Poke, Like…Sympathize?

Facebook engineers discussed a previously developed “Sympathize” button to add to the ubiquitous “Like” button with which we’re all familiar. Isn’t it about time we have an option other than “Like” for maintaining our social relationships? For years Facebook’s Like button has performed much more for our online lives than its simple name implies. For example, I Like funny posts because I share in the humor. I may Like a friend’s article because I agree with what’s been said. I even continue to Like all the recipes my grandma posts despite her constant requests to play Candy Crush Saga, which make me want to quit Facebook for good.

There are many times, however, when clicking the Like button just doesn’t feel right. I don’t want to like my friend’s rough day or the passing of a loved one. I don’t want to Like another person’s illness or the embarrassing story they chose to share with the world. It’s in these moments that the Like button is called to do much more than portray a mutual feeling of likability—it’s a gesture of affirmation. While I don’t want to Like these posts, I do want my friend to know that I’ve read, I’ve listened, and I care. I Like my friends’ posts because I want to affirm their lived experience, whether I agree or not, whether I laugh or not, or whether I even like it or not.

Sadly, the Like button also allows me to (meagerly) encourage a friend without actually having to engage in an authentic relationship. It’s really just as much about me as it is about the author of the post. Just as I am apt to give a dollar to a homeless man so I can pat my back for the good deed done, I click the Like button to affirm myself in my ability to engage in and maintain healthy social relationships.

Perhaps we do need a Sympathize button to share in one another’s griefs, disappointments, and frustrations. While it is encouraging that Facebook recognizes our lives cannot be fully encapsulated by a Like, I can’t help but feel that a Sympathize button would potentially fool us into thinking we’ve entered the suffering of others when all we’ve done is press a button and kept our distance. The option to click Sympathize when a friend is going through a trying time or grieving a loss is not the same as bearing one another’s burdens in a real and tangible way.

Believers in Christ are called to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. Clicking Like or Sympathize trivializes the gift of community that Jesus has given to us in His Church. How much sympathy does a click even give? We are called to bleed-out for our brothers and sisters as we sacrificially encourage and pray for each other and carry one another’s burdens. Some of that is enhanced by our social networking, to be sure. But Christianity cannot be practiced in its fullness only through a social network, and we cannot honestly sustain healthy relationships with the click of a button. Whether Facebook grants me the option to Sympathize or not, my obligation—and my honor—is to enter into the lives of those who suffer in a real and tangible way, to draw near as Jesus does.