Facebook users recently discovered that they had been unwitting participants in an experiment. As reported in Slate, researchers from Cornell and the University of California, San Francisco, manipulated postings on the social media site to see whether people who received less positive content in their news feeds would respond by writing less positive content themselves.
Unsurprisingly, the study found that negativity makes for more negativity, and positive input inspires a greater outflow of good feeling.
So far, the story has focused on the ethics and legality of experimenting on people without their knowledge. The article, “Facebook’s Unethical Experiment,” concluded: “Over the course of the study, it appears, the social network made some of us happier or sadder than we would otherwise have been. Now it’s made all of us more mistrustful.” But for me, the story points out something that we mostly ignore, despite its considerable effect on our lives: The thought around us is fundamental to our experience.
Students drink more if they think others around them are getting drunk; people gain weight because their friends do. We know that thought forms an atmosphere that we absorb; if you walk into a room where there’s just been an argument, you may feel the tension in the air. But we are rarely proactive about the incoming information and emotion that bombards us.
Perhaps the outrage of those who were made to feel bad through their social media is a wake-up call for the rest of us. Not only should we expect ethical treatment from those we trust, but we should become more alert to the influences around us.
Christian apologist and author C.S. Lewis related the phenomenon of being manipulated by incoming opinions and suggestions to his need for God. “[W]hat I so proudly call ‘Myself’ becomes merely the meeting place for trains of events which I never started and which I cannot stop. What I call ‘My wishes’ become merely the desires thrown up by my physical organism or pumped into me by other men’s thoughts or even suggested to me by devils” (“Mere Christianity”).
Certainly having an always present touchstone to keep connected to the ideas and understanding that we believe to be truly lasting and valuable would be helpful. God, as described by Christian Science Discoverer and Founder Mary Baker Eddy, is that help – and is more practical than just a wishful thought. She defines God as “incorporeal, divine, supreme, infinite Mind, Spirit, Soul, Principle, Life, Truth, Love,” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 465). Mrs. Eddy also notes, “In the Saxon and twenty other tongues good is the term for God” (p. 286).
God is our go-to good – the omnipresence that is there for us whenever we take the time to pray and understand more deeply the true nature of good – the spiritual qualities that have their source in God and make our lives meaningful and worthwhile. The Scriptures say: “Acquaint now thyself with him, and be at peace: thereby good shall come unto thee. Receive, I pray thee, the law from his mouth, and lay up his words in thine heart” (Job 22:21, 22). Keeping awake to our inseparable relationship to God, remembering that the goodness of divine Love is always the reality that governs us, wherever we are, helps us be our true selves more consistently.
The next time we get the feeling that all the evidence is pointing us downward to a place without hope, without good, remember the goodness of God, and let that influence you.