Love In the Age of Granfalloons

I spend entirely too much time on Facebook. I can’t resist that delicious question—”What’s on your mind today?”—and neither can my Facebook friends.

As a result, and through the millions of responses generated by that very innocent question in an alarmingly short period of time, my smiling, fun-loving friends often devolve into bands of fire-breathing name-calling trolls, hurling insults and epithets at one another over the comforting quasi-safety of cyber-space.

A granfalloon, as defined by the coiner of the term, Kurt Vonnegut, in his 1963 novel, Cat’s Cradle, is “a proud and meaningless association of human beings.”

But then, what are friends for?

My Facebook brothers and sisters have become tribes, or more precisely, granfalloons. A granfalloon as defined by the coiner of the term, Kurt Vonnegut, in his 1963 novel, Cat’s Cradle, is “a proud and meaningless association of human beings.” Vonnegut offers as examples of granfalloons, “the Communist Party, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the General Electric Company—and any nation, anytime, anywhere.”

Granfalloons are groups, in other words, that are based on some shared opinion or some fabricated purpose or an accident of shared location or of birth. The common denominator of all granfalloons is the presence of an Enemy, something or someone to hate without question or pause. You can tell a true group, as opposed to a granfalloon, because a hated enemy is not essential to it. Instead, it owes its existence to a clearly defined purpose that benefits the greatest good for the greatest number. It may be targeted for hate by a granfalloon—or six—but that makes it no less a true group.

Facebook and other social media have become a reflection of our world of cliques and echo chambers, of tribes, suspicion and hate: granfalloons all. Browse through your Facebook newsfeed and behold the generalities: “Democrats are snowflakes.” “Republicans are cold-hearted.” “Muslims are dangerous.” “Foreigners are criminals.” “Satanists are devil-worshippers” (well, actually that’s true: Satanists ARE devil-worshippers, but I bet there are some nice devil-worshippers, once you get to know them).

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama
(Photograph by Darko Sikman, MyShot)

In a recent op-ed for The Washington Post, the Dalai Lama (yes, the Dalai Lama) wrote that we can all break the cycle of hatred by responding to an attack with warmth and generosity, “disarming your attacker with forbearance. Overhear someone make a snide remark about people who think as you do? Respond with kindness. Want to say something insulting about people who disagree with you? Take a breath and show generosity, instead.”

Christians will recognize this practice as “Love your enemy.” Buddhists will recognize it as “Overcome thoughts of anger.” Scientologists will recognize it as “Don’t succumb to invitations to hate.”

As a member of the human race (NOT a granfalloon, I might add), you have this power: to NOT respond to contempt with contempt, to NOT lump people who disagree with you or who are different from you into some artificial target for brick-bats and custard pies.

And what’s cool is that, just as being nasty can be contagious, so can being generous. Show a warm-hearted response once, twice, thrice, and you’ll start getting warm-hearted responses back. And so the Kindness Movement begins.

So now. if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go on Facebook to say something sincerely nice, warm-hearted and magnanimous to the moronic putz who just sent me that stupid meme.

THAT’LL show him!

Author

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