September 9, 2011

Twenty Something / Christina Capecchi

Gold stars, blue ribbons and Facebook likes

My friend is blogging again after a four-month hiatus. “In the last week, two people have asked me about this little blog of mine and, because my ego is easily stroked,” she wrote, “I’m back.”

Another friend gave up blogging for Lent, and voiced her anxiety the first week of Easter, back at her keyboard: “So I sat down to write a blog post this morning and saw that my Blogspot followers went down overnight. Unable to help myself [and yet, knowing better], I clicked over to Google Reader and saw that over there, too, I was down by two. Was it something I said or something I didn’t? Am I too fluffy? Offensive? Boring? Fat?”

That’s the trouble with social media. They have created more ways to chase after approval and more ways to fall short of it. We count friends and fans and followers—none of which live up to the real-life definitions. We can see where they live, how they found us and whether they return.

We are still seeking the gold stars dispensed in grade school, now in electronic form—comments and tweets, LinkedIn recommendations, Facebook likes, Flickr views. A click of a mouse and—presto!—a judgment cast globally. Laptop turned voting booth.

We become politicians, campaigning unceasingly and claiming all the credit.

September’s back-to-school cycle heightens the pressure to perform, to make more friends and earn better grades. That is what makes this month’s Sunday Gospels so challenging and well timed.

St. Matthew understands how we operate, keeping score and holding grudges. Change the setting of his parables from vineyard to boardroom, and you see how little has changed. We vent to others before addressing the offender—Sept. 4. We accept forgiveness that we don’t extend—Sept. 11. We begrudge co-workers who show up late—Sept. 18. We agree to tasks that we don’t perform—Sept. 25.

It happens in the classroom and in Congress. And it happens in families. We watch siblings receive credit—forgiven debts, homecoming parties, wedding gifts—and we wonder, “Will I be granted the same benefits when it’s my turn? Will the well run dry?”

There’s only one baby, for example, that turns parents into grandparents, and the other siblings see all the wet kisses, the gushing superlatives, the free baby-sitting and the singular adoration.

The siblings who are first to parent also worry, whispering their own silly fears. Will my child enjoy the same affection when a new grandbaby arrives?

We are all operating on a false notion, bending to the smallest, saddest portrait of humanity.

We need to hear the landowner’s question in the Gospel of St. Matthew: “Are you envious because I am generous?” (Mt 20:15).

The human heart is not a trophy case with limited shelf space. It’s not a bank account that runs out after too many withdrawals. Love exists in infinite supply.

We have elastic hearts. There is always more to give.

Deep down, we know this truth, but sometimes we need reminding. So just think of Grandma. Each additional grandchild brings her more joy, which warms everyone. Generosity begets generosity. A heart stretched by one act of charity is open wider for the next opportunity.

When we throw away the scorecards, our humanity gives way to holiness. We celebrate the divine love that encircles us.

(Christina Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minn. She can be reached at

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