When I started this blog, I started it for an audience of one. I wanted to reign in the tangled yarn of my thoughts into one solid skein that I could hold, turn over, or unravel and rewind if I had to. Along the way, I’ve encountered those who vehemently disagree with my opinions and those who validate my viewpoints and make me feel like maybe I’m not as crazy as I think I am. Sometimes these assenting or dissenting voices come from the same person depending on the topic.
I’ve made some mistakes along the way. Sometimes I overstated my case, or was too quick to judge. Sometimes I felt that an injustice or some form of discrimination needed to be called out, and since no one else was speaking up, I would be the one to do it. Giving voice to the voiceless, and all that jazz.
I still don’t know which has more merit – being the one to bring attention to disturbing circumstances, or being the one who recognizes injustice, but sits back and waits for someone else to speak up. It’s much easier to merely click a like button than actually be held accountable for bringing the situation to light.
I do believe in the concept of what goes around comes around, because I’ve seen it and experienced it. You can call it karma, divine retribution, or less ominously, the world mirroring back to you what you have shown to others for the benefit of self-reflection. Recently I was shown that mirror through the trials and tribulations of social media, and I’ve taken heed.
For the most part, I’ve been preaching to the choir. While I’m very grateful that there is a like-minded choir to preach to, what I have realized, is that people only change if they want to change. Anyone who is opposed to my opinions will remain opposed, no matter how eloquently I attempt to make my case. People turn a deaf ear to viewpoints they consider treif. When an argument is dismissed as being born from secular culture, it is invalid, and therefore, no consideration for change is merited.
Additionally, many of us won’t practice what we preach when it comes to compassion toward hot button social issues such as child abuse, people going off the derech, homosexuality, the shidduch minefield, drug and alcohol abuse, inclusion of people with mental or physical health issues, women’s rights, etc. Words cost nothing, but actions can cost a great deal.
As fast as many of us are to step up on our social media soapbox and condemn discrimination and injustice in our society, many of us would be equally fast, for example, to squash a shidduch suggestion for our child with someone who has experienced sexual abuse, a chronic health issue, or a sibling who is gay. Sometimes an issue we can be tolerant about from afar, is an issue we can’t abide by close to home.
Conversely, continuing the shidduch example, there are sometimes valid considerations for not wanting a child to marry someone who, for example, has an extensive history of drug addiction and relapse, or a history of medical non-compliance for severe mental health issues. Not wanting a child to be subjected to that kind of uncertainty and tumult isn’t being discriminatory, it’s simply being a concerned parent. The devil is in the details, although such considerations might also be labelled intolerant by the social media peanut gallery.
It makes me wonder about our current culture of online lynching. Social media is the new Wild West, and frontier justice is alive and well. So many viral condemnations are started by the dissemination of partial truths and half told stories. There’s no doubt it’s entertaining to watch the sparks fly and the responses flood in at a dizzying pace in the name of public outrage. However, once the storm subsides and interest wanes, was anything actually accomplished? When the old outrages are buried under the weight of the new ones in our Facebook feeds, can we justify the harsh words read and written by claiming they promoted change? Most of the time, the only thing accomplished was machlokes and gossip.
Again, those who were already sensitive to the general issues being publicized will continue to be sensitive to those wrongs brought to light. Those who were unaware, and willfully so, will continue their backlash against those who try to shine a light on perceived injustices. Change has to be initiated by the individual’s own desire to change. Those who aren’t open to it won’t do an about face because of online shaming – especially if they feel that their position is God’s position. Adding religious righteousness into the mix only intensifies someone’s unwillingness to see another side, particularly if they feel that the other side is unquestionably against halacha or mesorah, which are one and the same in many Orthodox minds.
Since starting this blog and monitoring the Jewish news and social media, I have seen the same issues come up repeatedly over the past few years. Often, the same controversial spiritual and community leaders are called to task over their latest rantings or proclamations. Nothing really changes though – despite their detractors there are always more followers continuing to support even the most provocative of spiritual gurus. On an individual level, I’m sure some people have shifted in their thinking. I know I have. However, on a communal level, I haven’t seen a universal shift.
I know that change happens slowly. For example, there is a growing call to report sexual abuse cases to the police in Orthodox communities, even in communities where such reporting was practically unheard of only a few years ago. Rabbinic leaders are changing their minds on how to handle abuse cases in light of new information on how sex offenders often re-offend and how permanently scarring such abuse is to victims.
Another example of change is how women are slowly, albeit controversially in some cases, taking up leadership roles in Orthodox religious life. It is getting to the point where any Orthodox religious body that speaks out against advancements for women or scorns the idea of women in positions of spiritual leadership will be swiftly condemned, and so the language and tone coming from Orthodox clergy is getting tamer – even if the basic message of resistance is essentially the same.
Nothing happens overnight, yet that is exactly what social media users demand – instant satisfaction. I readily admit to subconsciously hoping for immediate resolution to the social ills I’ve dwelt upon. It’s not possible. Many of the problems that plague our communities took decades to develop. They won’t instantly disappear with the rantings of one angry person, or even several angry people, no matter how quickly a viral post spreads.
So this leaves me back to where I started – back to an audience of one – which is the only audience that really matters anyway. It’s appropriate that I should be examining my own heart, writing to detangle my thoughts, and thinking about where I stand on societal and spiritual issues. However, writing or ranting about my views online has a limited long term impact. It’s actions and not words that matter most. As 2016 approaches, I hope that I can have a greater impact by doing rather than saying. The audience might be smaller, but the results of offline actions have a better chance of yielding long term results. Words are important and have their place, but sometimes words come too easy. As they say, nothing worth having ever comes easy.