Social Dilemma Strategy

Viktor Frankl

Most of us identify with one or more human rights issues. These troubling conditions and events exchange focus on social media with fair regularity: human trafficking, refugees, children in cages, poverty, prejudice. Some cause political attention momentarily, but progress remains unsatisfactory.

Increased social isolation in the last year has had mixed effects, raising awareness but also causing greater polarization and unrest. When we fight for social justice, ironically, effects entirely opposite of our intent are bound to occur. Education helps, yet our educational system is in a desperate state due to closed schools and imposed isolation. Distance education means for some a relegation to an ineffective personal learning method, and for others an inability to escape unhealthy or abusive home situations. I could go on and on about very depressing and upsetting issues. Will we ever achieve peace and equity?

I was raised in a post Viet Nam era in which we looked forward to a great future. We seemed smart enough to avoid wars, avoid unhealthy habits that we learned about in school, like smoking and drug use, and we were taught to treat each other as equals. Have we moved backwards?

I have touched on “the human condition,” and perhaps this is reality, that we will always have social battles to “fight” for. Unfortunately, actual fighting or violence may break out when human beings cannot reason and compromise.

Positive thoughts repeated and reinforced, as well as rumination of negative ones both give rise to actions. What we think about shapes our actions and our lives. A positive thought life could be likened to a healthy diet. “Healthy in, healthy out.” A poor diet will wreak havoc on the body and physical health. In a similar way, negative visual images and consistent influx of upsetting headlines, tragedies, and human injustices wreak havoc on the mind, intensifying or causing mental health issues. Perhaps our first social responsibility lies in our daily thought life.

Positive thinking is more than a “Polyanna” philosophy; trying to completely ignore the wrongs in the world would be irresponsible.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

Edmund Burke

We should not stop doing what is in our power, ability and circumstance to improve conditions, but we cannot do everything — nor can we address every issue. So why do we allow our minds to be exposed to an overload of them?

If the first responsibility we have is to our physical and mental health, and then that of our friends and family, what can we do to counteract the barrage of negativity? I touched on this in previous posts, how and why we need to stay positive. How we need to set personal limits on social media or on negative relationships. We become unhealthy and ineffective to the world around us if we remain depressed, hopeless, angry or hateful.

What have we learned from those of the past who persevered in incredibly difficult times? People like Abraham Lincoln, Milton Hershey, Viktor Frankel and George Washington Carver point toward a mindset of positivity, hope, and faith. These people had rich prayer lives.

Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.

Abraham Lincoln

I find it fascinating that science supports prayer. Research in quantum entanglement suggests strongly that effects of subatomic particles defy time and space. We are scratching the surface at what may indeed one day prove the power of prayer. Some of my friends like to say that they are “sending good vibes” or “positive energy.” Go for it.

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.

Viktor Frankl

Whatever issue you are most passionate about, how do you view others who are opposed or ignorant of your stance? I think this is a key question. We certainly saw the hateful mudslinging in this last American political election. If you feel hatred, if you have used a negative or ugly word about another, no matter how much you post on social media, no matter what you do, you will be ultimately ineffective. So why continue? Your own health suffers, your mental health suffers, your friends and family suffer whether you realize it or not.

Consider a diet of positivity.

Just One Apple per Day

Last week I saw the movie Steve Jobs. I recommend watching it, as well as The Social Dilemma and The Social Network. Steve Jobs particularly expressed how the world would never be the same after most of humanity had access to the internet.

I don’t remember the movie discussing the now-iconic image of the Apple with a bite taken out of it. I have read that he was thinking more of Sir Isaac Newton, but there is quite an argument for the biblical allegory of the apple representing all knowledge. Most of us know the story of Adam and Eve and how they were tempted to eat the one fruit that their Creator, who put them in the Garden of Eden, in paradise, expressly forbade them to touch. The one thing. Eve was tempted by a serpent (English word). The Hebrew word for the serpent was Nachosh indicating more of a vicious, scary beast like a dragon, who discredited and scoffed at God’s warning that if she bit the apple she would die. Not true, he told her; rather, she would have all of the knowledge of God. Eve took a bite and offered it to Adam, who by the way, was nearby and allowed Eve to go head-on into the situation without protecting her. Many theologians believe Adam was fully complicit, not influenced by temptress Eve at all. He should have protected Eve but his fear of the serpent allowed her to be corrupted, and he as well.

Knowledge, like the internet, is neither inherently good nor bad. Great knowledge can enlighten and save people. I have written before about this. But akin to the foreknowledge of nicotine manufacturers that cigarettes could indeed become addictive, Jobs is aware of the potential dangers of what he is marketing. I have read that he did not allow his children to have iPads or iPhones. We, the amazed and trusting public saw them as fascinating and for our children potential safety devices, if not babysitters, keeping us connected when the child was at the skate park, or when we took the kids to a fancy restaurant. But now we have a pandemic far worse than any virus. Our children are more anxious than ever and across many populations suicide rates are increasing exponentially. Through so many eyes, the world is seen as an ugly, dangerous, hopeless, and depressing place. Once upon a time our parents successfully shielded us from upsetting news, but now virtually all news is delivered instantly into the hands of anyone with a smart phone, young children included.

Parents are catching on, now setting limits, or trying to. They are calling therapists to set up appointments. Every therapist I know has expressed that they have been overwhelmed with requests for new patients, or appointments for existing patients in crisis. Of course this has something to do with Covid19, its fears, lockdowns and restrictions, but it is just these which have forced many to increase their hours online.

What of our own safety? Have we taken a good look at how social media is affecting us? Have we looked at the number of hours spent online each day? Have we assessed that we, too, are feeling more anxious, depressed or hopeless about the future? One therapist friend advocates that her patients consider intentional use and intentional limits. She recommends getting back into reading books, especially printed books. In Proust and the Squid, written by Maryanne Wolf, an Ivy League professor and researcher, it is proposed that civilization was profoundly affected by humanity learning to read. A process that changed the brain over thousands of years is now encountering changes in a matter of decades with digital media. We read differently now. In some ways she describes our brains as becoming less able to “deep read” because we are so used to information presented in bytes, with embedded links and distractors. Another effect of our brave new digital world.

I do find it harder to get through a novel. I try to force myself because reading was once a great pleasure. I honestly feel more distracted and impatient. My friend suggested reading books of different genres. Our brains are healthier and create differently when we read deeply, rather than skim, or watch a movie. Again, I am not advocating one over the other. I do think our brains need variety. When my children are in front of a screen too much, I send them outside, or to find a book to read.

Adam and Eve were not stupid, nor were they imprisoned in paradise. They had all they needed for contentment and perfection. They were, however, given choice because they were not robots commanded to worship their Creator. They were given freedom. Perhaps as the famous quote from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, they “chose…poorly.” They were tempted by “more.” We see the concept of freedom these days as the ability to do whatever we want, but in its truest sense, freedom is the choice and ability to do what is right. Sometimes that is the most difficult of choices because it may involve what feels like a restriction in our actions.

The bite has been taken, and yet we have a choice to intentionally monitor ourselves. Take a break from social media. Read a novel. Talk to someone about your feelings. Take a walk in nature. All these can be restorative. Strive to choose…wisely.

Robert Eddison as the Crusader