When I was a little boy I loved Lent. I loved getting that cross smudged on my forehead by the priest on Ash Wednesday. It made me feel special and a little superior to all the others with spotless foreheads. I wasn’t exactly prejudice against those “others”, but the fact that the nuns divided the world into Catholics and non-Catholics might have sent a subtle message that our religion was the winning team.
So, I loved the ashes, and I loved the blessed, dried-up frond I put under my mattress on Palm Sunday, and I loved how you had to be quiet from noon to 3PM on Good Friday during the hours Jesus hung on the cross and how it always seemed to rain that day, and I loved how on the third day after Jesus died for our sins the Easter Bunny left everyone baskets full of treats.
But most of all I loved giving up things for Lent. It made me feel noble. Usually I gave up candy or lying. Once I gave up Orange-flavored Tang. Each year felt like a contest. Could I hold out for 40 days and win a trip to heaven?
Those things don’t have as much meaning as they used to when I was a little boy, but I still like to give up things for old time’s sake. If nothing else, I find it a great way to break bad habits. But now, I try to give up something a little more sophisticated than candy. To be honest, I almost did give up sugar this year, but my husband Saul is going through an obsession with baking and I’m too codependent to not eat what he makes. I do sometimes worry about my health, but if I die from diabetes, I figure I will be a little like those people who jump in front of bullets or trains for their spouses. Eating my husband’s tarts is like taking a bullet only much more pleasant.
Saul suggested I give up Candy Crush which he finds me obsessively playing at all hours of the day and night. I love Candy Crush. It does something to my brain that relieves anxiety. But I’m not ready to give that up just yet. I know Jesus made a lot of sacrifices for mankind, but I think if he had an iPhone all those days he was stuck in the desert with Satan, he would have played a LOT Candy Crush to relieve his anxiety.
Still, I am giving up something almost equally as hard. I’m giving up responding to political posts or making political posts on social media.
It’s a been almost a week since I wrote the above section.
Since then I have failed MISERABLY at my Lenten promise. There will be no all-expense paid trip to heaven for me now.
I was doing fine until Super Tuesday. And to my credit, I still have not posted anything on my own Facebook wall, but I could not seem to stop myself from reacting to what I thought were asinine comments from other’s online. And I did it again and again and again.
First let me explain why I was trying to give it up in the first place.
I’m pretty sure we all thought the internet would unify the world. Once we were all able to post our views, we would finally be able to walk in each other’s virtual moccasins and come to a unified understanding of life and humanity.
And we all know that’s not what happened. People quickly found that when you are not face-to-face in the same room with someone, you can be vicious and call each other names and dig your feet firmly into your own point of view. I noticed this during the last Presidential election when my own sister-in-law who had always been like a big sister called me a libtard on my Facebook wall.
But it got even worse during this current election section but from people who were supposedly in my own political party. After I said another person’s candidate was not my first choice but I would vote for them if they were the candidate in the general election, I was called a racist (even though their candidate was white), a hater of poor people, someone who doesn’t care about the sick and suffering, and a neoliberal. I don’t know what that last label quite means, but I discerned from the context of the insult that it is a very, very bad thing to be. Now to be totally honest, one of those things is true. Sick people do get on my nerves. Just ask my husband Saul. When he says he feels under the weather, my response is usually something like “Ugh. I hate weak people.” I’m working on pretending to act more compassionate, but am pretty sure I would be a really terrible nurse. And you will all be as glad as I am that I have to avoid other people during this current pandemic.
When I started this grand political experiment, I did pretty well for the first couple of days. It was like giving up any addiction. I would get a strong urge to post, but if I took a couple of breaths I noticed it would pass. I discovered it really wasn’t necessary to write every single political thought that popped into my head. I realized that typing my latest take on a subject on my phone and pressing send, didn’t actually make me a real expert.
I also realized I was getting little adrenaline shots every time I responded to a post I disagreed with. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling, but it sure was distracting from the things in my non-virtual life that I didn’t want to deal with.
As I successfully stayed on the sidelines during the first weeks and watched people angrily debate, it confirmed what I suspected all along. No one’s mind is changed when they are being attacked because no one wants to feel like they are losing. Imagine if Amazon sent you angry emails that you were stupid and clueless and an idiot for not wanting to buy its products. Or instead of seductively beckoning you from the street corner, prostitutes screamed at you and called you a neoliberal loser if you didn’t chose them for a good time. That last example may be a little outdated, but my point is tearing down the person you want to think the way you do doesn’t seem to work very often.
So why did I fall off the wagon so spectacularly?
The slide started slowly. At first I would ask Saul to post things for me. “I’ll gladly eat your entire Swiss Jelly Roll if you’ll repost this scathing political cartoon on your wall.”
But finally, the posts that made go trigger-happy were the ones where they threatened to vote for Trump just to teach America a lesson (I noticed these people were always young white guys who would be the last to suffer under four more years of Trump) or the ones that claimed they didn’t vote because “voting needs to be made easier”. That last one really got to me. Should our elections be reduced to putting the candidates’ pictures online to see who gets the most likes? If we have time to binge-watch entire seasons of shows, we can make the effort to vote. (Although I am all for making Election Day a national holiday.)
But wait, am I breaking my vow by even posting this?
Look, I understand that anger often brings change. And I know that words can often inspire deeply. That’s why I write. But I wish we could go back to being a little more thoughtful and civil. It took 17 whole days for Thomas Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence and I imagine he put a ton of reflection into his words. It’s hard to write rash things when your pen is made of a feather and you have to constantly dip it into an inkwell.
I’m not giving up. I still hope that my experiment (yes, I’m back on the Lent Wagon) will eventually teach me the importance of pausing before I react and hit that send button. And by the time the Easter Bunny arrives, I hope I will be using social media for more productive things like pictures of my cats and dog and husband sleeping.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Keith Hoffman is a neo-libtard who lives in Lambertville, NJ. He is happily married when his husband doesn’t have a cold.