The Danger of Being Desensitized

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I open Facebook and begin to scroll down the page. Conspiracy theories, outrage over the virus situation, passive aggressive memes fill the page. On and on the links and videos go, eventually blurring together into a thread of expressed frustrations. In mere moments, I’m told to be angry about a variety of issues. “The opening of state governments is costing the lives of thousands,” the headline says. “Keeping everything closed is going to cost even more lives,” reads the next. The negativity continues for as far as I’m willing to go. Installing infinite scrolling was a brilliant move for app developers, though the ones without self-control (like myself) often pay the price.

It’s not that I want to take sides on issues. This isn’t the place for opinions on complex political matters. Instead, I want to call to mind something greater- the heart issue behind it all. As I spend time in the Word and seek to pursue what God calls His people to, I’m reminded that I need to spend time searching for the heart issue behind my outward sins. The time I lose each and every week to social media is a problem rooted in something deeper- a mind-numbing desensitization to what’s around me.

If I had to summarize a large majority of my experience online, I’d unfortunately have to summarize it as negative. Sure, there are positive videos (John Krasinski’s “Some Good News” comes to mind), but when I give my heart and mind over to mindless scrolling, I’m giving myself over to be taught what to feel on nearly every big issue we’re facing today. With each scroll, there’s someone or something new I’m told to direct anger and frustration, and before long, I’m numb. I don’t feel angry. I’m desensitized.

This isn’t new to humanity. As I’ve been reading through the Old Testament, God has been giving instructions so the nation of Israel might guard themselves against this very issue. “Remember,” God says over and over. “Don’t forsake the law.” Yet, even after accepting and entering into a covenant with God as outlined by the law, that they forget the very commandments they ratified and begin worshipping the golden calf (Exodus 20-32).

Then, after the reign of King Solomon and the nation splitting, the northern kingdom forgets once again, becoming desensitized to the sin of the nations around them. Eventually sacrificing their own children on an altar to a false god, a command God explicitly prohibited. Sin was no longer vile and disgusting. It became something they thought would bring satisfaction.

These are the two concerns of being desensitized: the inward straying of our own hearts and an outward compromise of our witness to others. These two concerns are intrinsically connected.

In our personal struggles, we allow small compromises until we’ve gone farther than we ever thought possible. First, we begin to compromise by not pursuing God as we once used to. The compromises pile up. Slowly, but surely, we begin to stray. With this foundational pursuit of God eroding, something else must begin to take its place. When the trials and difficulties of life come, the missing foundation begins to show. Instead of being at peace and rooted in the eternal Word of God, we grow anxious, worried, fearful as the situation changes virtually every second. If we aren’t careful, these feelings can grow leading to anger at any given situation and towards others.

Social media serves as a megaphone: amplifying every emotion until nearly everything we post and express is at its loudest level. The anger, frustration, discontentment marks every post and comment until it blends together in an endless wave of white noise. These frustrations and fears become commonplace and normal to us. Again, we become desensitized. Soon, we begin to duplicate these same attitudes. Our foundation of peace has been replaced by fear, anxiety, and anger.

I write this as an examination of my own heart. I’m typing these very words because they are the tendencies I see in me. Especially during quarantine, my hands reach for my phone like a reflex. I catch myself scrolling, losing minutes of precious time. I turn away from the screen only to realize the white noise is beginning to take root. Maybe I’m overreacting, I think. I don’t want to give in to the stereotypes, missing the good things that can come from the connections social media brings. For a while, I just remained silent, liking posts from time to time, but not contributing anything of my own.

Then, this week, it all seemed to reach a tipping point. An innocent man in Georgia lost his life in February, his story lost in the wave of virus information. Finally, it gained traction and began to be shared. The issue behind it all? A story worth being angry about- a story of injustice, prejudice, and racism- was lost in the shuffle of things not worth being angry about. We’ve lost the righteous anger this story deserves because we’ve used it on trivial matters of division.

Through our compromises, we’ve lost our ability to disagree without being angry. We’ve lost our ability to process complex matters with time to think. We give quick responses out of a position of compromised hearts and desensitized feelings. We all end up paying the price. Let’s spend this time considering what we give our voice to and why. Let’s engage in conversations in love and seeking to make peace. Let’s save our voices, not screaming into the list of posts that never end, but joyfully reflecting and standing for the character of God to a world around us.

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