I was at church on Sunday and the priest’s homily was talking about how self-centered our current society is.
While I certainly do NOT disagree with him as a whole (honestly, who could deny that we are a generation of narcissists?) I do disagree with some of his thoughts about social media and selfies in our culture.
Now, I should preface this by saying that, when it comes to social media, I’m, like… all in.
I’m a frequent poster, and an over-sharer. An open book. I like to share photos of my dogs, inspirational quotes, and yes, sometimes, photos of my outfits. I can see where the latter is vain, and, the same goes for the days where I am occasionally “feeling the glam” and want to take a selfie if my hair or makeup are particularly on-point. Those things can be perceived as sinful or selfish, and I get that. More on this later.
(*Note: I have admitted in my books where I often ego-check myself that I may take too much pride in appearance, or place too much value upon it. I can be vain, but not shallow. And I believe there is a difference. But that’s neither here nor there … we’re all flawed, right?)
Anyway … the priest also said he didn’t understand why people “checked in” at restaurants, or shared what they were watching, eating, or reading. He said it was self-centered, and reflected a “me, me, me” culture.
Here’s where I started to disagree with him.
The gospel he read was about selflessly inviting the less fortunate, the lonely, or the crippled to our table. He alluded to the fact that many in our society don’t do that, that we only form relationships when we get something in return or it is beneficial to us. And somehow he tied that into selfies and social media.
So here’s my take on it.
If we’re talking about bringing the less fortunate to our proverbial tables, I mean … okay. How do I explain this? For example, I’ve served the homeless and needy in many capacities, and I do not write a blog post every time I do it, or “check in” at the food bank, or take a selfie with a homeless veteran. Nor would I ever consider doing so. That would be wrong, and that would be self-serving, self-seeking, and vapid — exactly what he was talking about. I’m not going to screenshot donations I’ve made to charities online, or post an Instagram or Snapchat of me dropping off clothes to donate. I’m not going to exploit people, or use ministry work or acts of service for personal gains.
But … it’s about discernment.
In my humble opinion — and I say humble, because I know I could be wrong: sometimes, in the right context and with the right intentions, these types of things are okay to post.
Because, let’s face it: for lack of a better term, I “exploit” my own illnesses and my own “pet” causes all the time. I figure, I’ve got to play the hand I’ve been dealt (the whole “lemons into lemonade” thing,”) and so, I may, at times, use my own health issues to my benefit. Hey, they aren’t going anywhere, so I may as well help people while learning to cope myself, no? I may as well use my problems as a catalyst for philanthropy, awareness, and social change. And I use social media to do that.
Perhaps I’m too public, but how else can I bring awareness to my causes?
Listen, I get it. I do know we are to give or serve without expecting praise or applause, but what about if our actions inspire others to do the same, or uplift someone who was going through something, and it touched them? What if it causes a chain reaction of “paying it forward” or random acts of kindness?
If I post a photo of a basket that I donated to a cancer center in my grandfather’s memory, or one that I donated to a children’s hospital in memory of a family friend, to me, I am honoring them, and their families, and what they went through, and I am honoring others who are fighting the same fight. I want them to know that I care. I could do it privately or anonymously, but I want people to see things like that and know that they can reach out to me personally if they need something, or if they want to know how to do something similar. Or even if they just want to talk!
And maybe someone on social media will see my post and get the idea to do the same. Maybe it will hit home for them because they too battled cancer (or rheumatoid arthritis, or whatever,) and they are touched by it and want to connect with someone who also had some kind of personal connection.
It isn’t for congratulations or a pat on the back … but is the public promotion of “doing good” or “giving back” such a bad concept? Is it bad or sinful or blasphemous to want to foster human connection, charity, and decency if we feel called to do so, even if it all begins due to a selfie or silly social media post? Is it sacrilegious or against God’s will to want to encourage people to open their hearts and to give, leading by example? Even if I *get* likes for doing those things, trust me when I say: I’m NOT going out of my way to be philanthropic or do charitable work in order to grow my online following. If that were the goal, there are other less tasteful ways to do it (hi, Kim Kardashian.)
And speaking of my social media following and my posting online: here’s the deal. If posting a photo of myself reading my own book on the beach, or posing next to a sign for an animal charity I care about it is going to get people to buy my book (… about life with illness … that will spread awareness about health issues and that will help certain individuals and certain charities,) then GOOD. If a selfie is going attract attention to health or animal causes that I care about, then AWESOME. If seeing me try to get in shape or even attempt to simply smile through my chronic illnesses makes someone else want to try to do the same, then that’s amazing! 🙂
I think that’s what God would want, and I think that he instills spiritual gifts in all of us. My spiritual gifts, I think, are writing, communicating, empathy, connecting with people, and helping others. Maybe one of my gifts is also using social media, though I doubt that any religious scholars or theologians would agree, lol. But in all seriousness … if I promote this work that I do, using the gifts God gave me, by, say, checking in at a fundraiser or event, or posting a photo of me with a fellow advocate or what have you, then I see it as a part of my purpose.
But I am not by any means egotistical or dumb enough to think that ALL of my social media posts have a greater societal purpose. But they have purpose to me. So in those moments, maybe I am being selfish … and I can own that.
As someone who is sick, I spend a lot of time looking and feeling like crap. I don’t feel that it’s necessarily a bad thing to want to share a photo when I’m actually feeling good for once, or feeling good about myself. I don’t think that it’s bad to want to share a selfie of my husband and I on the beach when we are enjoying a trip together and I am feeling healthy enough and grateful/blessed to be able to do so.
I want to check in when I’m out to dinner with my family, because to me that is documenting a memory, the same way someone in years past would have gone home and written in their diary about it. To me, Facebook and Instagram are just like online scrapbooks — pieces of my life and my interests. If I am well enough to be out enjoying myself, then I have no qualms with posting about it. Not that anyone does care, or should care, but it helps me to feel less isolated and … well, less sick.
I see nothing wrong with capturing moments that make us smile. And if it’s sometimes presented in a way that comes across as self-centered, it’s because some of my posts are preserving those memories or those smiles for me, for the days that I myself need them.
Things that make you smile could be as mundane as, yes, a new pair of leggings with a pattern that we think is fun, or, something as awesome as a selfie in front of the Eiffel Tower. Is that vain, is that bad? I really don’t know. I can’t answer that. Would it be bad if 20 years ago someone else took the photo for me of me standing alone in front of the Eiffel Tower or the Empire State Building? (Note: I’ve never been to the Eiffel tower.) Would it be bad if ten years ago we went to work and told all of our friends what we did over the weekend, where we went, and who we were with? If we had photo albums sitting on our coffee tables and photos adorning the walls of our home, and friends visited and said they liked them, are we being attention-seeking and only wanting their feedback on said photos? If not, then why is it so much more selfish or wrong in the online space where so much of life occurs these days, for better or for worse? (I mean, even some of the strictest churches and religions are starting to get in on the social media action as of late.)
The way people socialize changes over time. This is normal. Maybe not always so healthy, but it is normal.
If our selfies are simply self-taken photos (self-portraits, in some cases,) documenting our own life’s journey, if we are sharing happy memories, if they are boosting the self-esteem of someone who is sick, if they are drawing attention to the work you do or causes you care about, then why are selfies bad?
If someone were to visit my Instagram, they’d see selfies.
Some are pointless.
Some are because I was having a healthy day and wanted to share a smile with the world. Some are because I was excited about a new CD or a new handbag. Some are because I was promoting the work of the Lions Club, WearWoof.org, the Arthritis Foundation, or other health/animal nonprofits. Some are giving shout-outs to doctors or medical centers who have treated me. Some are pics with my husband or friends; most are pics of my pets. And a lot of my posts are Biblical verses, quotes from the Bible, and other faith-based and inspirational or aspirational graphics encouraging peace, love, health, happiness, acceptance, gratitude, self-care, and kindness.
My “table” is, in some ways, a virtual one. I can host the sick, the crippled, the downtrodden, and lonely by having them share in my online communities on Facebook (such as Arthritis Ashley, Rheum to Grow, Ultimate You, and the like.) Sure, I do promote my books, and my essential oils, too, but even those things can help people other than solely myself.
I’m human: I’ve got the shallow, vain, vapid selfies, too. I can admit that. I’m totally a “basic” when it comes to that. But I felt the need so speak out on the other side of the issue, too: that some of us aim to use social media for social good. Not all the time, but part of the time. Maybe even most of the time.
We may post dumb BuzzFeed articles and funny memes to balance out the other stuff, but, at least for me, the “greater good” is often kept in mind: photos that will be treasured by myself, my family, and friends for years to come … links to causes and charities I care about and want to advocate or fundraise for … awareness about the health problems that affect so many including myself and millions of others … quotes that make us smile … memes that are going to motivate, encourage, or inspire … passages from the Bible that make us think or pray.
For every duckface, there is a lot of good being done. Social media can tear people apart (I’ve blogged about the trouble with bullies and trolls,) but it can also bring people together.
If it wasn’t for a silly MySpace selfie back in 2007, I may never have connected with the man who is now my husband and who I think God meant for me. If it wasn’t for social media, members of my church may not have bonded together to send me flowers or come visit me after my brain surgery, and I actually may not have known as much about my church to begin with. If it wasn’t for social media, I may not have raised money for cancer patients or dogs or arthritis. I may not have met one of my best friends or gotten countless professional opportunities. If it wasn’t for social media, I’d feel REALLY ALONE in coping with my multitudinous health issues.
While some of my posts and the posts of many others are self-serving, as nearly everyone’s are, the important thing to remember about social media is that it’s meant to be social.
And social is good.
It could be the next step to having someone join your church, donate to your cause, or become your new best friend. It could be a way to initiate a civic movement that will ignite the hearts and souls of a generation. Social media is also amazing for the ill or disabled who desperately seek to connect with others like themselves who are struggling with health woes. It helps them (us!) to not feel so alone. At times, these folks – myself included – see God in the actions and kind words of others who also may be suffering. And that’s an awesome thing — meeting people who may not otherwise come to your proverbial table. If a selfie or an Instagram post provoked that, I see nothing wrong with it. (But I am not the moral police, and I am not God, and I cannot judge. Just for the record 🙂 )
And to me, if you can bond even further over a shared love for a TV show you mentioned in a status update, a book you tweeted that you are reading, a shared love for animals as evidenced on Snapchat, or a favorite restaurant that you checked in to on Facebook or Foursquare, even better. The landscape of human interaction and how people make friends is changing, and we can help or reach the downtrodden among us even if it is from behind a computer screen. Often times, the relationships formed over the computer can enrich our lives almost as much as “real life” ones, or they can serve different, valuable purposes. I think we just need to be careful to not ONLY live behind the screen. We do still have to be sure to get out there into the real world, to not become absorbed by social media and caught up in a culture of comparison and competition and whose life looks better on Facebook.
I think that social media is fine … wonderful, even … as long as it isn’t taking us away from the things and people that matter most in our lives. We have to stay connected not just to the Internet but to the world around us. Love. Nature. Faith. People.
And I do think that social media at times can even help foster someone’s greater purpose. It may even help to grow empathy and compassion for others, if we use it correctly. There is just so much potential for good.
Listen, I’m not a saint … I’m not even one religion. (I’m two religions. Long story.) But, if nothing else, sometimes (often) people just like to see others smile. 😀 They like to see a nice photo of their friend or friend’s child looking happy. So, for me, selfies are okay.
If you are loving your life and enjoying yourself, then snap away! Not everything is meant to be taken so seriously or judged so harshly. A person can give glory to God and be a decent human being … and still post a photo when their makeup is done nicely or they are at a nice restaurant over the weekend or they got a new pair of shoes that they like or are throwing up a peace sign at a concert.
I’ll wrap this up by saying this: just do you. You know in your gut what is right. Don’t worry about critics: we all have them, and the more active we are on social media, the more haters we encounter. Those of us with chronic illness know, too, that the “spoonie” community can be full of trolls, too. So just be careful to not let it get you down. There’s a whole real world out there that we have to live in and experience, that is filter-free and sometimes … just sometimes … without WiFi.
PS: If this topic interests you, I’ve talked about this before, about how posting selfies sometimes relates to my chronic illness. You can read about it more in my blog post Public Selfies and Private Illness, here, and some of my thoughts on Finding Faith in Illness, here.