The Good, Bad, and Ugly

Last week I found a photo on Facebook of the nun that taught (and terrorized) my grammar school. For years my husband had heard the legendary tales of Sr. Mary Margaret (name changed) and her ruler that had whacked my legs on more than one occasion for crossing my feet at the ankles while I was sitting in my desk in 6th grade.

To say she was “old school“ would be an understatement. I remember at the start of every nine weeks her ritual of rearranging the seating chart according to each child’s grade point average, which she announced to the entire class. Apparently, she felt that public humiliation was a good motivator. It worked on me. I had the highest GPA in the class, and I was perpetually terrified of her.

I did my best to please her. I volunteered to do the liturgical readings and bring up the offerings during Mass. I got to school early to say the Rosary with her and the rest of my petrified classmates seeking brownie points. And when she announced at the end of the school year that she would be leaving for Chile to become a missionary and hopefully a Martyr for Christ, I wished her good luck and much success! (My mom was mortified.)

But, I did learn a lot in her class. And in retrospect, I truly believe she was well-intentioned.

On the Facebook posting under her photo, were over 200 comments from former students ranting about the mental and physical horrors they survived under Sr. Mary Margaret. At first the comments were funny lighthearted jabs at a person who in her time (and even more so now) was almost a caricature of herself—an exaggerated distortion of the truth built over years of childhood fears and stories passed down from one grammar school class to the next.

Then, the comments turned ugly. Cringe-worthy ugly. And I thought, “Wow. Is this cyber-bullying? Cyber-bullying by middle-aged adults? Or is this more like a group online therapy session with people venting and commiserating? Or is this the equivalent to giving a retired teacher an extremely bad Yelp review? And if it is, why now? What’s the point?”

This lead me to rethink my feelings toward Facebook and social media in general. Here is my breakdown of the pros and cons of this particular form of social media:

Pro: Facebook is great for keeping in touch with old friends that would have otherwise fallen off your radar never to be heard from again.

Con: Facebook can become a trap from keeping you from moving forward in your life. Continually reliving the “glory days” from the past stops you from fully living in the present.

Pro: It’s an online record documenting the best parts of your life in photos and words.

Con: It’s not real. Most people only show the very best moments of their life online—overseas trips, fancy mansions and cars purchased, the gourmet meal they cooked from scratch, their perfect children’s brilliant achievements, etc. This skewed view of other’s lives can lead to a very depressing (and inaccurate) lifestyle comparison. “Do they have it better than me? Are they happier? Healthier? Having more fun?“

Pro: It can be a huge support system when needed. I’ve seen many prayer requests go out during difficult times and friends quickly rally to show their support.

Con: Facebook posts can be wielded as an abusive tool to cut down and humiliate others. And the reach is enormous. Fortunately, you can “de-friend” people who haven’t learned how to play nice with others.

I guess in the end, it all comes down to the individual.

As for “Sr. Mary Margaret”, while I still disagree that french kissing is a “Mortal Sin”, I whole-heartedly agree with the following Facebook post that came to your defense:

“She did have a message, not always perfectly delivered, but who among us is perfect. She was committed, and devoted, and carried a lot of lasting important ideas and approaches to living.“

Thank you for being my teacher. I wish you well.

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