Like Me

A couple of years ago, I was at a party when one of my friends introduced me to a woman she’d known for years.  At first the woman was quite friendly as we exchanged the kind of pleasantries that people do when they first meet.  But as our conversation continued,  she became cool, and then almost hostile, and I had no idea why.  Later, I went over our conversation several times in my head, but I still wasn’t sure just exactly what I said that turned her off so completely.  I’m not going to lie, the encounter kind of bothered me for several days afterwards.

More recently, I loaned a book by one of my favorite authors to a good friend, thinking she would enjoy it as much as I did.  But she gave it back a few weeks later, saying that she found the book so boring that she didn’t even manage to finish it.  I was surprised by her response, and I admit, a little bit hurt.

It’s so easy to say that we don’t care what other people think about us, but at times it is so very hard to really and truly not care.  Especially when we’re trying our best to be nice, or offering up something that we really value for someone else’s opinion.  A friend who taught art classes at a local college once told me the hardest part of her job was getting her students past the paralyzing fear of putting their best work “out there” for other people to see and judge.  My guess is almost all creative people can relate to that particular fear.

Personally, I have always struggled with my need for the approval of others.  Sadly, social media doesn’t help, with it’s little “like” button that lets us know just exactly how many others approve of whatever we’ve been brave enough to share.  And the only downside to blogging is the stat page, which makes it all too easy to judge how well we wrote a particular post by the number of views it received on any given day.  So I have to be intentional about trusting my own judgement and not falling into the trap of thinking that whatever (and whomever) happens to be the most popular is automatically the best.

We are all individuals with our own tastes, our own opinions and our own unique way of looking at the world.  That means we aren’t always going to get the encouragement and the positive affirmations from other people that we would like, even when we are offering the very best we have to give.   And in order to be truly happy, we have to learn to live with that.

I honestly think that the one of the most important lessons we can learn in this life is to trust ourselves to know what is, and isn’t, best for us.  Because the important thing isn’t how many people “like” us or our work.  The important thing is whether or not we like ourselves.

Look At Me!

I was taking a walk in my neighborhood a couple of weeks ago when I saw a group of boys ahead of me, playing in the street on their skateboards.  They were gathered at the top of a rather steep hill, daring each other to be the first to go down.  As I got closer, I debated whether or not I should warn them that I thought the incline was too steep for skateboarding.  I was a stranger to these boys, and I had no idea whether they would listen to me or not, or how they would react to my interference.  Before I could make up my mind, the smallest of them pushed off down the hill, gathering speed as he went.  Predictably, he wiped out about half-way down, although he did manage to veer to the left so that he fell onto the grass rather than the asphalt.  The other boys ran to him, and after making sure he was unharmed, one of them exclaimed, “Wow, I wish I had taped that!  I bet it would get about a million hits on YouTube!”

I supposed I shouldn’t have been shocked by that remark.  After all, these boys have been raised in the era of social media, where people think nothing of posting almost every aspect of their personal lives on the internet, and then sit back to see how many “views” and “likes” each post generates.  So it’s probably only natural that their main reaction to their friend’s accident should be to post it for the entertainment of others.  But I still found it a bit unsettling.

Maybe it’s because I’m mostly an introvert who doesn’t really like to be the center of attention, but I don’t think it’s healthy when people begin to live their lives as if they are constantly on stage.  I don’t think that when something happens to us, our first thought should be that it would make a popular post.  I think that most of the time, we should be content to simply live our life without the need to show it to other people.  (Personally, I don’t want to see a posting of a picture of anyone’s meal, unless it is accompanied by the sincere words, “This tastes great, and if you want me to, I’ll bring you some immediately!”)

Social media can be a great tool for staying in touch with faraway friends and relatives, for getting important information out quickly to those who need to know it, and even for posting those special moments that are truly meant to be shared.  But if we share too much, too often, we run the risk of living our lives as if we are constantly seeking the approval of others for almost everything thing we do, say and believe.  And call me old-fashioned, but I just don’t think that’s a good thing.

Missed Connections

Heather and II have to admit that I have a love/hate relationship with social media.  On the one hand, I have reconnected with many old friends since I joined Facebook several years ago, and I love seeing what people I haven’t talked to in decades are doing these days.  It’s great to get to catch up with old friends, to share memories, and to see photos of their families.  I no longer have to worry about forgetting most people’s birthdays, because Facebook is always there to remind me.  I have friends who brag about not being on Facebook, and while I understand why they choose not to participate, I sometimes wonder if they really know what they are missing.

On the other hand, I am still an introvert who needs a certain level of privacy to feel comfortable, and I’m not exactly a master of new technology.  I have a Facebook page, but I don’t have a Twitter account, and I’m not even sure what Instagram is.  In the huge pool of social media, I am definitely staying in the shallow water.

But the real problem I have with social media is with its limitations, and I worry about whether we always remember that a Facebook friend is not the same thing as a real friend, and that a “tweet” will never be a substitute for a real conversation.  On social media, we post about what we are doing, where we are, who we are with, and (oddly enough) even what we are eating.  We share photos of our family and friends, our vacations, or a project that we’ve completed, and that’s all just fine.  But the one thing that I have never seen posted (and I would bet that it’s rarely, if ever, tweeted) is the simple question, “How are you doing?”

And that, to my mind, is the difference between friendship and communication in social media, and friendship and communication in real life.  Social media is all about   showcasing ourselves, and usually in the best possible light.  Real-life friendships require true connections, with the chance to tell each other the hard stuff…our self-doubts, our struggles, our not-so-broadcastable moments.  Real communication involves listening as well as talking, with an honest and open exchange of ideas, and the chance to learn from each other.  Most of the back and forth exchanges I see on Facebook involve hateful arguments about politics and religion, and I never see any evidence that the people writing those comments are actually listening to each other, much less caring about each other.

I think that social media is, by its very nature, usually a bit superficial, and that’s okay.  There’s nothing wrong with the casual connections we form there, the chance to catch up with faraway friends, and the chance to quickly and easily keep track of each other.  And sometimes social media is used to tell bad news and to request the prayers and support that help so much during these dark times.   But it will never be a substitute for one-on-one communication, or the real friendships and the deeper, more personal relationships that we all need, and I think it’s important that we remember that.

In the real world, the quality of the friendship matters so much more than the numbers of friends we have, and real communication is never like a Facebook post that is judged by how many “likes” it gets.  Social media definitely has its place, but in my opinion, it also needs to be kept in its place.  And that place should never be center stage.