Conviction to a Cause For Dummies

"Mother, mother, there's too many of you crying. Brother, brother, brother, there's far too many of you dying. You know we've got to find a way to bring some lovin' here today."
Marvin Gaye

From the book of Matthew, Revised Cynics Verson:

And Jesus said to them, "For I was hungry and you ran an online petition, I was thirsty and you posted a meme of a glass of water, I was a stranger and you sent me a friend request, I needed clothes and you invited me to play Candy Crush, I was sick and you pressed the like button, I was in prison and you forwarded me a humorous cat video."

So before I begin this somewhat cynical rant, allow me to make one thing clear: it's not you. It's me.

When I was 12, my brother was in the United States Air Force and we all knew it was a matter of time before he would be sent to Southeast Asia to contribute to the war effort in Vietnam. It terrified my mom and it bothered me for a variety of reasons, but mostly because I loved my brother and didn't want him to die. People died in Vietnam. They were safe here in the US. It was that simple for me at 12.

Then one night, Walter Cronkite opened his evening report with the news that four young people had been shot to death at Kent State. This was particularly jarring because in an unusual display of conviction, I had recently taken a box of crayons and scrawled graffiti on the concrete wall that ran alongside our house. I had drawn peace symbols and the words "Pray for Peace". And shortly after that, the Nixon administration executed some protestors for shouting similar words (and to be completely forthcoming, also throwing some rocks at National Guardsmen).

I began to question the wisdom of my convictions.

Across the country, reactions were powerful. Neil Young, along with his musical friends Crosby, Stills, and Nash, wrote a scathing song that called out Nixon by name. The four musicians fully realized they had made themselves targets and for a Canadian citizen making his living in the US, Young was particularly vulnerable. On top of that, the band had a hit song, "Teach Your Children" in the top 10 at the time and "Ohio" knocked Graham Nash's hit right off the charts, potentially costing him six figures in royalties.

That is conviction.

I have friends who really, truly, believe in causes and support them fully. I have no doubt of this. But here's the thing - I wonder how much conviction it takes to click a mouse? I don't post political crap on my Facebook wall. That's honestly not my method of communicating. Besides that, those things mean nothing.

Oops. Did I say that? Well, it's out there so let's follow it up. It means nothing. Nada. Those things have zero true and actual meaning. Why? Simple. It takes zero conviction to click a mouse. Clicking on the 'Like' button or clicking 'Share' on a political meme takes so little effort it means nothing.

Sorry. I know a lot of you really DO believe in the causes you support in this way. I am not pointing to sharing and liking as proof that you lack conviction. I'm just saying it doesn't prove you HAVE conviction. I should know. I'm the king of apathy. When the company hosts events for volunteer work, I'm the guy who writes a check and shakes the hands of those true believers who actually venture out into the hot Texas summer and swing a hammer or saw lumber. Because that's easy. If there's one thing I really know, it's where to find the shortcuts and the easy ways out.

And there's this, too - a modern fable. Once there was a Facebook friend who I truly believe supported many causes and had strong values and beliefs. One day, this person posted a political meme on the Facebook wall that claimed out of 240 years of American history, our country had been at war in all but 17 of those years. Mind-blowing stat, isn't it? And also an absolute lie. Such a pathetic lie, in fact, that you can dispel it with about 30 seconds of research. When I pointed this out, the person's response was, "I don't check them for accuracy. I just share them."

Yeah. That explains EXACTLY how meaningful this crap is!

The internet has become a massive role-playing game. We can take on an artificial name and then festoon our Facebook pages with flotsam and jetsam that defines the character we are portraying. It may all be real. It may all be a massive counterfeit designed to create precisely the image we want. The extent to which I can say with certainty that some of you really do believe the causes you claim to support is limited by how much I actually know you.

I think sharing a meme would have so much more value if we were required to write a minimum of 300 words explaining WHY we believe in that cause or support that candidate or so on. I know it would add significantly to my estimate of convictions. But let's be honest: writing words is also easy. Hell, I earned an MBA and the entire sum total of my course work was written words on message boards and in papers. I write well. I also write easily. I know this. Walking out into the Texas summer to help build houses for the poor - that takes conviction, and I'm ashamed to admit, more than I currently have.

The good news is that there's hope for all of us. Frederick Douglass is remembered today as a staunch and fervent fighter for racial equality in the 19th century. But Douglass remembers being approached by abolitionist John Brown who tried to recruit him into the failed slave insurrection Brown attempted to start in 1859 at Harper's Ferry. Douglass was convinced the move was unwise and would result in the destruction of Brown's followers. A young free black man was present at the meeting and Douglass urged this young man not to go with Brown. That young man told Douglass, "I b'leve I will go wid de ole man." That young man was killed at Harper's Ferry.

Douglass would later lament that his own conviction paled in comparison to Brown's. Douglass was also intelligent enough to observe that Brown was a better preacher than fighter and his death accomplished more than his actions leading up to that.

I empathize with Christians whose convictions lead them to take action. One of my debate team colleagues, Debbie Work, is very active in the community as part of her faith and I think that's wonderful. Some people use their beliefs as a platform to condemn others. Debbie uses hers to lift others up and that is marvelous. And all too rare. I have a cousin who is married to a young man named Mathias Duck Enns who works hard in the leprosy community - an extremely challenging area in which to volunteer. I have enormous respect for conviction like that.

I am, I truly believe, a good man. I am generous to others and tolerant of varying points of view. Hate is a feeling I just don't indulge. In the movie "A Man for All Seasons", Sir Thomas More in his trial for treason, makes the statement, "I do none harm, I say none harm, I think none harm. And if this be not enough to keep a man alive, in good faith I long not to live." With all due respect to St. Thomas, while that is a handy defense, it falls far short of conviction.

My beliefs are not likely to show up as a post on Facebook. If I'm going to say something of substance, I'm more likely to post it here on this website where I can elaborate to my heart's content. If I click a 'Like' it will probably be something entertaining or amusing or a happy event. I seldom 'Like' your candidate or your cause. If I share a meme (and that is a rare event) it is usually something particularly funny. I'm not going to let someone else's Photoshop efforts declare my position for me.

But that's me.

You are you, and what you believe and what you support are things you hold in your heart. I don't know what's in your heart so I am not judging you. And that's the point - I don't know. Reposting someone elses's meme doesn't tell me anything, besides validating that you know how to click 'share'.

At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeonly old man, we've made things too easy. Kids grow up not knowing (and to be honest not needing to know) how to use an actual physical library. The internet lets you share your beliefs or political position with the world with a single click. You don't actually have to define your convictions or commit your physical efforts - all you have to do is click 'share' and declare yourself. And I'm enough of a skeptic to sometimes wonder how much that indicates true sincerity and conviction.

If you want to know what I believe, or what causes I support, or who I admire and respect - just ask. Send me an email or even a Facebook text and I'll respond. I will gladly share my views and listen to yours. But I don't trust a picture or a slogan or a 'Like' to communicate something that has that much value.

If you're a person who likes to spread their views that way, that's okay. I just hope you're careful about what you click. Make sure it truly represents what you believe and make sure it's true. Because if those posts are the way you present yourself to others, then those posts are exactly how they are going to define you and characterize you.

As for the funny stuff - keep that coming. I can use the laughs these days.