In conversation with a kind and generous friend today, we found ourselves batting around various observations regarding aging. Not just theoretically or in the abstract, but our aging. Which is a very real thing.
It seems I’ve been thinking about and talking about this for the past decade, this inescapable reality that we all get older – that I am getting older. As I crossed the threshold of my mid-40’s, cruising recklessly towards 50 – which seemed, years ago, to be the epitome of old – I struggled. I was disturbed. I just couldn’t see me being that old, and it wreaked havoc on my image of myself and my ability to function, particularly at my workplace. Finally, one patient friend said, “Maybe you should stop worrying about it and just throw a big party.”
Well, the party didn’t happen, but I realized how annoying it was, this constant lament and whining against the inevitable. So I shut up and stopped worrying, mostly.
Now, sinking into the midpoint of my fifties (HOW CAN THIS BE???), I’m more inclined to bemoan the utterly ridiculous and unfair realities of a body that’s slowing down, a brain inclined to forgetfulness, and general, random infirmities. I’ve given up the fight and accepted my fate. Truth be told, it’s not all that bad.
I’m smiling as I write this, because it is the truth. I’ve left behind so much anxiety and a crippling desire to please people; it’s liberating, quite honestly, and not a bad trade-off at all. There’s a certain wisdom that comes with the territory, along with the stark and ever-present realization that there are likely fewer days ahead than the ones already spent. It makes every moment so much more valuable; my friend today said, “I quit spending two hours every night watching tv. It’s crap.”
(Actually, I’m not sure she said “crap”. My memory is not what it used to be…but you get the point.)
Lest you think we just sat around and complained about our aches and pains, we didn’t. We talked about a variety of things. But the most potent and meaningful part of our conversation – and the reason I write tonight – was about current culture and the way people are engaging in discussions with one another.
Particularly on social media.
And what stuck out to me, most of all, was the realization that recently I have had, on multiple occasions, what amounts to exactly the same conversation with several other people. People right here, who live and work and worship in this community, together. You could say the common denominator in all these conversations was me, but what came from these people originated with them and were not responses to my thoughts or ideas. I will paraphrase, here:
I don’t know what to think anymore when I get on social media anymore; I am seeing people I know in real life – or that I thought I knew – put their opinions and thoughts about (INSERT WHATEVER IS IN THE NEWS) and it’s like they have no filter. They are rude and even mean and hateful. They make fun of and degrade others who don’t share their viewpoint. They call people names. And these are people I see every week – people right here in our community. They don’t act like that in person…but now, when I see them, all I can think about is what they’ve been posting. And I don’t know what to do about that. I don’t know what to think. Except I’m not sure I can really engage with this person – not on Facebook, and not in real life. I’m not sure who they really are.
Now, I know that this isn’t new; I realize that this conversation has been going on all around us, all over the place. This is not unique to our little town, this façade of filter-less shouting on social media, the divisiveness of binary thinking, the illusion of shouting at the world without repercussion, the tunnel vision of surrounding ourselves with likeminded people and news sources that support our viewpoint. We’re breaking no new ground in this conversation…
…except that when it’s in our own backyard, it becomes a lot more important.
When the shouting on social media trickles into real life to the degree that people avoid authentic interaction, right here in our community, the impact is real.
And it’s serious.
And it’s not good.
And I have unpacked all of this to make a specific observation, one that I am comfortable with, at the ripe old age of Somewhere In My Mid-Fifties, when I no longer prioritize pleasing people and can say what I think:
Time and people are more valuable than your opinion.
Time: it’s doubtful that any of us want our legacy to be He was right. Ironically, I’ve been to funerals where it’s been said of the deceased, “Well, she always thought she was right…and she’d tell you so.” That always brings about embarrassed laughter and knowing nods; when it matters most, we know that “being right” is – well, worthless. The point is – Ain’t nobody got time to work on being right and proving it. There are SO many more important things to do with the days we have left!
Further, check this list:
- being right
- getting your point across
- taking a stand
- helping somebody see the truth
- telling it like it is
- putting somebody in their place
If any of those things are more important to you than anything else, can I suggest – in the spirit of Christian love – that you are likely contributing to the problem?
Because there is a problem; when neighbor turns against neighbor, when we can’t be our authentic selves, when our words hurt and injure the very people we live and work alongside – we do, indeed, have a problem.
My boss – who happens to be a pastor – has drilled into all of us who work together this phrase, insisting that it be the center not only of what we do, but who we are.
Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
We don’t always get it right, but when we try, it makes a difference. And when we do get it right, it’s everything that’s good about people living together in a community. We listen first, and we try to understand.
It starts right here, with the people living next door to us.
And with our Facebook friends.
Let’s get it right, y’all. Because we’re grown ups, and we don’t have to please people anymore.
We just get to love them.