Kony, Pepper Spray & Happy Dogs

Facebook. The place where pictures of lunch, inspirational quotes, photos of our kids, happy dog videos and political activism coexist. Right now the video on Kony and the Invisible Children is everywhere. It's horrifying to watch and paralyzing in the hopelessness of the situation. And I know it makes people feel a little better to be able to share it with their Facebook friends and feel that they've at least done something. Small, maybe, but still something.

Except, what if instead of being a small help, our shares are actually harmful?

What worries me is how many times we share things without doing any fact testing at all.

Recently there was a viral video of the police at UC Davis pepper spraying a seemingly innocent group of students protesting peacefully on the sidewalk. The video truly made me feel ill, and it must have had the same effect on countless others as it quickly spread to the national and international media. A few days after I saw that initial video I saw another one, on Facebook, of the same happening. This one was from a different angle, and edited completely differently. While it still seemed to be an unquestionably outsized use of force on the police's part, the situation no longer looked nearly so clear cut. The protestors could be heard yelling at the police and threatening them. The video also showed the police warning the students numerous times before they used the pepper spray. I shared the second video because I felt that it was important to show another side, and I wanted to share my confusion over the incident, and my incredulity about how transformed the exact same event could look with a different angle and edit.

That share didn't go over so well.

The whole story has played out in the media, and I don't want to rehash it here. What matters to me is that one of my core beliefs is that this world is made up of a whole range of colors, not just black and white. And I feel that our country is so quick these days to label things jet black or pristine white. I often feel out of step because my mind goes to the grey area in between, the space where the questions lie. I often hear friends talking about things and my reaction is to say, Yes, but. Yes, but there is probably more to the story, yes, but I'm sure there is another way of looking at it. And I think the same thing when I see these videos or shares on Facebook. Yes, but.

Often I just don't say anything. That small voice in my head is silenced out of fear of being criticized, of not seeming loyal, of not having all the answers when I am challenged. Often I don't post the question or the comment on Facebook because I primarily use social media for work and I don't want to offend people.

It gnaws at me though.

Today I friended my niece, a young woman still in her teens. One of the first posts I saw on her wall was a link to a blog post by another young woman named Amber Ha who has done significant research on Uganda, including living and working there. Her post is a letter to Jason Russell of the Kony 2012 crusade, spelling out why she thinks he is doing more harm than good. (http://pomee.tumblr.com/) It is a very well thought out piece, and is followed by an articulate reply to all the responses she's gotten to her letter, which includes a reading list for people who want to delve further into the issue. I was thrilled to see this post on my niece's wall, with her imploring all of us to "do a little digging" before we blindly forward something on. Good for you girl. At seventeen, you are already smart and courageous and curious. And you are already seeing my world of many colors.

It was a great reminder for me. A reminder that what matters most to me is keeping my mind open and my heart soft. Of living for the questions. Of being okay with not having all the answers. Of being okay with offending some people with my honest searching.

Ultimately, I believe that more people being exposed to the political arena is a good thing. It starts a conversation. Hopefully it leads to some clear headed investigation and action. I personally just don't feel comfortable jumping in without having enough information to form a reasoned opinion.

So if I don't comment on your posts, or don't pass them on, it's not because I haven't read them, or because I'm not interested, or because I don't agree, or because I'm apathetic. I'm just not willing to weigh in before I answer my own Yes, buts.

And as for sharing videos, I think I'll stick with the ones of happy dogs or silly kids if I haven't taken the time and looked a little deeper.

Thank you Emma. You taught me an invaluable lesson today.


  1. I love this. I too, am 'sticking with the happy dog videos'.

    Although I love our Constitution, and recognize the necessity of a free press, something's gone awry. The media is spins (no that's not a pun), almost every aspect of what we eat, how we vote and what we believe. It's frightening.

    We have to filter our filters these days. I check Snopes. I check the research. I check the quotes. And still I don't know if I'm getting true, unbiased information. We have become a society of copy and paste, where opinion is presented as fact and passed on ad nauseam. Spin is spun. Agendas color facts. And no one stops to question 'why'?

    The old idiom of 'Don't believe everything you read', was never more true.

    And yet, most people do. Especially when it's on the 'Internet'.

    1. Heather, your voice is one I so appreciate daily. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. So good to not feel alone in the woods!

  2. Beautifully written. I wholeheartedly agree.

    More than once I’ve entered into a conversation with a "yes, but" only to wish I hadn’t because it got uncomfortable and it just wasn’t worth it. And so, like you, I find myself in silence, the “yes, but” snaking through my thoughts. At times, especially on small matters or even large ones if the time and resources are not at hand for the research, the silence is worth the price. But, where is the line? I’m not sure any one of us will ever know. It seems to me that it’s worth crossing it every now and then though, just to know that it’s there and that the fear of discomfort hasn’t cost my voice.

    And now the irony… just as I was about to reference a quote made by a Facebook friend in honor of the late Dr. Suess on his recent birthday, I went to look it up only to find that it is, in fact misattributed to Dr. Suess! The quote I had seen was, "Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." According to Wiki (a source itself best taken with the proverbial grain of salt) the original quote was made by Bernard Baruch in response to questions about seating placements at a dinner party and goes like this, "I never bother about that. Those who matter don't mind, and those who mind don't matter." http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Dr._Seuss#Misattributed

    If misinformation is so prevalent on small issues, how much more must there be on large ones? Thank you for the reminder to dig a little deeper, to continue on in the quest for truth, and to share silliness freely.

    1. Jessica, I love your comment. Thank you. And feel free to share your silliness with me ANYTIME!


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