Cracking up and complaining
I fractured a rib for Christmas. Please, no cracker jokes. I had flu, which led to a violent cough, which led to a cracked rib. I didn’t know that was possible – well, you learn something new every Christmas, right? So, what did I do, when feverish with flu, choking with coughing, and rupturing ribs? (Not precisely accurate medically speaking, but allows for a nice bit of alliteration.) I felt the need to…tweet. Well, more specifically, grumble. Since poor hubby was ill too, grumbling at each other got a bit boring, so I hurled it into cyberspace. I tweeted. Groan, moan, OW. Not entirely content with this, I did it on Facebook too. Fishing for sympathy? But of course. I won’t deny it. My serene, elegant, uncomplaining side went offline for a while. The most vigorous complaining was reserved for my closest friends who got – wait for it – texted about it.
Comforting and Commiserating
The responses arrived on my Smartphone (I was unable to cope with computer) and were suitably soothing. Yes, it helped. When you’re stuck inside feeling horrible and ill and disgusting and can’t even speak, the power of social media takes on a different side. Be it through social media sites, or email, or simply text messaging, there is a sense that no, you’re not alone, yes, there is still a world out there, and people are rooting for you. It struck me (in the very tiny part of my brain that wasn’t grumbling) that we have so many tools for comforting those who feel isolated by illness. The digital world opens up a whole arena of communication which is especially helpful for those who feel unable to cope with phone calls or visits, their energy simply not allowing for it. A tweet, a text message, an email can lift someone’s spirits without asking anything of them. Too ill to talk to me? That’s okay. I’m just letting you know I’m here.
Communication Cop Outs?
But this won’t help everyone. For some, a text message or a tweet is a cop out. For them, they need the one to one contact. What about those who aren’t on Facebook or Twitter, who rarely text? It’s a world full of opportunity and inclusiveness – but ironically it can get horribly exclusive. Do we save our comfort and companionship just for those who are easily reached on our devices? Do we neglect those who are not part of this happy digital ‘community’? So we never get round to – dare I say it – writing a letter or a card to someone who would deeply, desperately appreciate it in a world of 140 characters or less?
Every coin has two sides. So as disciples – digi or otherwise – I believe we need to pray for discernment. Discernment to know when to use social media and when to use our own hands and feet. Understanding that while some find it the most helpful thing, others will find it the least helpful thing. Often, a mixture of both works well. We adapt our language and behaviour with everyone in our lives.
This is not a new thing. We’re all unique, after all.
Some people won’t complain at all. They’ll keep so quiet we don’t know how much they’re hurting. They’re not going to tweet about it, post it on Facebook, or even volunteer it in casual conversation. We need to make an effort to get to know them – really know them – for ourselves. In a world where so much information is volunteered, pushed in our faces even, let’s remember those who cannot even find the words to say how they feel.
To think about:
- In what ways do you find social media helpful when life is difficult?
- Is it a valid aspect of pastoral care – if so, how and when do we use it?
- Have we neglected those outside of our digital community?
- What is appropriate to share in this way? Where are the boundaries?
One thing I didn’t mention in the original post is the idea of blogging as therapy and a form of sharing. I think the last question has particular relevance here. What do we share on our blogs? What should remain private? (See also an old entry called ‘blogging with care‘).