Friday, February 5, 2016


People who bitch that social media is making is shallow and isolated should reconsider how they use it.

Every day I see, in my feed, my friends documenting their self-care, journaling for accountability in how they treat themselves, talking about the things they experience with tremendous vulnerability and courage, advocating for social change, and speaking in defense of kindness and empathy.

And I see them receive the support, encouragement and love that helps keep them balanced, helps keep them making the choices towards happiness and health, helps them grow and learn in safe and loving space. I see them find others with shared ideals, and delight in the knowledge that they're not alone in the world, even if they're alone in their neighborhood.

This didn't happen by accident. My social space is carefully curated, and it took a lot of work. I couldn't just cut out all the people who disagree with me, because everyone eventually disagrees. What I could do was cut out the people who couldn't disagree reasonably and come to an understanding that allowed the friendship to continue. What I could do was weigh the substance of those disagreements, and establish whether they presented an insurmountable barrier to respect.

I've also had to be somewhat ruthless in cutting those who choose paths other than kindness and integrity. Mind you, these are *my* definitions of kindness and integrity, and I've taken some heat from this friend or that one, for keeping a person who didn't meet their personal standards in my space. Bluntly put, it's MY space. You stay in it as long as you meet MY expectations for conduct within it, and no one gets to dictate what relationships I keep or set aside but me.

When I garden, I do so on the principle that 'everyone works'. No free rides, no spending time and resources on those who don't produce or add to the garden. It may seem heartless, but I will not waste my energy on anything that doesn't add to my experience in some way, even if it's just making the world a generally better place. I technically get no more direct benefit from plants that draw hummingbirds than I do from friends who post travel pictures, except that my world becomes more rich and beautiful as a result. Whenever I have the chance to make a choice that brings more beauty into my space, I do it. When I have the chance to feed a friend's roots and watch the resulting bloom, I do.

But just as in the garden you remove the pests that destroy what is beautiful, in your social spaces you can remove those who destroy. That friend who responds with cheap shots, the person who posts with the intent to use guilt or shame to elicit a response, the family member who blasts daily hate into your otherwise loving atmosphere, you do not owe any of them space in the garden.

That's at the heart of it: you do not owe anyone space on their terms in your life. Not a parent, not a partner, not a lover or a friend or an employer. Not even a child, if it comes to that. You may choose, in the interests of peace or getting through a difficult situation, to allow someone more space than you wish they had because the alternative is worse for you. If possible, treat those people like compost: move them away from the pleasant spaces and let them fester. Allow the rot and waste to feed the rest of your garden, even if it's in no other way than giving you a greater appreciation for what beauty you're able to cultivate elsewhere.

A few years ago, I was looking at a particularly bitter and angry post, and I thought, "Who are you? We have like fifteen friends in common, I have no face to go with your name, and I never get any joy from what you say." So I hit 'unfriend', fearing some sort of backlash, some anger, something, and then...nothing. No drama, no anger, just a single voice fading out of my space. Since then I've used the 'unfriend' button, though sparingly, or the 'unfollow' or even the 'block' if I found that everything someone said made me irrationally angry. When I think about engaging someone, I stop and ask myself, "What will this feed? Can I hope for resolution? Can I hope for a reasonable discourse? Is it possible that others watching this will be comforted if I speak up here?" If the answer is no, then Someone Is Just Wrong On The Internet, and I move on without spending time and energy on it.

It's not perfect, of course. There are still moments when conversations frustrate me, when friends of friends are rude or hateful in company, when someone pipes up with a previously-unrealised bigotry or hatefulness. But I'm learning, every day, how to determine whether something that annoys me is just a passing pest or it's a genuine threat to the peace and beauty of the garden, and when to pull out the pruning shears. I'm also learning what works best to encourage lush and beautiful growth, to cultivate the friendships that will last, and to create, in my personal interactions, a space that feeds me when the rest of the world difficult and scary.

I love you all.

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