I have been on a bit of an activist rampage lately in my own head. Last week, Eve’s social studies teacher assigned them the 14-page “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” written by Martin Luther King, Jr. and she encouraged parents to read it as well so they could discuss it with their children. Despite the fact that I figured the chances of Eve wanting to hang out and have a philosophical discussion with me about her homework were about 1/infinity, I printed out all 14 pages and sat down with a highlighter.
By the time I was done reading, I had three pages of notes and I felt like the top of my head was afire. I could nearly hear the synapses in my brain shooting across from one cell to the next, making connections between what King was writing about and so many other unjust laws that exist today. Regardless of Eve’s decision to talk with me about it or not, I vowed to put my thoughts into a coherent essay soon and try to submit it for publication somewhere.
Fresh from the revelations of this amazing piece of writing by MLK, Jr. I went to the premiere of the documentary Girl Rising with a friend. Eve and Lola are going to see it next week with their classmates and I was curious to see whether it would prove relevant to them. I was impressed. The film tells the stories of nine girls around the world who face incredible difficulties accessing education but persevere and manage to find a way to make it happen. Woven between the narratives of their lives are astonishing statistics about the way education impacts the lives of women and girls (and thus, the entire human race and perhaps the planet) and I walked out of that theater on fire again, wanting to find a way to keep the momentum of this amazing story going.
This morning after dropping the girls at school, I sat and meditated the best I could with all the noise inside my own brain, forced myself to take the dog on a long walk to compose a writing plan for the day, and finally sat down to start working.
The first thing I did was check my Facebook feed which is, unsurprisingly, filled with information from organizations like Everyday Feminism, The International Planned Parenthood Foundation, A Mighty Girl, etc. Miss Representation had a link to an article in Time Magazine where Sheryl Sandberg was defending Melissa Mayer’s new maternity leave policies and the discontinuation of telecommuting at Yahoo. The quote they shared was this,
“The more women stick up for one another, the better. Sadly this doesn’t always happen. And it seems to happen even less when women voice a position that involves a gender related issue. The attacks on Marissa for her maternity leave plans came almost entirely from other women. This has certainly been my experience too. Everyone loves a fight–and they really love a cat fight.” Sheryl Sandberg
I clicked through the link to the story, read it, and went back to read the comments on the Facebook page. After the third comment, I realized I could feel subtle changes in my body – quickening pulse, tightening muscles in my shoulders and hands, shallower breaths – and I moved my hands to the keyboard of my laptop in preparation for response.
And then I sat back. I took a deep breath and wondered how it would feel to simply be an observer in this case. I wondered what would happen if I made a conscious choice not to add my comments to a dialogue with people I didn’t know. Having commented on issues similar to this in this way before, I know that what I end up with is unsatisfying. Rarely does anyone respond directly to my opinion (and if they do, I only know because I take the time to go back and check the FB page every once in a while), and I have no way of knowing how many people have actually read my comment. I know that when I see a polarizing conversation on Facebook that has hundreds (or even dozens) of comments, I tend to skim through a few and then get bored unless the commenters are people I know personally. I have already made up my mind on most of the issues and it does me no good to read what everyone else thinks, especially if it is only inflaming my need to respond.
This one time I experimented with reading each and every comment, noting the opinions of the responders and taking a moment to think about them all. Without the intent to add my own two cents. It was strangely freeing. It was a much-needed reminder that I don’t have to react to every conversation that occurs around me, even if it is within the context of something that I truly care about. My voice was not likely to make a damn bit of difference and to get sucked in to that issue would only have taken time away from other things I find more compelling and important. It is so easy to think that just because I can comment easily, I ought to, that this is somehow a test of wills and adding my voice might tip the balance. When I sat back and thought about what it would look like for me to type up a comment and hit enter, it felt more like throwing a pebble into a black hole than adding a brick to a much-needed wall. I wonder how much time I have devoted to engaging in social media wars of words that are ultimately inconsequential. I suspect a lot. Perhaps I can turn my attention to communities with whom I can have actual conversations that exchange ideas and may lead to something real as opposed to driving traffic to a particular site or filling some web advertiser’s pocket.