I have a question. A serious and honest one.


Are we losing our collective mind?


A virus is defined as “a small, infectious agent that replicates only inside of living cells and other organisms.” (Wikipedia).


For about the millionth week in a row, I see infection as I am scrolling my facebook feed, checking my top 5 news sites, and reading blogs. Sometimes I feel like I’m in an episode of The Walking Dead, but instead of a virus causing physical zombie symptoms, there are viruses out there causing zombie-like symptoms of the mind.

Ideas “go viral.” There is a huge audience to be had on social media, and you don’t have to have any qualifications to give your opinion. Dozens, hundreds, thousands, and then millions of people latch onto an idea that came out of nowhere at the speed of light.


Let’s just take the last couple of months:

The Starbucks red-cup debacle

Syrian refugees, refugees vs. veterans


Mass shootings

Donald Trump’s candidacy

Black Lives Matter/All Lives Matter


These are just the stories I can name off the top of my head, because for days, it’s all anyone could post or talk about on social media.


I am convinced that sociologists will look back on this period of human history, and study the phenomenon known as “viral stories.” They will write papers on how the speed of information actually affected the neurons in our brains, and how it altered the way we process information forever.


Ideas spread like wildfire. Very few people question them; everyone just adds their voice to the cacophony. Can we be infected by mass hysteria? Mass anger? Mass indifference? How do ideas spread? Why does it seem like we’re at a tipping point, where the once unthinkable idea of a “school shooting” is now an every other day occurrence?


You may mock my obsession with The Walking Dead, but I think it is an accurate representation of our country. It asks the questions: What happens when society breaks down? What happens when the laws and social norms that have governed us for centuries no longer work? What happens when people are afraid and in survival-mode? Are there rules, anymore? When I’m watching it, I often think, “Why doesn’t everyone just give up? It’s obvious the human race is going to be obliterated. Why do they keep fighting and running?”


Sadly, I found myself thinking the same thing this morning after reading about the San Bernadino shootings. I found myself wondering if this is the new normal; that the viral “idea” of a mass shooting has infected the brains of so many people, that it has unalterably changed the course of American history. (Read this fascinating and informative article on How School Shootings Spread .)


I don’t have the answers. I’m scared and sad, too.


What I do have is a challenge to open our eyes to how we are processing information, deciding who to vote for, and how we are making decisions. There are a few things to be aware of and consider:


~~We are the pawns of a 24-hour news cycle, whose number one job is to spread fear. We are designed by nature to be hyper-aware of anything that threatens us. The news is designed to sell advertisements and make money. CNN, NBC, FOX, etc…are they there because they really care about us? Nope. They are corporations with bottom lines to watch. News anchors were quoted as calling yesterday’s shootings “an amazing piece of television.”


~~We are embarrassingly uneducated about the topics we are making decisions on and posting about. This feeds the hysteria and makes bad or incomplete ideas go viral. Reading our “pet” news channel’s article about a certain topic does not make us educated. We often need to find numerous news sources, independent and non-profit if possible, and try to decide for ourselves. We need to THINK.


~~Often, the only way to educate ourselves is to go directly to the source: volunteer to work a campaign, work at a refugee center, do some real research about what psychologists are saying about mass shootings. We need to get in the middle of the issue before pronouncing our opinion.


~~We need to be aware what is happening on social media, and work with all of the power in our brains to fight against it. I’m guilty of it: sheer laziness. It’s much easier to read a blurb and spout off an opinion than to think for myself. We get drawn into the hubbub and think it’s our duty to give our own opinion about it. Generally speaking, our opinion or snotty meme or rant is not going to change a single person’s mind. The ones who already agree with us will applaud, the ones who don’t will be offended and write us off. Our voice will only trickle into the larger river of voices, which before long is raging downstream, taking out innocent people.



~~We need to realize that if an idea seems too good to be true, it probably is. There are no simple answers to complex questions like gun control, immigration, or the refugee crisis. If someone can sum up an entire political view on a subject with a two-lined meme, be critical. Be suspicious. Use your mind. Look, I get it. We’re confused and overwhelmed with information. But we cannot be sucked into the idea that there are simple solutions to complex questions.


~~I may be a Pollyanna (I’ve been accused of that, and worse), but we need more good ideas to go viral. This is really difficult. Not only are we fighting an uphill battle against news cycles and cynicism, we are fighting the human instinct to surround and protect our own. But I honestly believe that goodness has the ability to be as viral as fear. I’m not talking about sharing the latest cute kitten video, although I think those things can serve as a sort of “pressure release valve.” I’m talking about infecting the minds of those around us with true goodness. An example off the top of my mind is the work of Malala. She, as an 18 year old, is changing the world with her ideas and tireless work in educating girls in developing countries.


Are we losing our collective minds? I honestly think, yes. But, we don’t have to give up or give in to the madness. We still have the ability to be thoughtful, knowledgeable individuals. We just need to fight the urge to rush and we need to slow down our minds. We need to use whatever amount of time it takes to think of solutions. Adding our voice into a fray that’s, well, fraying, is not helping.


“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” –H.L. Mencken