Social Media, Presence and Community

by David Morstad

In faith and disability circles, we talk a lot about community. We develop theories and engage in strategic planning about relationship-building and the most effective ways to encourage a sense of belonging.  With all that attention, one might think we’d be better at it by now.  Are we over-thinking the whole thing?  Or, is there something about real community that makes us all a little nervous?

Social media vs. community

No offense to social media, but it’s not really community. Frankly, small towns and neighborhoods are better examples of community than even the most robust Facebook page.   In small towns, you don’t get to edit yourself, you don’t get to show only the best pictures of yourself, you don’t get to control those whom you see or those who see you.  In neighborhoods and small towns, the sights and sounds of your behavior – good or bad – are all out there.   Worse, there is no ‘delete’ function.  All that you are stays out there, for as long as memories last.

In social media, it’s all about you.  In a small town, it’s much more than that, it’s also about the extensions of you – your spouse, your kids, your in-laws, your dogs, how loud your pickup truck is.  Whatever the rain washes off of your property and onto someone else’s… that’s all part of you.  It is all the stuff by which you are known.  In real life, people have a depth of personal identity that stitches us into community with others.

Selfie QuoteThe value of being in real relationships and real community is that it has little to do with skills or other assets we bring to a larger group.  Community isn’t always about shared vocation, interests or experiences.  It may not be about finding soul mates, or about deep intellectual exchange. Sometimes, community is simply about being present with one another.

Social media is often a place where vulnerability is regulated and personas are artificial.  The posture one assumes while taking a ‘selfie’ is a perfect metaphor. Social media is relationship held safely at arm’s length.

The wisdom of Job’s friends

God’s servant, Job, was afflicted with all manner of trouble and misery. He had  painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head, and had begun scraping himself with pieces of broken pottery.  How did his friends respond?

“When Job’s three friends, … heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, … Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one spoke a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.”  (Job 2:11-13)

If communities of faith wish to open their doors a bit wider and offer welcome, community, and belonging to people with disabilities, they might consider a strategic plan that is well informed by this passage.  Job’s friends, confronted by the man’s vulnerability and suffering, sat on the ground with him. For a week. And nobody said a single word.  Because sometimes simple human presence is the most important thing.