Facebook Could Build Communities Out of Tragedies

Facebook has built its business by connecting people across history and geography. High-school sweethearts become reacquainted without regard for the wrinkles of time and face. People with shared interests can find one another with greater ease than ever. Mark Zuckerberg’s vision has been fulfilled on many more levels than most ever thought possible.

But during times of national tragedy, I wish Facebook could reanimate a force and a concept that held communities together for centuries. We’ve gotten comfortable with the knowledge that our most intimate personal details are being stored “in the cloud” and accessed by trusted forces that do things with those details that surpass our understanding.

So it doesn’t seem like a huge leap to ask Facebook to reacquaint us with the power of prayer.

I don’t know about you, but I feel sad when a friend of a friend is part of a national story and all I can do is send positive thoughts to those who are suffering. “Good vibes” lost their allure for me when I was about 12.

It’s a step in the right direction that we can now convey a range of emotions across the Facebook landscape. I never wanted to “like” the news that two old friends were breaking up, but I wanted to acknowledge their “news” in an appropriate way. Sorrow can be such a private affair. Now at least I can send a sad emoticon to my friends who aren’t nearby enough to receive a plate of cookies.

Symbols of support are sticky. They hold us together, even when there’s not much substance in common.

We can all color our Facebook photo to express solidarity to a cause that’s suddenly a cause celebre. That’s something. We can give blood — that’s something more. But neither gives us what we deeply want in those moments of deep sadness.

Sympathy wants to become empathy, but we need a more direct connection to the person or the situation or the cause. Words fail us.

Prayer is expressed in words, but what it expresses is more than words. Addressed to an almighty force that connects everything, we exhibit both deferential humility and determined resolve. Prayer articulates intent. It prepares us for action.

The posture of prayer is readiness. The recipient gets something more than “good vibes.”

If something bad happens to somebody on our block, we can knock on their door and bring them a covered dish. If we read about misfortune in our daily newspaper, there’s often a fund set up at a local bank where we can donate to defray their medical expenses.

The International Red Cross and other organizations make it easy now to give money for earthquake victims and others worldwide who have sudden great need. We can post a flag of solidarity in our window or from our car’s antennae.

What’s missing is some way to express the grief that falls in between — not as near as your block, not as far-flung as the world. Churches have done this well because the social bonds would spread out to other congregations in the same denomination. You might know only 100 faces from weekly services, but friend-of-friend connections would climb quickly into the thousands.

Isn’t that really what Facebook wants to bring back? It’s a revival of a different sort, but a revival nevertheless.

We have Kickstarter when people want to share the risk of some new business venture. How about Kneebender when people want to share a different and more intimate load, but without imposing directly on the burdened?

Would a certain survivor who was hurt at The Pulse in Orlando last weekend feel a different sort of comfort if he or she knew that 14 friends of Martha and 28 friends of Betsy — friends of Florida friends — were rooting for them? Thinking about them? Praying for them? Willing to help them?

A tragedy can be the occasion for old connections to be renewed, but also for new ones to be built. Better friend-of-friend connections will make the world sturdier for everyone.

Facebook wants to make the world better. Start here.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.