KonMari for the Soul
And Sons has a podcast, and if you listen to it you already know that several months ago Sam and I sat down over a beer because we needed to make an important decision. Beer helps with those, if you drink it with a brother in a crafty beatnik bar or a pub or a bald dirt scar overlooking the city. The problem was Sam and I both had social media profiles and knew that the world was crazy, sadistic, and doomed, and we wanted to do something practical about it. So we said, Wait, hang on, here’s the plan—we’ll do three things that make an immediate, tangible difference in our world, and then we’ll record a podcast about it. If you haven’t heard that podcast you can check it out now, and it won’t ruin the episode to know I dumped social media.
It wasn’t an unexpected gesture. I’d been on a campaign to rid my time of all things false, surrogate, and artificial, and social media had been a target for some time.
Not that I think it’s always bad, I usually say (not entirely truthfully) and then quote Kranzberg: “Technology is neither positive nor negative nor neutral.” But the point was my Facebook wall was full of posts from people I either agreed with or else disagreed with and it was making my life worse. I was spending my time learning about things I couldn’t do anything about and judging more and more of my acquaintances for doing the same. Like everyone, I had a few friends—mostly my mom’s friends—who posted endearing updates or else real struggles. If Facebook was made up entirely of such people, the world would be a better place, not least because the White House would be full of white-haired gardeners excited about their nephew’s promotion.
So anyway, I got rid of it all, even my news app, in a sudden reactionary spasm, like shedding a snake skin or burning my possessions. Why’s that matter? Well, it’s simple. Social media has basically one redemptive feature: awareness*. You can tell the world about anything. Football games, trees cut down, political scandals, new political scandals, graduations, parties, movements, books, but mostly the overall corruption of human beings, which is surprising, given it’s a condition most people already know about. And that’s the problem. Most of the things we see online tell us something we already know, and so social media has a latent function that (by far) outperforms its intended purpose. It cultivates disdain and despair. We see old no-longer-friends say ridiculous things. We learn to dislike them. We hear about a scandal from the White House. We learn to hate politicians, or else reporters. This is a major problem. The overall effect of “awareness” is usually to make us less loving and less hopeful.
If we are becoming less loving and less hopeful exactly as fast as we’re becoming aware, the world is not better for it.
It is of course the best and most regularly forgotten secret that the one realm we have real access to is our self. After that, we have all those people we interact with on a daily basis who are, usually, less real to us than far away people with their vices and needs. But I mean, really—we have a staggering array of opportunities in our everyday experience. Invite a neighbor over for dinner, ask a meaningful question of a coworker (“What makes you happy? When do you feel most alive? What’s a place in your life where you wish you were more seen? What’s God calling you into? What was the best day of your life? What’s the best part of your day and what does it say about you?”), call and encourage a friend, let that desperate driver merge. All the things we affect every day, usually negatively, because we don’t believe that the people we see are actually the root of cultural change nor that the way to start is to become more loving. But it is: the loving person is the most inclined to step in, write, vote, volunteer, and in every way support their vision for a restored world.
With that in view, here’s our exercise for the day.
Several years ago, a book came out on tidying up. It’s by Marie Kondo, a Japanese super-tidyer, and it gained immediate and monumental popularity because it is ingenious and easy to do. The method, KonMari, looks like this: look at all the things in your house, a room, or a category at a time. Then get rid of all the things that don’t “spark joy.” Fun to do, easy to understand; it’s a grand de-cluttering. It’s a great practice, given that most of the things a person owns stress them out.
I’d like to propose a soulful counterpart. Look at all the things that fill your time. Then get rid of all the practices that make you less loving, less hopeful, and—to add a third—less passionate.
Social media’s an obvious target, but it’s not the only target**. Do you take your phone with you to bed to check email and the news as you fall asleep? Does it encourage you, strengthen you, make you want to love your friends better? Probably not. I leave my phone in the living room from the moment I get home, with the ringer on so I can check it if someone actually wants to get ahold of me, and it’s one of the best, most revealing, sort of embarrassing lifestyle changes I’ve ever made. What about the news you consume? Do you regularly act on that information, rush around lobbying your neighborhood or jump online to donate to advocacy groups? Called your senator recently? Cut news. Again, I’m not saying cut care. But actually, too much news has been shown to increase inaction. Becoming loving by freeing your soul of its many situational oppressors will end up helping, I promise. What else? Check email 30 times a day? Check it twice, 12:00 and 4:00 PM. The noise is stressing your soul.
Of course, we all have obligations, but we also have enormous freedom in what we consume with our time. On the recommendation of a friend, I stopped listening to most of the podcasts to which I subscribe and started listening to audiobooks about the soul, young men, healing, listening, all things I’d like to be good at. I don’t do it all the time, either, because all our time doesn’t actually need to be filled, but it’s helped.
Again, I’m not suggesting some kind of daily moralism, a dogmatic surveillance of our time. I’m suggesting a very helpful exercise: observe how the things you do—especially read, watch, or listen to—affect you, and cut out the ones that make you stressed, depressed, apathetic, disdainful, and frenetic. Watch what happens. I think you’ll find that you have quite a bit of time and, after a week or so of fasting from those things, can begin to replace them with other pastimes, beginning with the question, If I really believed that the starting place of all restoration was to know Jesus intimately and, as a consequence, to become more loving, what would I do when I can choose to do things? You’ll find all kinds of recommendations in this magazine. Get solitude, learn to hear the voice of God by practicing, read good books, garden, develop manual competency, be bored, worship, bike, converse, shop cigars, smoke a cigar, SUP, knowing all the time that the redemptive person is the redeemed person.
But first, cut the avenues of despair and disdain.
*A friend recently reminded me that social media connects people who no longer live together. That’s true, in very few cases. In most cases, it connects people who don’t like each other enough to write letters, get on What’s App or Group Me or whatever, or buy Walkie Talkies.
**But if I give up social media I’ll lose all my photos! This is, without a doubt, the objection I hear and feel the most. Social Media is a kind of visual bank account, an insurance policy for our memories. But really. How often do you go back through all your photos with sense of gratitude and leaf through it all? I think we’re mostly afraid of losing everything, slipping into oblivion, which is a very different concern to not having all those memorable high school photos. Dad’s got a book coming out for those of you so concerned. If the photos were the issue, do what a friend did: print them. It takes an hour and gives you a photo album, which is an unusually profitable bit of time.