Yesterday, I got annoyed. Nothing surprising there. I jumped up onto my high horse and took a ride. What annoyed me were memes being posted regarding Christmas. After what has gone on this year, it was the last straw on my haystack of annoying memes that I have seen this year. I posted on Facebook about it and set off a discussion about who we should and should not be wishing a Merry Christmas to although that is not what my point was meant to be about, nor did I intend for people to immediately start defending their faiths although it did accurately prove how powerful a meme can be and how fast a point can be misunderstood and swept away. A few people said that I should just focus on the sentiment behind the message and that is when I started thinking. Should I just focus on the sentiment? Isn’t that the problem?
See, the thing is words have power. They are not just semantics. They can be used as weapons. Just ask any mother whose child says they hate them if that didn’t sting despite knowing that their child didn’t mean it. We read a meme, emotionally connect with it and immediately share it. The people that share the memes that annoyed me are good, loving people. They wouldn’t mean harm to anyone and they are definitely not in any way meaning to disrespect another person’s beliefs. I know that so why am I still irritated? (And to be very clear, I am annoyed by the memes, not the people sharing them.) As my mother pointed out, these memes have been around for years. It’s not just religious memes; it’s political ones, it’s activist ones, it’s all of them. I’ll tell you why I am still irritated, because there is a very big difference between:
“Share if you believe that Christmas is about celebrating Christ and we should be wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, not Season’s Greetings or Happy Holidays.”
“Share if you believe that Christmas is about celebrating Christ and wish everyone a Merry Christmas or Season’s Greetings, depending on their beliefs.”
The first has a tone of condemnation if you don’t do their bidding (the word ‘should’ should be banned from the English language) and the second is more inclusive of those who don’t share the same faith. “Why is this so important to you?”, you might ask.
I won’t go into every reason why this is important to me but here is the headline. Your subconscious is listening to everything you say, read or do. It hears words. It does not judge the words as right or wrong, good or bad. It just hears them and embeds them into your belief system. So if you shout “I am enough” over and over again, you’ll find that your self esteem will raise simply because your subconscious is listening and says “ok, I am enough”. Sounds very simplistic but is amazingly effective. I should know, I’ve been controlling my depression and anxiety with that simple phrase for the last nine months. I’ve also been telling myself that “I have phenomenal coping skills”. It works. I’m coping a lot better than I have in years and I don’t feel so overwhelmed so easily. (Thank you, Marisa Peer.) The same works if you use the phrase “I want, I love, I enjoy” even if you don’t. Eventually, your subconscious will go “ok, I want, I love, I enjoy . . . ” and you do.
So, if you read a meme or article that emotionally connects with you, but don’t pay attention to the way it is worded or what it could be really saying, you are planting tiny seeds into your subconscious that you may not intend to or even be aware of. In your conscious mind, you are thinking “yes! I believe that Christmas is about Christ”. Your subconscious hears “Christmas is about celebrating Christ and we should be wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, not Season’s Greetings or Happy Holidays”. There is a divisive tone to what your subconscious hears. In the worst case scenario, one day, some demagogue comes along and starts to play with all those tiny seedlings that you don’t even know are there and, before you know it, you are voting for someone who you would never have voted for before. Some good, honest, intelligent people voted for Donald Trump, after all.
There are so many memes and articles bouncing around the internet and we share them because they resonate with us but we really must pay attention to how they are written, what they are really saying. They seem harmless but we need to be careful. When you see things like these over and over again, they can have an insidious effect without us even knowing about it. On the face of it, an article about a troll being put in their place appeals to our sense of justice and makes us feel vindicated but, when you stop and think about it, it is really an article about a bully being bullied. That’s not right.
Are they written in a tone of kindness, of inclusion? Feel free to share those bad boys. Could they be perceived as divisive, condemning, “I’m right, you’re wrong”? Stop those in their tracks. We don’t need “them” and “us”. Different does not mean less. I won’t even share a meme that says “Share if you think Donald Trump is an idiot” because that is essentially mass trolling. For the record, Donald Trump is not an idiot, he’s very clever in an extremely narcissistic way. He may be a misogynistic, racist bully but he’s not an idiot.
We must pay attention to the words we use and share. I never really thought about it until this year when I started to wonder how did we get to where we are. Words are how we communicate, how we express ourselves. They are the only tools we have to show who we really are and what we believe in. If we use kindness as our base line for all communication, then we should be able to communicate anything, including our faith, our beliefs, our stories. For the record, I love to hear about my friends’ and family’s beliefs, faiths and what they are doing. It’s who they are. The more we share and listen to with an open mind, the more we can understand. Understanding can lead to respect, tolerance and inclusion and that has got to be a good thing.