Once again, “The People” have spoken.
According to a story on wboc.com earlier this week, someone stole a backpack from the owner of Pickle’s Pub in Ocean City, Md., on Friday, Sept. 23. To rub a little salt in the wound for the victim, the backpack reportedly contained items valued over $1,000 at the time of the theft.
The owner first called the police, who responded and took a report, and then he sat down and reviewed surveillance footage before grabbing a screenshot of the suspect in the crime. After the owner posted that image in a Facebook group for Ocean City locals, tips began to roll in on the suspect’s identity and police were able to charge Robert C. Jackson, 51, of Ocean City, with the crime.
This is a prime example of two things, in my mind: First, cooperation between citizens and law enforcement can almost always lead to good things. And, second, social media can be an incredible thing in certain situations.
In the interest of full disclosure, there is a lot about social media that drives me bonkers. Admittedly, that is not a very long drive, but stick with me for a minute:
• It can be a cesspool of unsubstantiated information, as the winds of rumor and rampant speculation can blow lies and falsehoods from person to person in the time it takes to click one’s finger.
• A person with a grudge can destroy a business or individual in that same instantaneous amount of time.
• Friendships can be ruined in a snap over political, racial or religious comments.
It’s actually that last one that has been eating at me over the past several months, as I’ve watched it happen time after time after time, inflamed by our current political climate. Our differences are instantly illuminated by a single post, and we take on the metaphorical jerseys of whatever side we happen to fall on in this wacky world of divisiveness.
I have one group of friends from my high school days (yes, there were high schools in my day, Tom Maglio) who argue back and forth nearly every day, largely focusing their differences on police shootings and protestors. The guys in question are a mixture of races, and they argue vehemently with each other, often alternating between thoughtful opinions and emotional outbursts. There are times I watch their interactions and cringe inside, thinking this could be the comment that drives these friends apart.
But somehow, in this one example, it doesn’t. Even though they obviously get upset with one another sometimes, they come back the next day for more. Maybe it’s because they’ve been friends for 30 to 40 years. Or maybe it’s because they’ve just developed a system that works for them. Whatever the case, they can legitimately get upset with each other, argue passionately for what they believe in and move on with the understanding that they will agree to disagree. That’s rare.
But it also brings me to an aspect of social media that I think is extremely valuable — the part that shows how much more similar we all are to each other than different.
I will see one of these guys post a photo with his child or spouse or parents and see the other guys “like” or comment on it in a positive way. I will watch as a proud father shares how his son or daughter made the honor roll or placed well in a wrestling tournament or had a first date, and see these other guys who argue so passionately against him in a political discussion offer hearty congratulations or words of encouragement when those words are sometimes needed.
I’ll share my own photos or videos of my daughter or family and receive compliments or “likes” from people I see every day or those I haven’t seen in decades. I get to watch my friends’ children grow up in another part of this country or in various locations around the world, and I get to keep up with people who would probably slip away from my life without the connectivity of Facebook or Twitter.
You see, we, “The People,” are people.
Before we are black or white, yellow or brown, gay or straight, male or female, Republican or Democrat, Christian or Jewish or Muslim or atheists, we are people.
We want to feel safe. We want to prosper. We want to see our children healthy and happy. We want love. We want to laugh. We want to feel. We want those we care about to have all those things, as well.
And while my stomach turns at the acrimony and disrespect I see daily on social media, my everything-else gets lifted by seeing a photo of an old Marine buddy hunting with his son or a proud mother posing next to her daughter at her high school graduation or someone having a romantic dinner with his or her spouse to celebrate an anniversary.
It is a reminder to me that behind all the bitterness and discord that we see all-too-often in life, and how I can watch the news at night and feel as if our nation is about to devolve into another Civil War, we’re people.
We don’t need politicians or civic leaders or protestors to tell us that. We know it, already. We know what it means to feel love, and how to share it. Let’s just do that.