Thursday, October 9, 2014

Forgiving and Forgetting In A Social Media World

I saw something on Facebook yesterday that really bothered me.
It was a nasty jab at a rather infamous White House intern who made a grave mistake around 1995 that she has yet, almost 20 years later, to either live down or be allowed to forget.
It made me wonder.  In the world of social media, when do we get to put our mistakes behind us?  
When do we get to be forgiven?
I’m going to say straight out that I’m not a huge fan of Facebook.  I feel compelled to log on at least once a week because I have this vision—it’s a fear, really-- of meeting an old friend who I haven’t seen in ages, who asks me if I’ve seen the pics of her daughter’s wedding (insert graduation, birth, world tour) and I have to say, no. 
Even though I wasn’t invited I still feel like a schmuck because I neglected to write “gorgeous,” in response to the news. Even when, let’s face it, coming from a relative stranger the comment would be meaningless.
But, back to the intern.
The post in question was forwarded from someone on my feed (and before that came from someone I didn’t recognize) and as far as I could see, was a jab about the intern turning 50 (she’s not even close to 50 btw—so it was as a totally lame joke). Regardless of the origin, an opportunity for a laugh at another’s expense, especially when the butt of the joke can’t defend, is still just a cheap shot.
In my mind this is the same cyberbullying we hear so much about that levels grade school and high school kids, and I suppose there’s a part of me that sees that intern in the light of “there but for the grace of you go I.”  Here’s why:
1)   Thank god above (and all the angels and saints in heaven) that when I was 22 (the intern’s age at the time of the transgression) there was no Facebook to chronicle all the silly things I did that I’d rather forget (because believe me, many might have been the fodder of well-meaning, amateur photographer friends). I know I have dozens of college pals—and you do too--who feel the same way;
2)   I’m the parent of two kids around the age the intern was when she fell from grace. What do her dear mother and father suffer, 20 years on, from this constant, unrelenting bombardment of their darling daughter (because we all desperately love our children, regardless of their mistakes). They must be daily heartbroken. How long do they have to suffer this picking at an old wound?
3)   Why can’t the intern be forgiven? Why? Why? Why?  She was a young girl who, granted made major mistakes, but didn’t we all at that age (see 1)? And why, why, why hasn’t her collaborator suffered the same shame and mockery? In fact, I would say that her collaborator has come out rather well. If not smelling like a rose then at least like…I don’t know… cannibus that wasn’t inhaled? (skunky, everybody wants some, its mostly legal and seriously lucrative).
Sounds like a double standard to me. But how is that ok? If there are two people equally guilty of something, why does only one suffer long after the fact while the other seems to sail away relatively unscathed (and at the very least, long since forgiven)?
I could go on but the bottom line is that we all do/have done things we’d rather forget we did.  In the days before Social Media we could apologize and hope to move on.  But that’s not the world we live in now.
So, we have to adapt.  I get that.  But if we live in world where we’re going to put everything we do out there, shouldn’t we evolve into a species that’s far more forgiving?
Don’t we actually have to be more forgiving to survive?
Because let’s face it.  We all make mistakes. Big ones. All the time. Every moment of every day.  Sometimes out in the open where, if we ask, most of the time (but certainly not always--the intern being a case in point) we are  forgiven even when we may have wounded deeply. Other times our mistakes go unnoticed, hidden in the dark corners of those pious, self-righteous minds we guard, that we pretend are so pure, so chaste.
And if we keep this up, insisting on putting ever moment of our lives up for public view, won’t each and every one of us, in our time, make public mistakes?  Won’t we, or our children, at some point be next in line for ceaseless scrutiny, mockery and unrelenting bullying?
And then, won’t we deserve to be forgiven? 
And above all our mistakes forgotten?

image: Paris Tuileries Garden Facepalm Statue. Image courtesy of

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