nor negative, it was a breath of fresh air. The world has become such a nasty place, it feels so nice to find small havens of safety with like-minded people. I look forward to your future musings. In the meantime, think I'll make a pie for my family 😊

Hope64 said...

"Have courage and practice kindness", sounds like words to live by. Thank you for sharing.

Roger Bender said...


Refreshing

Unknown said...

Thank you, Beth, for your thoughtful post. I'm rather inept at navigating the world of Facebook and still get confused about the many ways things are "shared" on that site. So during this never-ending campaign I began thinking really hard before I hit that "share" button -- for precisely the reasons you mentioned. I was fearful of leaving myself vulnerable to all the hate out there. I look forward to reading more of your posts -- little breaths of fresh, clean air in an atmosphere that has become polluted. And like the person who posted earlier, I'm looking forward to entertaining at the end of the week and making a lovely open-crusted dessert pie with pears, chocolate and hazelnuts:-)

Ron's Adventures said...

Ah Beth, dear Beth... thanks for the genuinely heartfelt expression of your experience of these sad and divisive times we all share. Your compassion and intelligence and determination shine through. Indeed, your parents must be proud you have learned the basic lessons of human kindness and common good. Onward, joining with so many who will keep hope alive and shadows lit. (I'm just learning about the 'indivisible agenda' that is sweeping the nation, organizing local groups to monitor the future govt.'s attempts). Ron Schmitz

Budget Nomad aka Dr. Ryan James said...

I have not blogged myself since the election. Some have written to ask where I am and am I okay, but there was just a emptiness I could not identify keeping me away.

Your post explains all that I have been feeling. If you don't mind, I would like to repost this post on my blog.

Ryan James

Beth M Howard said...

Hi Ryan, By all means, you are welcome to share my post. I, too, have noticed your absence, but thought maybe it was because you were traveling. (I am loving your pictures from Mexico.) Please keep writing/blogging and just keep being YOU. We all need to keep living our lives -- and expressing ourselves (in a positive way) -- as fully as possible. Sending you love, Beth

Bill Jabas said...

Hi Beth, I enjoy your posts and I was aware you were MIA. I'm glad you're back. It's inspiring to read the stories of a fellow traveler who gets run over by life, gets back up, pulls a compass from her pocket, heads out, and then bakes pies around the world to heal and spread good will. Pretty amazing.
Keep writing. People will read. Ignore the bad comments. I believe there are many damaged people around the world who find relief in spreading hate and discontent. I also believe there are more, like yourself, who are working hard to make the world a better place. They just don't get the headline news they deserve. Take care. Bake more pie. Bill

Beth M Howard said...

Thanks, Bill. I have to respond to your comment that "there are many damaged people out there." YES. That, I believe, is what is driving all the hate and discontent. It breaks my heart when I hear the stories of those who were abused or neglected as children, who had parents who themselves were damaged and passed along the disfunction. Generation after generation. REALLY HEARTBREAKING. I just wish there was a way to break the cycle, to create more loving and supportive environments in people's homes and communities. If we could all just build each other up instead of tearing each other down...but people are hurting because they have been hurt, or because they are afraid. That is how I am able to find compassion, knowing that others did not have the kind of stable family life I was raised with. I wish I could do more to help heal the world. A blog post here and there, a memoir about grief and a few other efforts are just not enough. But I'll keep trying!

Gail Bussi said...

Hi Beth - have just discovered you and your books on amazon - I live in South Africa, and am so happy to see that you came here a few years ago to share pie magic with our children, who so desperately need all the sweetness and love they can get! (And I have ordered your books!) Your story resonates with me in several ways - we are the same age, and I, too, lost my partner James in a tragic accident in 2014. The only way I survived and moved on was by being creative...painting, writing and baking (in my case, cakes, rather than pies!) In fact I am writing a book/journal about my experiences - with recipes - handwritten and illustrated, rather in the style of Susan Branch. I have felt sad, too, today reading details of Mr Obama's farewell speech in Chicago - he was not perfect (who is?) but when we consider the alternative now presented...! I just hope that sanity prevails and that the divisiveness and hatred that has, unfortunately, been a part of this political campaign will somehow change into something healthier for everyone, both Americans and the rest of us! Damage can be turned into something useful and good - so many people I know attest to that in their daily lives. Thank you for your words and insight...I will be returning to your blog often. With love from a hot and sunny South Africa...Gail B

Beth M Howard said...

Gail, thank you so much for your comment! I'm sorry for your loss-- and inspired by all that you are doing. Send some of that creative energy my way. :-) Do keep in touch. And if you ever get to Iowa...come visit! Love, Beth

Jane said...

Agree. I think the Obama's were such beautiful human beings. I deactivated my FB account about a week after the election. It was just too ugly.