In my childhood, it was always a delight to hear stories from Indian mythology. Usually it was my mother, or an aunt, or grandmother, or some elder person in our midst who told the stories.
Many of the mythological stories had demons in them – demons who wreaked havoc and exerted mighty power over everyone. And then life got so unbearable that the subjugated prayed fervently to God for relief from intense pain and suffering. In many cases, God would come to earth as an incarnation, destroy the demon, and restore peace, justice and order on earth. In other cases, God would work vicariously through saints, spiritual teachers, benevolent kings, etc.
In the early part of some mythological stories, “demons” were very good persons, and performed acts of benevolence on their subjects. Some even built glittering cities and towns that were exemplary. The subjects had all their material needs and desires fulfilled. Under these circumstances, everyone was happy and content.
This dual nature of the demons – initially good and later bad – was meant to convey the dual nature of human beings. We all have our good side and our bad side, and our nature depends on which side we nurture so that it becomes predominant.
Thinking about all this recently, I started to wonder if we can look at social media in some parallel ways! After all, social media has become more or less ubiquitous on earth, have tremendous power, and exert such influence over humanity.
Social media has brought tremendous benefit.
It also has brought great suffering and moral and ethical problems of gargantuan proportions. Here is just one example: cyber-bullying, which has taken front page attention in recent times.
I am sure you can cite a hundred other examples of the good and the bad.
Has social media assumed the form of “Tentacles of Terror”?
Some may argue that social media is simply a vehicle, a conduit. That the problem lies with people – that is us, in how it is used. That is similar to the argument “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”.
But we are also responsible for how we exercise good judgment on how this “inanimate” object called the social media is allowed to serve humanity, rather than do disservice or harm to humanity. The “we” here applies to everyone – individuals, governments, regulators, educators, spiritual leaders, business people, artists, social media creators, etc.
What can we do? We either feel powerless, or can’t be bothered, or are too busy with our lives to do anything. But if we just look around the world, we can see many examples of individuals striving to make life better for themselves and for their community. If a goal becomes a common goal, and not doing something results only in things getting worse, and the suffering progresses towards becoming intolerable, we see people rising to their potential and doing something – to try and change things for the better.
What do you think? Should we just be tolerant of the unpalatable side of social media and take in the benefit alone of social media which bring joy and satisfaction? Like medicine with unpleasant side effects? What about the effect of social media on our children and the vulnerable?
One may ask, what has all this to do with spirituality? Everything. Because spirituality encompasses ethics, morals, compassion, oneness with others, and the higher good for all.
Meanwhile, I am going to make sure that every time I step out into cyberspace, it will be very gingerly. And I will pass this message on to everyone in my life that I care about.
Suresh Basrur practices the Hindu faith, participates in inter-faith activities in Victoria and speaks to audiences about Hindu religion, philosophy and practices.
You can read more posts from our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking HERE
* This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist, Saturday July 13 2013