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I am “friends” with over a thousand writers (close to two thousand) on Facebook. Most of them write well-written posts that can keep me reading on and off all day. Many of them also write very loving and kind little snippets of poetic prose. I also see many loving and kind quotes used on Facebook by people who don’t identify as writers. These types of posts receive many likes, shares and comments.

The other side of that is the comment sections of articles posted online. There tend to be so many people that are willing to say some of the most hateful things in the comments sections. Arguments, ignorance, and meanness also present themselves online when politics or any big social issues like immigration, equality, the presidential election, gun control, etc. are written about.

If I were to take social media at face value, I would say we are living in paradise and hell at the same time. On one side, people are all loving and kind, and on the other side, people are hateful and cruel.

I think the truth is somewhere in the middle, though. I think the people who write beautiful messages about being kind and loving probably find it difficult always to be kind and loving to annoying drivers, people who cut in line at the grocery store, and possibly even their partners or children. And those people who say hateful and cruel things about whole groups of people or leave nasty comments on articles about people being “ugly” or “stupid” or whatever else they can think up are probably not saying things like that to their coworkers, partners or strangers in the street. It is possible they even love someone and treat that person with tenderness and respect.

I spend a lot of time in the online world, and I am starting to think in the New Year of cutting back my participation in social media. I don’t think I get an accurate view of people when I am judging them by words they post online. Someone can write the most beautiful words and be a selfish, self-centered, or inconsiderate person. Just because someone can put beautiful thoughts into words or post beautiful quotes doesn’t mean their heart is in the same place. The same goes for those haters. It is possible they are young kids who think they are funny. It is possible they are in a difficult living situation that has them frustrated to the point of acting out. It is possible they just lost their job, feel like they are friendless or have declining health and are bitter about it.

I have put a lot of time and energy into social media over the past five years. It has influenced the way I see many people and society as a whole. Social media is just too easy – too easy to be loving, too easy to be kind, too easy to be hateful, too easy to be a bully. Real life is much harder but so much more important. If I go into the hospital none of my social media “friends” are going to show up in my room and sit with me when I need it the most. My face-to-face friends would, though. My face-to-face friends are wonderfully imperfect and complicated. They have good moods and bad moods, and good days and bad days. They love, and they get angry. That is all something that can be hidden on social media to create an image someone wants to portray to the world.

I simply needed a reminder this cold January morning that the online world is full of what people want to show to the world, not necessarily the truth. I need to spend more time in 2016 looking people in the eye and having conversations with them that include body language and tone of voice. I need something more authentic than words on a screen. I need to be either renewed by the beauty of the human spirit or saddened by our meanness. I think I will find that life, real life, is somewhere in between and can’t be easily manipulated by the desire to create a character on a screen.