I’ve been thinking about compassion in the digital age. Thanks to social media options like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, it’s easier than ever to express our sympathy and solidarity with people facing overwhelming odds, whether caused by nature or society.
And it’s become commonplace for politicians to declare that those at ground zero are in “our thoughts and prayers” or that we should be “proud and honored” to know those who have sacrificed.
But these sentiments mostly just ease our own fears and sense of powerlessness we feel in the wake of tragedy; they do little to heal those on the ground.
A recent meme showing the inside of an empty semi truck trailer with the caption “your thoughts and prayers have been delivered” pretty well illustrates the problem.
History has shown that the pen is mightier than the sword, and that words can inspire and move us towards action. Even those of us too young to remember JFK’s call to action, still find ourselves asking what we can do for our country – especially in times of trouble.
But words are not action. And we must do more than post photos, tweet prayers or add another message of sympathy to our feed without some kind of action to back it up.
So I’ve made a promise to myself that every time I’m moved to offer sympathetic thoughts and prayers on social media, I’ll offer a little something more. I’ll make a micro-donation of maybe just one dollar or less to a charity I support. Facebook, in fact, has added an option that lets us do just that, and most charities have made it simple for habitual contributors to donate, often with the touch of a button.
And if for some reason donating isn’t an option, for each social media post I make, I’ll find a way to spend some time volunteering or helping at a local community-organizing event – because volunteering in person at a disaster site isn’t a realistic option for me.
But there’s already one more micro-donation than there was before I started thinking about this.
John Denver sang about “poems and prayers and promises and things that we believe in. How sweet it is to love someone, how right it is to care.”
And that’s a wonderful sentiment, but cold, hard cash is king.