A Prayer For Social Media Engagement
There’s a particular line of Jewish liturgy that has long resonated with me, mostly because I took some interpretive liberties with it.
The line, from the end of the Amidah prayer, reads “all who think bad about me, let their thoughts be quickly nullified.” Presumably, the intended meaning is a prayer for protection against wicked schemes of enemies – which, in my innocent youth (before Pittsburgh and Poway and more), didn’t feel particularly relevant. Who could have been making plans against little me?
At some point, I started reading that “regarding me” differently: not “those with evil thoughts (plans) against me,” but “those who have bad thoughts about me.”
As a teenager surrounded by other teenagers with opinions, each of us trying to figure ourselves out, longing for acceptance, and seeing each other as the gatekeepers of that acceptance, I found my reading much more relevant. Please, G-d, if people think badly of me – make it not true! Help me be a good person and disprove whatever the rumors or misconceptions might be. Nullify them so they are misconceptions; don’t let them be true, and don’t let anyone think those things of me.
(What was I so afraid people might think of me? That’s a subject for another time.)
Of course, most of what we say about teenagers is actually true throughout life: we are all, always, trying to figure ourselves and each other out; we are all always looking for acceptance and working out what to accept in others.
In that light, it’s not surprising that I’ve felt drawn to that line of prayer repeatedly over the years, especially lately. Once again, I’m (mis)appropriating the ancient Sages’ words in a personal prayer that people won’t misunderstand or think ill of me. Praying that the ill others might think of me be false, that my heart be true.
It’s a natural consequence, I think, of becoming more vocal and visible to an ever-widening audience. In today’s world, everyone has a platform, through all kinds of social media and even beyond, without too much trouble. Anyone can post on Facebook, get involved in a Twitter war, or start a blog. It’s so easy to write a letter to an editor and have one’s perspective blasted across the internet, where maybe no one but maybe everyone will read it.
There is so much potential for good in this global platform; so many positive connections and conversations that we can all embrace with just a few clicks, so many opportunities to make a positive difference in the world. It can be both valuable and exhilarating to engage on topics of import (or jokes, or whatever) with such a broad population.
But we all know there are downsides, too. The challenge of distinguishing between fake news and true facts; the escalating threads on Facebook, as commenters work themselves and each other into a frenzy of outrage over news that may or may not be true, that may or may not be outrageous; the risk of clicking “send” or “post” a little prematurely, maybe a little too late at night, without taking Abraham Lincoln’s famous advice to heart.
As I’ve become more outspoken, publishing articles somewhat regularly – including on various hot-button issues – and engaging in some online dialogue, I’ve also become nervous. What will others think of me, and what if they’re right?
In addition to appropriating the ancient Rabbis’ words for my own meanings, more recently I found myself composing one of my own:
Let me say things that matter, not just say them to matter.
Let me not lose sight of one value in the pursuit of another.
Help me to see truth within the noise:
To reflect before reacting, to hear before speaking;
To check the facts;
To acknowledge the good even as I strive to improve the bad – because people might be more willing to hear what I have to say, and also because I believe balance is right.
Because everyone deserves that respect.
Grant me the wisdom to determine whether an issue is best addressed in public or in private – at least at first.
Keep me from sacrificing thoughtfulness and nuance for the sake of passion –
Or, to be fair, the other way around.
Hold me when the pace of social media threatens to pull me under; comfort me that my thoughts will still be relevant when they’re ready, while if they’re not ready, they’re not relevant;
And remind me that if someone else says it first, it will have been said, and that is what counts.
Watch over me as I watch my “likes” and shares, for though the impact of what I say may be greater with more attention, my own thirst for attention might impact me in ways that are not so great.
Keep me on the high road, not one from an Escher painting that’s pretending to be higher than it is
And maybe even goes nowhere at all.
While we’re at it – please check my spelling and grammar and logic,
And muzzle me when I’m wrong, or just not writing right.
Open my eyes, please, to the flaws in my logic and lapses in my judgment-
Before, rather than after, please.
Let the quivery feeling in my stomach be the exhilaration of having said something impactful, and not the sinking feeling that I shouldn’t have said it at all.
Of course, prayer is a practice not just of supplication but of self-reflection, and so let’s not forget:
For my part, I pledge to read everything through once, twice, three times… Is it ever enough?
Sigh. I’ll need help, God, really –
And so, to paraphrase the concluding line of that ancient prayer:
Dear God, let me say the right things, with the right motivation in my heart,
And let it make a difference,
In accordance with Your will.
Join me please, all across the world wide web, and say,
July 23, 2019