i like facebook, for the most part. it’s allowed me, as an incredibly inconsiderate male, to actually keep in touch with people that i would never think of keeping in touch with otherwise. best of all, i can see when it is someone’s birthday. but i can also have seen how facebook can hurt people, and drive wedges between them, in inadvertent ways. and i’ve seen that especially when people post good news on their feeds, because believe it or not, there are many moments that when we share things that bring us great joy, others actually experience great pain instead.
for example: for most of our friends, the announcement of carol’s pregnancy brings nothing but joy and happiness…and maybe a few questions as to how we are going to take care of four kids, questions that make me scratch my head as well. but for some people, i know that this announcement brings very mixed emotions, particularly for those who have not been able to have children of their own. for people who are childless, announcements about pregnancy and pictures of little babies do not bring unadulterated joy, but often, pain, and sadness, and longing. i have been told by couples who can’t have children that they have had to de-friend people on facebook because the images of their kids and the happiness that they share with them are just too painful to bear. and so i have become especially sensitive to their feelings, even in the midst of my own joy.
but this dynamic is not limited just to this situation, not by a long shot. many parents will post pictures and videos that showcase how creative and smart and well-behaved their children are, making the rest of us wonder why our children aren’t that creative, smart, or well behaved, if that means we aren’t doing something right as parents. couples will post pictures on facebook of traveling with their spouse, giving each other a hug over a romantic overlook, status updates about how they have the best wife/husband in the world. but believe it or not, those moments can also bring pain to those who have not found a person to share their lives with, and especially for those who thought they had found that person, only to have their heart broken. for those people, pictures like that can initiate crying jags that last hours on end. there are other people who are desperately lonely, not just for a mate, but for friends, for family, for any kind of community. and so hearing about people hanging out and having great fun and building close relationships with one another is painful, because it reminds them of what they themselves lack.
pastors are not immune either, because i often feel the same way when pastors talk about how awesome and huge and exciting their church is, on twitter, on facebook, on video, on their blogs. i’m truly glad that they are doing well, that God is moving through them and in their community, but sometimes, as a pastor of a small, struggling, suffering church, their joy is a little hard for me to handle. i’m happy for them, but at the same time, wish they would just give it a rest sometimes. actually, it’s worse than that. their fruitfulness in ministry can sometimes make me wonder what’s wrong with me, if i am a lesser pastor.
you see?… one person’s joy is another person’s pain. “joy/pain”.
i guess the question is how do we, as friends and family, respond in such situations? do we curtail and hide our own joy to spare the feelings of those who might be hurt, or offended? that seems unnatural, and i doubt that even those who would be offended would want that. should those who are in pain hide and cover their feelings, so as not to rain on anyone else’s parade? perhaps – that is the asian way of doing things. but there is something that seems altogether hurtful and destructive about hiding those emotions. so it seems like we are stuck in a social quandary that has no real solution, only made 100 times worse by facebook.
perhaps the best way for us to deal with situations like this is through the development empathy, that ability to find joy in the joy of others, and experience pain in the same way. empathy does not put a cap to our happiness and joy, but instead, gives it awareness. no longer do we celebrate our lives while being blissfully unaware that others do not share the same happiness. instead, we can celebrate all the more deeply because we know that our blessings are not shared by others – we are happy, and thankful, at the same time. empathy also puts a floor to our loss and pain, because even though we personally may not be able to experience that particular joy firsthand, we can still rejoice because at least we can experience it secondhand, which is still better than experiencing it not at all. so we do not simply mourn, but are comforted by the joys of others too.
paul writes in romans 12: “rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn.” and the method through which paul thinks such a mentality is possible is through love, through being devoted to one another in familial love, honoring one another above ourselves, avoiding self centeredness, avoiding conceit (verses 9-16). and so true empathy begins with the realization that life is not just about “me”, but also about “us”, and the corporate experiences that we share with and through one another. when someone is sad or hurt, be sad with them, because their sadness is yours. and when someone is happy, be genuinely happy with them and for them, because their happiness is your own as well.
now, may we all facebook happily with a clear conscience!