Less than one week ago, a friend of mine was perusing PostSecret, a website that posts secrets written on postcards that people have anonymously sent in. Some are charmingly ambiguous: “I wish I had sung for you”, others are scandalous: “You’ve been buying these eggs for 10 months. I didn’t say anything at first, and now it’s too late to tell you what ‘fertile’ means. I’m sorry.”, but one that caught my friend’s eye was sobering:
My friend wanted to offer her encouragement. She wanted to reassure this anonymous author that he or she is loved and wanted, but the obvious obstacles presented themselves.
So, she started a Facebook group. “Life WILL get better. You are wanted. We all want you here,” she wrote. And then she invited her contacts to join.
Turns out, 40,000 other people from all over Facebook and counting shared her sentiments. The group doubled, tripled, increased ten and twenty-fold in what seemed like overnight; each new joinee leaving words like “Come to Chicago! You are wanted here!” and “If I were in San Fran, I would be your friend.”
These are thoughtful words spoken by 40,000 individuals with only the best intentions. It’s encouraging and refreshing to read comment after comment where only the positive and uplifting are spoken. But I look around and have to ask, do they mean it? I mean, do they really mean it?
Oh, I’m confident that these people are at least superficially sincere about what they’ve typed. “You’re wanted in Seattle!” someone writes, sincerely wanting to encourage a fellow human being, while never imagining for a minute that this scenario would ever play out. Well, what if the anonymous postcard writer did show up in Seattle on the commenter’s doorstep? What happens when the postcard writer says things that the commenter and others find awkward and offensive? What happens when the postcard writer’s depressive disposition becomes emotionally draining on the commenter?
I know what happens. I know because the anonymous postcard writer lives in my city. He lives in yours too, in fact. He is the awkward kid with greasy hair and the tendency to take everything you say offensively. He’s the reserved guy who sits alone at the back of the class who you’ve only ever smiled at aloofly in passing. He’s the one to whom others constantly remark “why are you always so negative?” And the sad truth is that while most people are willing – eager, even, to speak their words of encouragement from afar, they just don’t really like hanging out with the postcard writer. He makes them uncomfortable, so they prefer to keep him at arm’s length.
They prefer that he remain anonymous.
I don’t write this to detract in any way from the group my friend started. She’s done a good thing, and I’m heartened by the overwhelming response from literally around the globe to encourage one person. Just imagine if those 40,000 (and counting!) individuals made the same effort toward those “postcard writers” in their very own cities, neighbourhoods, or schools.
What kind of a difference could we really make then?