the last word

December 21st, 2017

A few days ago I got a letter in the mail. The letter was written almost a year ago, after I’d quit social media and invited people to write me letters instead. Funny thing was, the letter had somehow disappeared into a stack or a drawer (like the one on the left side of this desk) and never been mailed to me. When the writer found it again after all this time, she sent it along anyway. Turns out everything she’d written about herself still applied, and all the questions she had for me naturally remained unanswered, so I wrote her back.

Perhaps what I write here will be a little like that. This time of year always brings the cycle back around to where we started.

A year ago I got off Facebook and Twitter because I thought the election provided pretty good evidence that social media corrodes our society and degrades our intelligence. Research is coming out that says just that. Several months later, I began using Facebook again, not because I changed my mind about it, but because people no longer seem to read email, and I need to reach folks in a more reliable way than telepathy. The fact that people don’t use email much anymore means that our ability to communicate with one another in a measured and thoughtful way has been further diminished. Why take the time to pound out so many words when what you really want to do is scream!!!

It’s hard for folks to realize that social media is not a human connection in the same way that a conversation is. We are addicted to it (I hope that no longer needs to be debated) and so we run the risk of behaving digitally in the same uninhibited way we might if we were drunk or on drugs. We don’t put ourselves in the place of the person or persons we are “talking” to because they aren’t even there. So what we post on Facebook or Twitter runs the risk of being about as scary as the sociopathic babble of the taxi driver Travis Bickle talking to himself in the mirror. (Click this link to see what I mean.)

I’m as much to blame for spouting off as anyone, but Facebook has convinced me that no one out there is waiting to hear what I think. So far, I haven’t made mortal enemies of anyone but a few fed up family members and friends. And I’m not sure that would have happened if we weren’t all talking into mirrors.

There’s a word that comes up a lot these days: “weaponized.” I suppose when you live in a world at war with itself everything is a weapon. I don’t much like it when folks stick an -ize onto a noun and make up a verb, but in this case I do believe that social media has given us a way to weaponize our words with bump stocks, making them fully automatic and firing them from the 32nd floor into a concert crowd at 9 rounds a second. I don’t much like that I’ve become familiar with those words either. So, yeah, words kill.

Despite all these misgivings, I’ve learned quite a lot about how to use social media responsibly this year, giving myself these 5 reminders to make the world better through Facebook:

1. Give encouragement. People are angry, sad, sick, lonely, and discouraged enough already.

2. Refrain from giving advice. Those who ask probably don’t need it and those who don’t ask don’t want it.

3. “Like” pictures of kids or pets, especially kids and pets in Halloween costumes. Small acts of kindness aren’t small.

4. Honor everyone’s privacy, especially the privacy of your kids. Don’t let them suffer the indignity of your pride or imprudence.

5. Only offer what you need to see yourself: words and pictures that will support, guide, calm or uplift you. After all, you’re the only one here.

If these guidelines keep you from getting what you want from Facebook, then it can’t be found there. Find a real friend instead, and do what it takes to keep them. Your life will be immeasurably enriched.


  1. I’m deeply grateful you returned to Facebook. I appreciate and heed the guidelines you suggest. And I love that you will answer email.

    Thank you for being here as a stream of dharma and sanity. (Is that redundant?)


    Comment by Kathryn — December 21, 2017 @ 5:34 pm

  2. Thank you once again for a perfect post at a perfect time. I’m leaving Facebook in January, but I’ll keep coming to your blog to read. <3 Happy Holidays!

    Comment by Shawne Taylor — December 21, 2017 @ 5:48 pm

  3. Thank you for your wise words that continue to provide me with hope when times seem most gloomy!

    Comment by Carol — December 21, 2017 @ 6:57 pm

  4. If it were up to me, we’d all write letters. I love Facebook as a touchstone and I also love your very thoughtful approach to it. I have been planning a bit of a review for 2018. It’s nice to have some other ideas to consider. I have a blog, but people rarely comment so I don’t know if they are reading or not. I suppose that by the time it is posted that the most important thing has already been realized. Happy Solstice, Maezen. And thank you for your letters ♡?✉

    Comment by Bonnie — December 21, 2017 @ 7:46 pm

  5. A couple months ago I finally felt I needed to address a (very) geographically distant friend’s latest strong hint that I should be on Facebook because it is so wonderful for connecting and staying in touch, sharing photos, etc. I had never attempted to explain why I never have and never will be on FB because I felt it was hard to do without it being tainted with self-congratulation and criticism of those who are (her. And most of the rest of humanity.)

    So I kept it as pared-down and personal as I could with a nod to the ever-emerging realities of why social media is neither harmless nor ‘free’. And in it I expressed hope that email could continue to be for us a more direct, private, and rich communication.

    And? She responded. With a long, newsy, direct, private, rich e-mail like the good old days (and the many years before of handwritten letters on airmail paper with lovely Royal Mail stamps). She said not one word about my Facebook manifesto. Which was exactly right.

    Comment by Laura — December 22, 2017 @ 3:18 am

  6. Your five guidelines are excellent. May I share them on Facebook? (hah hah!)

    Comment by Jo Ann — December 22, 2017 @ 5:33 am

  7. As usual you hit a homerun today about social media. I deleted my profile on FB. And let me tell you “they” don’t like it. When it struck me that I’d fallen in to political traps and negativity, I wanted to go back to prove I’d grownup and was done with childish jiberish. Trying to get back was a chore, they made my life miserable. I’m back, I deleted a few people and 98% of the time I delete most political junk. I have a sense of relief, I’m not angry anymore and I’m not eating Tums!

    Comment by Vivian Hatfield — December 22, 2017 @ 1:39 pm

  8. Happy Holidays! A nice time of year. People greet each other with good cheer. The Country has been “trumped.” The tantruming is over. Soon the cold will turn to Spring! There’s a song. “There is a season, turn, turn, turn. There is a reason, turn, turn, turn.” Pete Seeger wrote it. The BYRDS popularized it. Lyrics based on first 8 verses of Ecclesiastes. Check out YouTube and Wikipedia!

    Comment by Larry Misiak — December 23, 2017 @ 8:12 am

  9. Thank you Karen as always for your wise words. I do always read your emails,each one usually several times to remind myself. I don’t always say anything or just thank you, but I am always trying to keep your words and wisdom close to my heart. Happy Holidays Merry Christmas, much love to you,Lucy

    Comment by lucy — December 23, 2017 @ 9:18 am

  10. Maezen, I have been traveling and just now dropping in on you since last we talked. I am such a bundle of confusion and mixed feelings lately. So tired of being discombobulated. Sounds trite, but I need to reboot and make some guidelines for my life that help me cope. I know I need to do that. So, I came here, and as is the case, your words are food for the soul. Sending you much love and gratitude.

    Comment by Clare — December 24, 2017 @ 4:16 am

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