Kids have a way of humbling you in front of other people, don’t they? Parents never forget some of those red-faced moments. Like the time when Zoë told someone I barely knew that, ‘Every time mummy gets on the scales she is heavier,’ or blurted out to a crèche volunteer, ‘You couldn’t go anywhere near our car, it’s full of dirt.’ Both statements were true at the time, of course, but definitely not truths I wanted all to hear!
It’s well-known that young children have no filter. Filtering our thoughts and opinions before we say them out loud is something we learn to do as we grow up. Not enough sometimes; a little too well other times. Yet just as we learn to hold back comments that might hurt people as we get older, somehow at the same time we become accustomed to hiding much of our true selves from those around us.
Bill and I watched ‘The Social Dilemma’ recently. It’s a documentary about the how social media manipulates human psychology – including how using it contributes to poor self esteem, anxiety and depression. I tell you, it was pretty concerning, as well as thought-provoking.
One of the problems with social media for mental health is the pressure to present our best selves online. The best of our pictures, angles, memories, family activities – you name it. Let’s be honest – it’s tempting for all of us to present the world with an unrealistic picture of what we look and live like.
But when you’re living a ‘filtered’ life, how much of yourself are you actually letting people see? Who are you when no one is looking? And how much of a difference is there between the two? Everyone has struggles, problems, flaws, hurts and insecurities. We don’t need to share them all with the world, but neither should we pretend we have it all together!
And here’s why:
We are made to be ‘instruments’ not ‘ornaments’
True impact only comes when our motivation is to become an instrument for others’ flourishing, instead of just an ornament for their admiration.
Think about it; if our public persona only ever includes idyllic family photos, sparkling surfaces, glamorous achievements and flawless complexions, what effect does this have on those looking on? They may admire us, but is the person they are admiring even real? And are we impacting them for good, or simply perpetuating a destructive cycle of comparison and inauthenticity?
Some of the most impactful people on social media are those who began their journey seeking to encourage, to comfort and to build others up by bringing a bit of reality to online platforms.
Take Kristina Kuzmik, for instance. After moving to America from a war-torn Croatia and facing divorce, single-parenting, poverty and depression, she found herself wanting to provide the support for others she so desperately needed during those challenges. She’s now a worldwide icon of real-life motherhood; but she has never strayed from her core motivation: to be an instrument of encouragement.
So a good question to ask ourselves before we post something online might be, ‘Is this purely ornamental, or could it impact someone for good?’ If it’s more often the former than the latter, we may need to click the #unfilter button for a time.
We are made for connection above impression
I have never felt more deeply connected to my husband than after I had major surgery. It was far from glamorous for us both, I can tell you. On one level, I found the vulnerability of not being able to shower myself or dry my own hair really difficult; but on another, it was deeply intimate and precious. As I learned to receive support from him in my helplessness, we bonded on a richer level than ever before.
When you sacrifice your desire to make a great impression and replace that with true connection, nothing can replace the level of relationship you get to have with people. When you allow them into the unvarnished world of you – with all your fears and flaws – and they still choose to love you and draw close, it’s the most beautiful thing. Think about it, if people – even your family – think you’re self-sufficient, you only ever give them the opportunity to love you from a distance.
I love my friends who are open about when they get it wrong. Shared stories about parenting fails, work blunders, and relational mistakes bring us closer together. I want to spend time with them, because there’s not this pressure to have it all together. It’s comfortable. It’s natural. It’s deep. It’s liberating.
Connection always involves vulnerability. It’s not comfortable, and it can result in hurt if you are rejected as a result of being yourself. But we owe it to others, and we owe it to ourselves not to pretend. What’s the point in being loved, if you’re being loved for something you are not? But when you’re loved exactly as you are, and you seek to do the same for others – now that’s something truly special.
We are made for service, not self-promotion
One of the questions I love to hear my work colleagues ask is, ‘How can we better serve our users?’ It may be hard to believe, but they actually mean it. That really is their primary focus. And when that’s the pervasive attitude in a company, any marketing strategy becomes more about benefitting the people they are reaching, than earning prestige or acclaim.
What a rare ethos in a world that is so often too interested in getting ahead! It’s counter-cultural, but incredibly powerful. And it’s the way we are supposed to live. Consider the fact that the Creator of the universe chose to come to us as a humble servant. Paul tells us in Philippians to ‘Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.’ And as John Maxwell says, “The best place for a leader isn’t always the top position. It isn’t the most prominent or powerful place. It’s the place where he or she can serve the best and add the most value to other people.”
What would happen if we focused less on the amount of likes we get, and more on the value we could add to others’ lives? How would our ‘timelines’ look? What would we post about? What filters would we remove?
Maybe we can redeem the ‘social media dilemma’ after all – if we choose to ditch superficial edits and live a #nofilter life. If we seek to become an instrument of healing over an ornament for admiration. If we invest more in unvarnished connection than we do in maintaining a good impression. If we spend more time in service than in self-promotion.
The question is not ‘can we?’ – but ‘will we?’