A lifetime ago, as I was descending into the hell that was finding the right medications for my epilepsy, a kindly-minded soul phoned me. She said she was phoning to see how I was doing. I told her not so good – I didn’t give her all the details of the various side-effects, or talk in depth about the overwhelming fear that I would perhaps never recover. Even now, more than a decade later, I’m glad I cannot remember most of it. So I gave her a taster, and she trotted out her little line.
“Ah well, you cannot appreciate the mountaintop until you have been in the valley.”
I hung up. (I think the term we may be looking for here is “straw that broke the camel’s back”.)
Five minutes later phone rings again – it was the pastor person who was also my good friend.
“Rox, you can’t just go hanging the phone up on people.”
“I can. I just did.”
“She meant well.”
“Fine. Then tell her to visit me and bring chocolates. I’ve got enough on my plate. I’m barely coping as it is. I don’t want to hear about a mountaintop or a valley. I don’t want to have to sit here and listen to somebody else’s platitudes just so that they can feel better about themselves.”
A long silence. Then “Are you not hanging up on me then?”
“No. You’re my friend. You care.”
And he did care. And if he were on the same continent as me now, he would still care. I know, because after I treated that woman so badly, he fixed it for me, explained the situation. And made sure that nobody else bothered me with platitudes to make themselves feel better again.
This is why I never tell anybody that they need to experience the valley to appreciate the mountaintop. Just. So. Wrong.
Still, we have our modern, online equivalent.
I have recently made a conscious decision to remove my access to Facebook from all but one of my devices. I’m scaling back on my Instagram liking. I don’t always click through on Twitter links even if they seem interesting.
Because everybody is throwing inspiring platitudes at each other, and nobody is really connecting. We all like and share things that we think will make ourselves feel better. We post up encouraging thoughts for the day (sometime even, shock! Bible verses!) as if it to say it’s alright, it’ll be fine in the long run and so that means I’m okay today. Except, all the positive platitudes in the world don’t beat a hug, or a friend showing up with a box of gluten-free biscuits.
There is no replacing people. There is no replacing face-to-face conversation, coming together and learning to love, to share, to grow. These devices in our hands are meant to aid communication and relationship, not define it.
I no longer believe the majority of what I read on Facebook, and for every Instagram quote that people like, I wonder, what’s going on behind that? Too many times, people have admitted to me that, despite what their Facebook pages say, they have been really struggling – with insecurity, fear, dark oppressive thoughts. So what’s the point of all the happy platitudes, except to make sure that nobody has to phone them up to tell them “you cannot appreciate the mountain without the valley”?
As I type, I find myself asking, am I a hypocrite for posting this online? The answer is no, because I’m not denying that online communication can be useful, provided it is a single facet of a meaningful relationship, rather than the overwhelming mask behind which you hide. I want you to think about why you like and share the things you do. I want you to think about why your friends like and share the things they do.