I don’t normally post here on holidays, but since the theme of the July 4th holiday in the United States is freedom, I thought it made for an appropriate time to talk about the freedom to be generous.
And specifically, the freedom to be generous online.
The seed of this practice, for me, got planted a couple months ago.
Mid-morning one day, I clicked over to Facebook to get caught up on my news feed — the usual morning check-in to see what’s been going on with friends and family since I checked in the night before.
I’ve talked before about the value of delaying this morning check-in until after I’ve spent time in the quiet, and I’m not always faithful to that spiritual practice, but on this particular day I was. I’d been up for a few hours and had spent time writing, reading, and in prayer, and I was ready to engage with the world.
Normally when I enter into these check-in routines, I scroll and scroll and scroll, tapping or clicking on occasion to “like” or “favorite” a status update on Facebook or Twitter, but not often taking the time to comment. I’m doing it to get caught up, to add my two cents by way of my own status update, and to stop and click on a few updates that I particularly noticed or appreciated. When I do comment, which I’ve noticed has become more and more rare over the last year, it’s usually in response to people I know really well or whose updates connected with me in an unusually poignant or timely way.
But on this particular day, for a reason I still don’t completely understand, I commented on almost every single person’s update that presented itself in my Facebook feed — people close to me and people not close to me, people I talk to regularly and those I very rarely connect with at all. For about 10 minutes straight, I clicked in those little comment boxes and typed out responses to almost every single one of them — an encouraging word here, an acknowledgment there, a question maybe, a “hooray!” sometimes.
At the end of it, I felt completely energized and overflowing with love for each one of those people.
And a few days later, the same exact thing happened when scrolling my Twitter feed. Again, I clicked and replied to many of the people showing up in my stream, even those I’d never replied to before that day, and I found myself full of energy and love as a result.
This is unusual behavior for me, and again, I’m not exactly sure why it happened or where the energy and desire to do it came from. It felt a bit like an “encouragement sprint.” It lasted about 10 minutes, and then it was over and I felt nothing but the headiness of love.
Why don’t I do that more often? I wondered. Why do I withhold responses as a usual matter of course? Why do I keep generosity all to myself?
I think there are several reasons.
Sometimes it’s time — I’m just doing a quick check-in and don’t have time to stop and respond. Hitting that “like” or “favorite” button is a quick and easy way to feel a pulse of connection without asking too much of me.
Sometimes it’s overwhelm. There’s far more information than I can possibly take in. So many people saying, “Check this out! Read this! Go here! Buy that!” I just can’t do it all, and so I tune it out. I scroll, passively, and in that passivity, I’m actively shutting out the noise. I say no to all that noise by scrolling silently by.
Sometimes it’s insecurity. I begin to think and then believe that people won’t want to know me. I think they won’t notice I’m there. I anticipate their judgment. And so I stay small, whispering my own updates through the bullhorn, pouring judgment on myself the whole way through.
And then sometimes it’s judgment in my own heart. There are people in my news feed I just don’t enjoy. Their comments affront my sensibilities and sense of well-being. Or I find them judgy and exclusive, so I judge and exclude them right back. I pass by their updates and, while doing so, push them out of my mind and close them out of my heart. Sometimes I even close them out of my feed completely.
But in this generosity burst? I let all of that go. I chose embrace, acceptance, and the olive branch of friendship. I believed in abundance rather than scarcity. I made room in my heart for connection and care.
And I remembered: that’s the person I want to be.
And so I’m choosing, more and more, to cultivate generosity in my online life. When I’m tempted to just scroll on through to get caught up, I remind myself how much an encouraging word or a simple acknowledgment of response can mean to someone else, even if it’s just a quick, “Hey. I see you. I hear you. I care.”
And when I find myself getting stingy or closing up my heart online, I know it’s time to practice this in a more focused way. I know it’s time to take 10 minutes for an others-focused “encouragement sprint.”
This practice opens me up. It connects rather than isolates. And it builds into me more of the person I really want to be: one of welcome and love.
Can you relate to any of this?