The Culture of Contentment

Really, I could’ve titled this post “Let’s All Try to Get Along,” “Can’t We All Just Hug?” “My Love/Hate Relationship with Social Media,” or maybe even “Apple and U2 Have Not Ruined My Life.” But in the spirit of happiness and contentment, I’m going to go with the most positive title. Because I choose positivity.

Before I go on, are you wondering why I brought up Apple and U2? A tech giant and a rock band? What could they possibly have to do with my life and my choice for happiness and contentment?

Well, Apple and U2 were the straws that broke the camel’s back this week. My back, anyway.

You see, I’ve noticed over the past year or two that people are getting increasingly angry with each other. People hurl barbs at each other on social media seemingly without a second thought. People in the media disparage others who don’t share their beliefs. Comments sections of online articles and blogs have become battlegrounds where people are downright nasty to each other.

I’m all for lively discussion; I really am. In fact, I’m quite sure life would be really boring if we all agreed. But somewhere along the way, we stopped being respectful of each other in our disagreement. Somewhere along the way, we became a culture of “my way or the highway,” and we lost the filter that said, “Hmmm, I don’t agree with this person, but that’s fine; everyone’s entitled to his or her opinion.”

When I was a child, I don’t remember people being so angry with each other—and so angry in general. Sure, there were worries and disagreements, and not everyone liked everyone else. That’s life. But in general, people seemed to just keep their distance from those they didn’t like and maintain a polite acquaintance.

As recently as ten years ago, when I was in graduate school, there was still a code of respect among those you disagreed with. My studies were in English literature, so a big focus was on critical thinking. We spent hours every day tearing apart works of literature, piece by piece, and discussing them critically. We had lively discussions about the meanings of works, about their cultural context, but there was mutual respect inside the classroom and out. It was a challenging, interesting environment where different ideas were thrown around and shared, but people weren’t disparaged.

Somewhere along the way, we lost that respect. And I think it is in large part due to the persistence of the media and the fact that social media is everywhere. There’s a platform for everyone, and by god if we aren’t going to use it!

And here’s where my love/hate comes in. I love that there’s a platform for everyone. I like hearing other people’s ideas, I like sharing information, and I love keeping in touch with people and meeting new friends. It brightens my day to open up Facebook and see pictures of my friends’ kids or hear stories about what they’ve done. I laugh at stories about people’s days, and I read articles that interest me. It’s a great thing!

But then there’s the anger. There’s the ugly side of social media where people get all worked up about something and start hurling insults. And here’s where Apple and U2 and the straws that broke the camel’s back come in. As you may have heard, Apple put a U2 album on people’s iPhones without them asking. And people are furious.  They think it’s an arrogant marketing ploy on Apple’s part. So I logged onto Facebook, and on one of my friend’s posts, people were getting all riled up over the darn album. And although I usually stick to light, fun topics on Facebook, it had been a long week of seeing people’s angry posts about this topic and that, so I replied, “In the grand scheme of things in life to worry about, this seems so minor to me.” And really, it does—the album is in “the cloud,” so it’s not taking up space on your phone unless you choose to download it. I happen to like Apple—their products are topnotch, in my opinion. I also like U2 well enough. That said, how do I feel about the album? I really couldn’t care less. I don’t think it’s a brilliant marketing move, and I don’t think it’s an insult. Will I download it? Probably not; I don’t have a lot of time to listen to music anyway. But does it bother me that the option to download it is sitting on my phone? Not in the least. I have plenty of things I worry about, but this isn’t one of them.

So my friend replied “It’s todays ‘culture of outrage.’ It seems today that in the developed world, people spend most of the day perched on the edge of their seat, hands hovering over their keyboard, eagerly awaiting something to get outraged about. And they’ll explode over ANYTHING, from a real issue, to a free album.”

YES. What he said! That’s what has been irking me! There are plenty of important things to feel strongly about. ISIS, for example…yeah, that’s a big problem. Worries about the new and rare respiratory virus that sickening kids nationwide—yeah, that’s another one I’d worry about. But an album? If you don’t want it, don’t download it. If you do, then download it. Problem solved.

I think why this bothers me is that I see it spilling over from the media and social media into people’s attitudes about each other. We’re becoming a very divisive community, rather than a united one. We’re becoming very “us versus them” in so many ways. It’s disheartening. And frankly, it’s particularly disheartening because I’m doing my darndest to try to make our little corner of society more united and less divisive. My Sam isn’t going to have a terrific time in life if the community continues on this “us versus them” trend, which only serves to highlight differences. The way I see it, it starts with the little things and continues in the bigger things: pro-Apple people vs. anti-Apple people, pro-gun people vs. anti-gun people, pro-choice people vs. pro-life people, homeschoolers vs. non-homeschoolers, vaccinating parents vs. non-vaccinating parents, people supporting marriage equality vs. people who support only traditional marriage, people who love the president vs. people who can’t stand him…and on and on.

It’s not that people see things differently that’s the problem, in my mind—people have disagreed on all of these issues and more for years. It’s the fact that we now seem to get so angrily invested in them. That sort of stark division just can’t bode well in terms of a society where my “different” son is seen as equal to people without disabilities. And that troubles me.

Unfortunately, I’ve come to terms with the fact that there’s nothing I can do about this. I could take a media and social-media break so I wouldn’t see this divisiveness and anger, but that wouldn’t change it. And I’d miss hearing the cute stories and seeing the adorable pictures of my friends’ kids, puppies, kitties, and whatnot. And hey, I like a cute kid or furry friend as much as anyone!

So all I can really do is try to change my little corner of the world. And in my corner, I’m not supporting the “culture of outrage,” as my friend dubbed it. I’m working on the “culture of contentment.” I choose happiness and contentment. Does that mean I’m floating around in a worry-free, blissful bubble? Not on your life. It just means I’m choosing to create contentment for my little family. I’m choosing not to become part of anger or divisiveness. I’m choosing to focus on what I feel is positive and good, and when we’re faced with the not-so-good, I’m choosing to focus my efforts on improving it as much as possible, rather than on spreading discontent.

Sam, my very own little goodwill ambassador, has very specific music tastes. (He doesn’t care much whether we download the U2 album either, though he’s not offended by the fact that it lives in the cloud on my phone.) One song he demands to hear repeatedly is a country song by Kacey Musgraves entitled “Follow Your Arrow.” It’s a catchy little ditty, and I don’t mind listening to it. In fact, over the approximately 20,000 times he has demanded to have it played, I’ve grown quite fond of it—both the tune and the message. It basically says you aren’t going to please everyone, so you should follow what makes you happy. And what makes me happy is a culture of contentment—so that’s the arrow I’m gonna follow.

 

He chooses contentment, too.
He chooses contentment, too.

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