Passionate bystanders

Social media has done a lot of things–some of it positive and profound.

As social media has accelerated the dissemination of information, connected people across the globe in previously unimagined ways and literally fomented revolutions, it’s also provided a dramatically amplified megaphone for the critic, the judge, the troll and those long on opinion and short on facts. In some cases, it’s given a platform to those who frankly don’t deserve it.

If you have a reasonable number of “friends” on Facebook–or follow even a moderately curated set of folks on Twitter–you regularly encounter people who are outraged at some situation in the world, take to bashing a hapless politician’s most recent gaffe, flog absurd conspiracy theories or merely engage in non-sensical rants.

Conversely, if you are anything like me, you frequently “like” numerous do-gooder causes and retweet items that coincide with strongly held beliefs and values. After all, there is so much the world needs to know and it reinforces the idea that I’m a worthy person by promoting what I see as my good works and holier-than-thou virtues.

It’s not hard to sense the strength of our convictions. Our enthusiasm is evident. Often, our world is clearly drawn in good or evil, black or white. And it’s obvious which side we’re on.

But so what? Who cares?

Just as we’d never directly confront that “idiot” driver who cut us off–but have absolutely no problem cursing them from the safety our car’s interior–we find it so very easy to be the voice of moral authority and the king or queen of self-righteousness from the protective cocoon of our social media account.

Teddy Roosevelt famously reminds us that “it is not the critic who counts”, that the credit belongs to those that actually do something. Passion is nice, but it’s the willingness to take action that ultimately makes the difference.

Having tools like social media to express our displeasure to more and more people and to relentlessly hone the image of who we hope to be in the world ultimately means very little.

Without putting ourselves out there, doing the work, getting proximate, we’re all just a bunch of passionate bystanders.

Let’s connect in the arena, rather than on the screen or from the stands.


A version of this post originally appeared at

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