Social media became impossible to ignore while living OCONUS. Everything from spouse club invites to base-wide announcements came through Facebook. Arguably even more useful than either of those was the search function — no idea how to navigate Japanese toll roads? Just a quick keyword search on the spouses’ page, and I was road-trip ready thanks to the thorough instructions in the comments. At the end of the day, I would truly trust a military spouse social network over any search engine to answer any question — we don’t call it “the oracle” for nothing, no matter how eye-roll-inducing some of us think that may be.
I remember one of our former commanding officers once admitting how great base social media groups could be at keeping us in the loop of both official announcements and unofficial intel, and in the same breath beg that we exercise judgment when posting in them. This brings me to the catch: the downside of social media.
This glorious concept that keeps us connected to friends and information has become — in many ways — a replacement for action. Ever stumbled on one of those solid-gold posts that is pure rage writing, peppered with expletives and typos? You just know the person behind it was ablaze with frustration, anger, disgust or all the above.
And then come the comments from the choir.
Some replies are in solidarity, some offer solutions, some are counterarguments, and some are there just for comedic relief or to sell you on a loosely applicable multilevel marketing product. Am I guilty for scrolling through the comments for entertainment? Obviously. But that is often all those posts are good for — entertainment. These types of “noise” posts are rarely the beginning of solutions. In fact, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve seen one of these posts removed when the author’s anger fog lifted … let’s just say I’d have a lot of nickels.
Sometimes, especially in the military community, we can become so overwhelmed with frustration because of the way things are that we just have to do something about it! Believe me, been there. After nearly 15 years of seeing “the way things are” in the Marine Corps, I’ve seen opportunities for upgrades in services here and there, and I know I’m not alone in that.
Sometimes when our reaction is strong enough, we have to act on it — we have to “be the change we want to see” in the military community as the saying goes. But social media has tricked us, rather slyly, into thinking that posting about a grievance is the same as acting to correct it. And so it goes here in 2023: Something made me furious; I posted about it on social media; everyone liked my post and commented with the raised-hands emoji; I got over it; everyone moved on to the next thing; and nothing changed. Then we get to start all over.
My challenge — to myself and all of you still reading — is to harness that frustration and let it steer you and your peers to positive change. One of my all-time favorite quotes is by Maggie Smith, “Do not stop at the wall looming before you. Make a door. Make a door wide enough not only for you but for others.” I equate a noisy social media rant to stopping at the wall. But, if you want to help yourself, your peers and the folks following you, make a door.
Whatever positive change you are chasing — and I mean anything, military-connected or not, big-military legislation or a localized issue where you’re stationed — it’s important to you and worth your time to address it the right way. So where do you start?
- Sleep on it. Give the initial emotional reaction time to subside. If, in the light of a new day, the problem still exists and you have the energy to react, it’s time to get to work.
- Do your homework. If you’re going to solve a problem, you need to make sure the solution doesn’t already exist. Talk to peers and exhaust any resources that may be in place to see if something just needs to be dusted off, better advertised or revamped. Nothing screams “I poured zero effort into this” like advocating for a resource that already exists.
- Field test your idea. When you find a solution or at least a case for a solution, bounce your idea off a peer audience — one that would benefit from the new service, policy change or other “fix” you’re advocating for. Be open and receptive to constructive criticism, realizing that sometimes the best ideas need to pass a sniff test of their toughest critics.
- Act. Once you’ve worked out the kinks (understanding this could take an afternoon or years depending on the situation), you’re ready to make your case for change. Find the right folks and present your case. Lean on your research, not your opinions, and if at first you don’t succeed —keep trying, be ready to collaborate and take any small wins you can get until you strike an outcome that solves your problem.
It’s important to remember that choosing to act and be a part of the solution is not the easy route. It will require time and energy, and the solution may very well be you stepping up to volunteer to fill a need. The easy out of venting and placing blame behind a computer screen might bring validation in replies, but there is nothing more validating than knowing you were a small part of a change that makes things a little bit better for the rest of us.