by Will Deatherage, Executive Director
“You are not the President of the United States, you are not the CEO of Twitter, and you are certainly not the Executive Producer of the Star Wars franchise.”
As a politics and theology double major, these were harsh, albeit obvious, words that I understood but struggled to accept. It is my opinion that many of us are plagued by a Western sixth sense of individualism that makes reality a notoriously difficult pill to swallow. After all, we were bred to be changemakers, freedom fighters, and even rebels. The prominence of social media especially gives each one of us the opportunity to speak but not necessarily be heard. Never before could the everyman participate on the same platform as our favorite athletes, movie stars, and world leaders. Thanks to an interactive 24-hour news cycle, we are presented with an alluring invitation to not only absorb more than we can absorb, but to say more than we should say.
Actions speak louder than words, yet it is far easier to say something than to serve someone. Thanks to the sin of pride, there is nothing more immediately satisfying than fact-checking an influencer or leaving a snarky remark on the account of someone whom you cannot stand yet follow anyways. But this attachment to opinion, this pride in polemic, comes with a heavy burden of dissatisfaction and anxiety that weighs down the soul. At some point we realize that our words, no matter how well-intentioned or carefully crafted, can only do so much.
We are empowered by our finger-tips. The same appendage that we use to point at passers-by on the street now points at thousands, if not millions of people over social media. Our access to worldwide discussions fosters a deep relationship between us and current events. You do not need millions of dollars to start a movement anymore. All you need is a piece of metal and an internet connection, and you are instantly transported into the White House or The Googleplex Headquarters. Suddenly, you feel as powerful as prime ministers, as important as influencers, and this elevation brings with it a heightened sense of duty. No longer am I responsible for my own affairs, but I have an obligation to complain about the Red Sox’s latest trade. I am compelled to tell my Congressman exactly how I feel about him to his face(book) instead of to his interns. It is my sacred charge to ensure that Kathleen Kennedy gets cancelled for ruining the greatest movie franchise of all time that is Star Wars!
This elevation of the everyman through social media gives us the illusion that we share in the obligations of others, especially in politics and social issues. There is nothing more unsatisfying, however, than realizing that you are not in the White House, you are not stakeholders in Amazon, and thousands of angry messages mean nothing in comparison to millions of corporate dollars. In short, our heightened awareness of other people’s affairs does not grant us their duties and obligations.
To make matters, worse, social media’s emphasis on metrics addictively taps into our competitive tendencies. In an age when likes and comments are badges of honor and respect, we are encouraged to measure our senses of self-worth in quantifiable terms. It does not matter who Kanye West is or what he does. Instagram makes us equal and I can directly measure my worth in comparison to his. Our thirst for spiritual fulfillment, combined with a post-Empirical mindset, gives us the false impression that we are ultimately judged based on an absolute scale. Maybe when we die, God will give us four out of five stars: “He could’ve been a Mother Theresa, but he just didn’t save enough lives. Would create again.” God does not judge people like this because He does not present us with the same situations and therefore cannot give us the same expectations. Of course, there are some common commandments that are inherent to human nature, but we trust that God evaluates them in the context of our conditions. God does not expect a poor African boy to behave like a middle-class American girl.
Think of a baker and a soldier. Both of these roles are integral in the flourishing of civilization, but it would be unfair to evaluate a baker based on how many pushups he or she can do, nor would it be appropriate to gauge a soldier by his or her bread-making skills.
“The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.
You have visited the land and watered it;
greatly have you enriched it.
God’s watercourses are filled;
you have prepared the grain.” (Lk 8:8 and Ps 65: 10)
We are all given gardens to tend. Every garden is different. Some are big, others are small. Some have figs, others have flowers. Furthermore, God gives us different seeds, tools, plots, and abilities. What is common to all gardens, however, are the necessary conditions that God provides them with: rich soil, life-giving water, and the finest seeds. But regardless of what God gives us, there are two realities that are unavoidable: tending to a garden is hard work and there is always more work to be done. This is why St. Paul writes:
“We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now;
and not only that, but we ourselves,
who have the firstfruits of the Spirit,
we also groan within ourselves
as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” (Rom 8:18-23)
We are all invited to a Heavenly banquet, and we are asked to bring the cream of our crop to nourish the mystical Body of Christ. But the moment we start tending to radishes as we would arugula, our gardens will wither. It is tempting to ask ourselves “Why can’t I be like the pomegranate farmer next door?” but God will eventually ask us “Why didn’t you tend to the potatoes that I gave you?”
God evaluates us based on the situations He gives us. And often times, a bigger garden might seem nicer, but it requires a lot more work and responsibility. The obligations given to Jeff Bezos are vastly different than those given to Mr. Jimmy who runs the drug store down the street. Despite the illusion of egalitarian duty or quantifiable self-worth that social media promotes, we must reflect on what God is asking of us, not of our neighbors. There is no task too small, no labor too menial that is not worth fulfilling. After all, Christ undertook the humblest of tasks and suffered the greatest humiliations for our sakes, accepting his fate given by the Father. If none of us were bread makers, there would be no Zuckerbergs. It is time that we stopped dreaming “What if I was a billionaire” and “if only I was Kim Kardashian” so that we can finally approach the tasks God gives us. As Voltaire would say, rather than interfere with that which is beyond our control “We must cultivate our own garden.”