The other day I was asked about how to change her Facebook profile picture to a cartoon character. Naturally, I asked why. The response I received was meant to be a jab at me and my ilk, for sure, but I took it as a compliment when my Facebook friends and I were referred to as nerds. Presumably, this was supposed to mean that I (and others like me) don't interact well with the rest of the outside world either. That's fine, I can accept that. What I don't understand is why it is supposed to be a bad thing to not take part in populist cyber-movements that are only so effective. For that matter, there is no real reason for me to take part in any populist movement.
Let's face it, I could change my profile picture to Charlie Brown, but that won't really make some eight year old's life any better. Becoming a foster parent will. Becoming a social worker will. Becoming a teacher will. Becoming a friend will. Taking an active role in our communities and neighborhoods will probably make the lives of abused children better. Opening our doors (literally) and taking a look outside; or even better yet, going outside and being vigilant will probably do more to prevent child abuse than changing my profile picture. Making friends with our neighbors and becoming an active participant in our immediate communities will probably do the same because it is just too difficult to hide abuse from the world if world is sitting in the abuser's living room. Unfortunately, our lives are far too complex to ensure that even our direct involvement will make a difference, but at least it is an active attempt.
As a society, we really like to project our best intentions in ways that are not always the most fruitful. Changing my picture won't really make anyone's life any better. If anything, it will just give me a false sense that I have actually done something good for the world, when in reality I did something for myself. I don't want to rain on any one's parade because I am sure that all the cartoon character profile pictures are well intentioned, but I don't think it is fair for those of us outside of cyber-populist movements like this to be made fun of. In fact, maybe everyone who changed their profile pictures should also be required to volunteer their time with a socially conscious, people-oriented organization. Maybe every time we post something to "bring awareness" we should also automatically commit to volunteering for some organization or directly donate money that will actually do something in regard to that issue. Then it becomes real.
I do appreciate the idea of bringing awareness to something or working to prevent something else, but we know about the value of talk. All we need to do is look at the thousands who braved the rainstorms to raise money and take part in the Susan G. Komen walk. That is real commitment. Notice how many people walk for autism or give to food banks. If we really want to help the lives of children, then advocate for and raise funds to build shelters for families escaping abuse. Press our politicians to reinstate the funding cut from mental health services for children. How about unconditional free medical coverage for any child, regardless of socio-economics or medical condition? How about free counselling services for anyone who has gone through a traumatic experience? After all, many abusive adults have also experienced something devastating in their own lives that contribute to their own loss of control.
Yes, Charlie Brown would be much nicer than the mug I have on my Facebook right now, but what difference will it really make? Probably not as much as actually taking five minutes to talk to some child or parent who is having a bad day. Definitely not as much as actually doing something for those abused children instead of yourself.