The Community That Sneaked in When You Weren’t Looking
In the age of social media, despite the fact that so many people use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms, underneath it all is a skepticism about its value. Those who abstain often say with condescending pride, “I have no time for that nonsense.” And maybe – for them – that works. I am not denying that social media can be a dangerous platform, possibly more dangerous than any social platform we have had before. Negative factors can range from a plethora of foolishness, to wasting time that would be better spent in building other relationships, to not getting work or other things done, to exposing oneself to risk of real physical or emotional danger. Yes, people often are not as they represent themselves to be, or they use the “anonymity” to act in abusive ways to others. You would have to be living under a rock not to know all this.
But here’s the thing. These are platforms and like any other platforms people can use them for good or for evil. People can use them to build something true or to hurt each other. Most people who write about the advantages of social media write about dollars and cents and marketing. No one challenges this. Yet most of us don’t quite trust others or even ourselves that the personal stuff can be “real”. It’s the same dynamic that often causes people to look down their noses at the validity of internet dating, although no one would deny that this has actually worked for a large number of people. (And lest you think this an ad for internet dating, let me just say I tried it and it was a total disaster for me. LOL.)
Even on the internet, aside from relating to one’s relatives and friends, people tend to group around interests like they group around campfires. Not everyone, but most people, will end up reaching out a little even if they claim they are only there “to play the game” or “to watch the bird cam” or whatever. I would say that I challenge anyone who claims that people cannot be truly blessed or genuinely hurt by these interactions but I am simply too tired so I’ll just let what is there speak for itself.
Think about the cold, heartless, ridiculous, and sometimes vicious nature of the world we live in. Why would you then wonder that many reach out through social media platforms for positive connections, a sense of relief, or simple reminders that beauty and warmth still exist in the world and that some things are still worth fighting for. I’m not saying that everyone has the same kind of or even a deep connection. I’m saying let’s appreciate and take advantage of what is really there – despite the pitfalls and dangers and aggravations.
Let me say this too…even if you do post something completely inane or what you had for breakfast (and believe me I get impatient with that stuff too)…the hardest thing to come by in this world is to truly not be judged. There are some jerks who will still make rude comments on such a post but most people will either say something kind, say nothing, or just scroll by. Sometimes you just need to say something “stupid” and not be judged.
For reasons I won’t get into here, almost a decade ago I gave up on trying to relate to what is traditionally thought of “community”. My nature has always been to be a bit of a loner but I used to at least try. I “tried” until I just couldn’t anymore. I was told I was being unhealthy, that I needed to “just do” x, y, or z…and despite what they thought, I “got” what they were saying. Although at times I resented them, I couldn’t hold on to that resentment. There was no reason that they should see where I was because they had never been there.
So I became reasonably comfortable hiding within the four walls of my apartment, with only some sweet cats as company. I say “only” because this is how most people understand it. I didn’t even really understand until Sophie was gone. Despite my hiding away, God sneaked in under the radar and found a way to tell me I was truly loved.
In the midst of all of this, being someone who finds great solace and healing in nature, I started watching bird nesting cams. There are so many lessons of life to be learned through these cams, and, to my chagrin (lol), I found that there are so many people to interact with. The first cam experience I had was watching the Cornell Red-tailed Hawks, Big Red and Ezra. It was the first year for that cam, and many viewers got to know each other first through chatting and then by becoming friends on Facebook. This eventually led to the growth of a community, and I have seen that this is true also of some other groups. Like in every community, the experience is different for everyone. Not everyone likes or connects to each other, you can’t avoid the inevitable fracturing, and people can hurt each other. However, there is also real help for those in need and real encouragement for those in hard times. There is real love and acceptance for as much or as little as you want to show of yourself. People make a real effort to meet each other in person whenever possible. As time has gone on, I have only seen this grow.
I find it a bit funny when people say of the Cornell Red-tailed Hawks, “Big Red and Ezra brought us together”. I suppose that is sort of true. But I think they really just gave us an opportunity and we took it. I don’t think we have given ourselves enough credit for what we have done for each other day after day. And as someone who just really wanted to be left alone forever, I have to say the joke is on me. Despite all the work I have to do in other areas of my life, despite my trepidation about many things, despite the fact that I am often too flat out weary to interact much – I have to admit I am actually smiling.