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Just Don’t Look

February 28, 2018 | by Emuna Braverman

If all those Facebook posts are getting you jealous and annoyed, why look?

I was in the middle of one of my anti-Facebook tirades the other day – going on and on about the insensitivity of posting about their fancy vacations, or exclusive parties, or even particularly wonderful relationships. I was violating all rules about teaching – since I was clearly in pontificating mode – when my listener stopped me mid-rant. “They don’t have to torture themselves by scrolling through the details of the lives of others,” she said. “They don’t have to look at everyone else’s European vacation pictures while they think about their ‘staycation’ spent cleaning the garage.”

Of course, she’s right. This doesn’t absolve the original poster from his or her responsibility. It is still appropriate to be sensitive and thoughtful. But if we know it could cause us pain, if we know that it will likely generate much jealousy, why are we looking? Why peruse photo after photo, and then move on to another friend?

Like traffic accidents and train wrecks and the graphic descriptions of the behaviors of yet another Hollywood mogul, we know that we shouldn’t look. We know that we’ll sleep better without those images in our minds. And yet we are drawn to it – to the horror, to the destruction and even to those Facebook posts. In the former situations it may (and this is only one simplistic explanation) be a tool to help us feel better about our lives. We’re struggling with our families but at least we’re not in this situation. We’re challenged in our jobs but at least we’re not publicly disgraced. But what’s the other side of this Facebook phenomenon?

There seems to be no upside. And so I think that my student, now teacher, was correct. If the posts bother us, if they awaken disquieting feelings of jealousy or resentment or other unpleasant emotions, it’s better not to look.

Of course the ideal would be to take pleasure in the pleasure of others, to have what the Torah calls a “good eye” and only be happy that our friend had such a wonderful trip (and I don’t mean a grudging “At least someone enjoyed their vacation”!). Of course the ideal would be to have no jealousy whatsoever because we recognize that the Almighty runs the world and that He can give us that vacation, that newly remodeled home, those obedient adolescents and that smiling and doting spouse at any moment – if He wants, if He thinks it’s what we need, if it’s good for us.

That’s the real answer. But for those of us who have yet to fully achieve that elevated state of being, perhaps staying away from those posts is the answer. This doesn’t require a full Facebook ban. It is possible to go on for work-related purposes and limit one’s time to exactly that. Looking at our friend’s posts is a choice. If it is one we can make with joy (and we have nothing better to do with our time – sorry, couldn’t help myself!) then go ahead. But if it will be a source of pain, even if it’s minor, if it will throw off our day or impede our ability to be the partner and parent we’d like to be, if it will distance us from the Almighty instead of bringing us closer, then it’s clearly not worth it.

I now have a new mantra: “Just don’t look.” I think it can be extended beyond Facebook as well...


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