I had quite the interesting experience last week. As you may have heard, February 27th was anti-bullying day. As this day had received much publicity, it was obviously a fairly strong presence on social network sites like Facebook and Twitter. As I scrolled through my Facebook feed, noticing the myriad of posts speaking of respect and dignity, care and love, I noticed one of these annoying little puzzles imbedded amongst them. You know the ones; it may be a diagram of various interlocking squares where you are asked to ascertain the total number of squares; 0r possibly there is a math equation that you must answer – something like” 1+5=12; 2+10=24; 3+15=30; 5+25=?”
At first glance, these are nothing but silly little mind teasers designed to tickle the intellect. Yet what disturbs me about these puzzles is the tag that occurs at beginning of the challenge: “92% of people failed to answer this correctly. Can you get it right?” Subtext: Are you as dumb as everyone else, or part of the intelligent elite?
See, these puzzles create a hurtful chasm between those who answer ‘correctly’ and those who don’t. It creates a system which advertises a certain class of prideful braggarts and puts down those who fall beneath that criterion. Those posting the correct answer are given the right to mock those who get it wrong. For example, in the comments of the puzzle that sparked this post, one person wrote; “LOL, it’s 60 . . . so many dumb kids around.” Another posted; “30 you dummies! All the other answers are wrong.” Still another; “If you don’t come up with 60, get the F*** back to school!” These puzzles do nothing more than create a social system where people are separated into two specific groups. The message is clear: those finding the right answer are the cream of the crop, more intelligent than 92% of their peers; the highest echelon of Facebook puzzlers. Those who get it wrong? Well, they are just stupid.
Unfortunately, the correct answer is never given by the person creating the puzzle. As thousands upon thousands post their answers, more and more insults are heaped upon those who get the answer wrong – as we have defined it. Thus, we set ourselves up as the bastions of correctness, and cursed be they who do not measure up. One must question the intent of these puzzles; are they designed to educate or to ridicule?
For example, one puzzle presents a jumble of letters and encourages someone to write the first word they see. Of course, there are positive words like “Courage”, “Love”, and “Family.” Yet interestingly enough, the letters “FUK” are strategically placed within the puzzle. Obviously, the intent is for these letters to be one of the first things that one notices. Although not a word itself, your mind immediately understands the suggestion. Thus, an inherent mockery is then built into this puzzle, whereby those who comment with the word “Love” are set up as morally superior than those who see something more derogatory.
What sits uncomfortably with me about these puzzles is the boastful elitism they create. This became clear to me when I saw the puzzle next to an anti-bullying post. The focus for anti-bullying day is respect and dignity of all people regardless of popularity, athleticism, or attractiveness. Facebook Puzzles should not be a tool deny one’s dignity due to a percieved lack of intelligence or mental ability. Sure in any puzzle there has to be a right or wrong answer, but vilifying and mocking those who get the answer wrong is degrading and damaging. We would not stand for this in a classroom, why stand for it on Facebook? Frankly, it amounts to intellectual bullying. Whenever we point attention to someone’s inabilities or mistakes in an air of arrogant mockery, we essentially strip them of their identity as a child of God. We declare that they are less than we are, and when we do that we do not only mock them, but the God who is their creator and redeemer.
As people of faith, we are to care about the dignity of all people. We are called to hold before us the fundamental truth that we are all created in the image of God; we are all people for whom the love of God is so strong that he sent his son as a ransom. This truth runs the course of every corner of our theology, and so it is to run the course of every activity of our lives just as much. We cannot deny someone’s value to God, or to each other, simply because they get a question wrong on Facebook quiz. Failing to count one square, or notice that the 4 is missing in the above equations does not mean one darn thing. It is not a sign of a lack of intelligence, or smarts, or foresightedness. And sure as anything, it is not a reason to boast over our own ability and intellectual prowess.
It is, after all, just an annoying Facebook puzzle.
Regardless of what the statistics say, I am not of the 92%. Nor am I of the 8%. I am of the 100%, and so are you. We all fall short. We all mess up. We all make mistakes and misjudgments. We are all in the exact same boat, and that’s ok. For as scripture reminds us, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: Let all who boast, boast in the Lord.” (1st Corinthians 1:27-31)