Via @claudia_m, I came upon this brief bit about Facebook (and promptly posted the article to my Facebook page where a couple of folks commented on it ah, irony!). The article is provocatively titled “Quit Facebook” and is about the obsessive amount of time we spend constructing our online identities.
Next Friday we’ll be releasing the second installment of the live podcast. And in this episode, someone in the audience (you know who you are) asks about the stereotypes or assumptions people make about Buddhism that really bug us. When Harry reminded me of this question (I’d completely forgotten about it (they say the mind’s the fist thing to go) and Harry’s in the process of editing it), I got to thinking about where this question may be coming from. I’m sure I’m projecting my own egotistical shit onto the questioner (sorry about that), but I can’t help but wonder if my own online identity prompts people to think I’m little more than a rabble rouser, bitter and angry.
Not infrequently, people I consider to be very good friends (in one or two cases, people I’ve known since I had Flock of Seagulls hair), will call me up or send me an email asking if I’m okay. They’re wondering what the backstory is to whatever travesty must have inspired some random thing I Twittered/blogged/Facebooked about. And my usual response is, “what?” I have no idea what they’re talking about. Whatever travesty of injustice got me so riled up on the Internets was a fleeting concern, something that really chapped my hide during a lunch break, but now that I’m home, now that I’m with three dimensional people, now that I’m sitting on my sofa listening to music or hanging out with my wife I’m sorry, what were we talking about?
So I wonder what sort of identity I am projecting to the world via my online shenanigans. (And, tangentially, I wonder how that’s changed since I started podcasting and my online persona made the subtle shift from purely textual to textual and auditory.) Do people see me as the bitter little Buddhist who revels in social criticism, deconstructing social systems just for the sake of deconstruction. The embittered academic against the Man, the Machine, the System, the State, the Whatever.
Because from where I’m sitting, there’s often a large disconnect between my snarky-sarcastic-embittered postings to the Internet and my usual state of mind. My usual state of mind is much less irked by things (okay, not all things. Just the other night I went off on a tirade to my wife about Barbara Ehrenreich’s latest book (actually, more to the point, her other book Nickel and Dimed) and then went off again to her parents when we were all having dinner together two or three days later. Jesus. Don’t get me started. So the gulf between online-me and real-world-me must not be so insurmountable. But still. Aren’t I in the middle of a parenthetical aside?)
The real thing I wanted to say at the end of many asides is this: I love you. I know. Such forthright and direct, unapologetic statements of sentimentality must be a shock to your system, must really conflict with my bitter little Buddhist street cred. But I stand by it. I love you.
And just to clarify, right here, right now, when I say “I love you,” I am thinking about something Harry said to the Zen folks out at Green Gulch. He said something (and I’m paraphrasing here) about Shin Buddhism being much more on the compassion side of the Buddhist spectrum than the wisdom side, and that one of the ways to understand Amida is to think about how the compassion of Amida embraces everyone. He said it much better (go, listen, now), but the take away for me was simply this: the thing about Buddhism for me is this notion of universal compassion. Combined with my sense of social justice and mutual responsibility for creating a better world (and to paraphrase Cornell West, that justice is the public expression of love), extending loving kindness to y’all is the only way to go. And whenever I stumble and forget, momentarily, why it is that I got into this whole Buddhist thing in the first place, I am reminded that it is because of this inherent interconnectedness we all share and as a consequence I have a moral duty to love you. I know I don’t always say it around here. But that doesn’t make it any less true.
So you’re just going to have to take it. Bitter ne’er-do-well and filled with loving kindness all at once, just as I am. Online projections notwithstanding.