#reHumanize Project: Seeing the “Me” Behind the Memes by Gaby Johnson

This blog post is part of a recurring series called the #reHumanize Project, an initiative by Nazarenes United for Peace that seeks to help us rediscover our shared, divine humanity.

It’s hard to remember that there is a living person behind that twitter handle, isn’t it? People are reduced to avatars and screen names and we forget our humanity. I tend to be much snarkier with a short, 10 word comment on Facebook than I would ever be in person.

Gaby helps us think about this phenomenon and how we can better #reHumanize one another in our digital spaces. I’m grateful for her contribution to our project.

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replace “students” with “all of us” and it might fit

I have many friends on my virtual friend list with whom I disagree politically and in other areas. I bet you do, too. Several of them are also friends in “real” life – people I worship, work, and homeschool with. 

And I would tell you that I don’t mind that we disagree, that I can handle people having a different opinion or perspective than mine. At least that’s what I thought.  

But then I began to take a closer look at what was truly taking place in my heart: 

One day my friend John* posted an angry and lengthy status about how people who are on welfare are lazy and simply don’t want to work. 

Later my friend Jessica excitedly shared a link inviting evangelicals to contribute money to build “The Wall.” 

Then my friend Mark put an offensive meme on his wall poking fun at “those hypocritical, narrow-minded Christians.” 

Because I have strong personal ties to and opinions about all of those issues: each article, status, and meme hurt and angered me. I felt disappointed by my friends and wondered how I didn’t know these things about them. I promised myself that I would erase them from my list of friends, virtually and physically.  

“I am done with ‘those’ people!” I fumed. Who could blame me? We disagreed fundamentally on issues dear to my heart in ways I felt were insurmountable. How could I possibly be in relationship with people who, in my mind, were so awful? 

However, the truth is that I was viewing people through the narrow, insufficient lense of social media. I was using that one post, that one shared article, that one meme to measure the whole of a person. I was willing to vilify and discount those friends as “all bad” or “all wrong” and I was prepared to discard them from my life. 

However, my perspective was soon challenged when I spent an afternoon working with John on a church service project and I saw how tenderly he spoke to the homeless people we were serving. He treated them with such dignity and I remembered that he has a heart full of compassion that breaks at the sight of pain. 

And then I went to a party thrown by the Hispanic congregation of our church and I watched Jessica rock the babies, play with the children, and laugh with the teenagers of the very people she wants to help keep out with her money. I remembered that she loves everyone in her sphere of influence with great generosity.  

I overheard Mark passionately defend a Christian friend we have in common to a co-worker who was mocking her beliefs behind her back. And I remembered that he is the protector of the underdog and would do anything for people to feel safe around him. 

The truth is, over the years I’ve learned kindness from John, open-handedness from Jessica, and courage from Mark. I am a better person for knowing them. And this is true about many other friends and family I drastically disagree with regarding issues that are important to me.

I have to constantly remind myself that people are so very complex:

That sometimes we can hold a belief yet behave in ways that completely contradict who we “should” be based on that belief.  

That more often than not, we put our relationships with other humans first, even if our politics don’t match in theory. 

That we react to life based on the experiences we have or have not had, the ways we were taught to believe or behave, and the perspectives to which we have or have not been exposed. (I view life through the lens of a Hispanic woman, raised in Ecuador by a single parent, an immigrant to this country, a person who did not grow up in a Christian home but came to know Jesus in my late teens. Hence, my worldview is significantly different from my husband’s worldview. He grew up in a small, mostly white, southern town here in the USA, in a two parent home, the son of a Nazarene pastor. Naturally, our political views are colored by our backgrounds but he and I have helped each other, over the years, to see the world through the other’s perspective and we are better for it.)  

That, at our core, most of us want to love truly others and are blind to the ways we hurt them. 

So, I am finding ways to fight the temptation to reduce people to one picture or post shared on social media and lose sight of their wholeness. Sometimes that means finding opportunities to engage in face-to-face, gentle discussions with them about those issues. It pushes me to think deeper and to listen better, to look at things from different perspectives, and to learn to disagree with grace and kindness.

Sometimes it means not engaging with certain people about certain topics because I know it won’t be fruitful and can actually be harmful to our relationship. And sometimes it means hiding some of my friends from my feed because it helps me to love them better in real life. 

I naturally want to isolate myself from people who disagree with me, to label them as less than human and cut them out of my life. But there is so much more to my relationships with these people than political agreement. If I let myself get caught up in the social media drama, I will miss all the other ways these friends make my life richer. 

*All names have been changed to protect the innocent and the not so innocent 😊

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Gaby Johnson is a native Ecuadorian who has lived in the USA for the last 25 years. She is married to a chaplain and homeschools their two amazing kiddos.