Every day I receive another email reflection from the Henri Nouwen Society. It is a great way for me to start my day. The words are often, if not always, useful and instructive.
Consolation is a beautiful word. It means “to be” (con-) “with the lonely one” (solus). To offer consolation is one of the most important ways to care. Life is so full of pain, sadness, and loneliness that we often wonder what we can do to alleviate the immense suffering we see. We can and must offer consolation. We can and must console the mother who lost her child, the young person with AIDS, the family whose house burned down, the soldier who was wounded, the teenager who contemplates suicide, the old person who wonders why he/she should stay alive.
To console does not mean to take away the pain but rather to be there and say, “You are not alone, I am with you. Together we can carry the burden. Don’t be afraid. I am here.” That is consolation. We all need to give it as well as to receive it.
Lately I have been thinking about social media and the impact it is having on my life and the life of those in my life. I think these tools have a great advantage and can serve to do much good, if used properly. But I confess that I have become so frustrated with Facebook at times that I have considered just shutting down my account. The difficulty with that is, I lose a communication tool that seems to be here to stay. I would never consider cutting off the phone lines. So alas, I have resolved to take the bad and the good together. The note from Nouwen this morning set me to ponder the fact that sadly, many seem to be looking for consolation on Facebook. Seems odd given what Nouwen writes above. The very word means to ‘be with’ and we look for it in a place that is very without. We look to be with our ‘friends’ while all the while we are alone! I am troubled by the fact that our world has become so electronic that we have forgotten some very basic and fundamental ‘ways of being.’ Today, making friends has been changed to ‘friend me on Facebook!’
There was a time when we would express our concern for another with a call, a visit, or a hand written note. Birthday greetings from family and friends used to be done in person, on the phone or with a card – now we write Happy Birthday on a Facebook Wall or if we are real close, a text message. All of this feeds the illusion of closeness and friendship as expressed by clicking that we ‘like’ something. If we like it enough we might ‘share’ it by posting it on a wall. Indeed, I have on many occasions shared a link to a blog or article that seems to add something positive to the collective conscience. There is great delight in having ‘so many FB friends’ or ‘followers’ on Twitter. But who am I kidding? Who are we kidding as a society? All of this egoism is feeding something in ourselves which is less than a healthy place. Any of us who are on Facebook need to come to grips with this, the writer included!
In this world of email, Facebook, and Twitter we must ask ourselves, what consolation looks like? How is it that we are ‘being with…the lonely one?’ How often do we take time in our day to visit a friend or family member or for that matter to visit a stranger and seek out how he/she needs our presence, our love and our support? Do we take the time to ‘be with’ someone else or have we convinced ourselves that expressing our concern in the electronic world is in some way ‘being with’ another human being? Now this is not to suggest that one cannot make the best use of the tools at one’s disposal to be in touch. But we must be honest and admit that one is in a large way overtaking the other. How can we enter into another’ suffering by removing interpersonal contact in favour of virtual contact? This is exacerbated all the more by the need to become increasingly more personal via social media. Oddly, more detached we become to others, the more attached we become to the ‘other virtual world,’ where we are prepared to share feelings that, for whatever reason, we are reticent to express to each other face to face.
I fear that the answer is that we are afraid to take on the suffering of another. We are afraid to admit our own vulnerability, our own fragility, our own weakness. Looking into another’s pain and choosing to be present with it is a great act of love. It is choosing to go beyond clicking ‘like’ to embrace LOVE!
Feel free to click ‘like’ on this page! But know that our best response to this call will be to shut down our PC, Mac, Notebook, iphone, etc and set out today to find someone who needs consolation and space time with them – they are not hard to find.