A common theme that arises in several of the texts I teach – most recently in a reading of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – is that no one has the luxury of living in a vacuum. By vacuum, I do not mean a Hoover upright. Rather, the sort of vacuum to which I refer is a space devoid of matter, and what I mean by the expression is that we all live in a world where our behaviors impact those with whom we share space (e.g.: family, friends, co-workers, classmates, teammates, etc.). We cannot expect to put anything out into the universe without it responding in adherence to Newton’s Third Law of Motion. You know, the “equal and opposite reaction” one.
By way of example, in Shelley’s novel, Victor Frankenstein becomes so obsessed with creating life that it consumes him. For six years he devotes all of his time and energy to his work. Upon the completion and immediate abandonment of his creature, Victor, much worse for the wear, returns home and hopes to resume life as was normal before he began his unholy quest. The creature, however, has been set loose upon the world. It soon begins to wreak havoc and, ultimately, is responsible for the deaths of five of Victor’s closest friends and family as it seeks its revenge. Frankenstein pays dearly for what he “puts out there.”
This principle of action/reaction becomes especially relevant during election season when one chooses to fly flags bearing the name or likeness of their preferred candidate, to festoon their property and pick-up trucks with signs bearing the name of said candidate, or choose to post a meme or link to an article in support of this candidate and his/her policies. I find it a bit naive or disingenuous, however, when one of these folks, wearing their political preferences on their sleeves, act surprised or offended when those who disagree with them clap back.
When this happens, it’s not unusual for the wounded party to blame the messenger. Today, that messenger is often Facebook or some other form of social media. Trust me, I’ve been there. I’ve taken breaks from Facebook myself. Once, I was called out by a relative after posting what I thought had been an innocuous opinion. Similarly, I was bluntly informed on Twitter that I was going to hell after pointing out the hypocrisy of our so-called-Christian nation’s ambivalent shrug directed at an Ebola outbreak in Africa.
After some time and much reflection, I eventually realized that social media platforms were not to blame for my comeuppance. I was. I’m the one who made the posts that inspired the ire of others. Facebook and Twitter were just a vehicle. Blaming them would be like blaming your car for an accident that results from your own poor decision-making while behind the wheel. I should have anticipated the ruffling of some feathers was in the offing when I felt compelled to share my opinion, and if I wasn’t comfortable with the blowback, I should never have posted. The fact is that Facebook and Twitter don’t suck, but people often do. There is no shortage of trolls out there. But for whom is that breaking news? Like I once did, we all have the choice to leave or to just keep our views to ourselves. I just don’t think it’s appropriate to blame the vehicle.
I have since returned to both Facebook and Twitter and take them for what they are. I love the songs/videos that Dan May posts and greatly appreciate the invitations he shares to his upcoming online gigs. All of which bring me great joy. I literally laugh out loud at the posts featuring the original humor of Andrew Zucker and Tara Roth-Mulvin. I burst with pride when learning of the various achievements of my many nieces and nephews, and I love catching up on the lives of so many students past and their adventures in parenting (Brenda Mazur) and literal adventures hiking and rock climbing out West (Ian Chandler/Tristan Nighswander). The words of positivity shared by Lorrain Croy and LaVonna Roth often convince me to make an attitude adjustment and to face my day with a smile and optimism. And pictures of the grandbaby . . . !
We are without question social animals. That reality results in both positive and negative outcomes. I occasionally go too far in expressing my views on social media or here on my blog, and I sometimes insert my foot deeply into my mouth. On both occasions, friends step up in what I believe is a well-intentioned attempt to nudge me back on course, not because they wish to be mean but because they care about me. And I’m fortunate and glad they do.
I don’t want to live in a vacuum of any sort.
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