This post has been a long time coming. It has taken me months, or rather years really, to solidify the swirling thoughts, and tensions that have been bugging me about this very question… can spirituality and social media coexist? And if so, where’s the love?
The reason I have posed this question is because in so many ways I feel they cannot, but on the other hand, I feel that they must.
We live in a world where we’ve chosen social media to be our mode of communication – the mechanism by which we share our thoughts and feelings – who we are and who we want to be. This is a very effective system no doubt, connecting our world unlike ever before, but is it all that we hoped? The problem is that this interaction is complicated, and in so many ways completely against the very nature of being human.
From the beginning of online communication (hello AOL AIM), there have been innate flaws. We engage in conversation with one another, happily typing away and reveling in the use of shorthand and smiley faces, only to come quickly into gross conflict with our best online buddies. Was what they just said meant to be serious or sarcastic? Was the lack of detail in their answer because they are busy, or because they are mad at me? Or even worse, they don’t care and don’t like me at all! These conflicts are a natural outcome of conversation that lacks true human interaction. Without intonation in the voice to be heard, or facial and body expressions to be seen, or basic human energy to be felt, all we are left with is the written word. Yes, the written word can be powerful, but what we know are words that have been stripped down. Broken down to the bare minimum, where true thought and feeling expressed through elaborate description, adjectives, and allegories are often forgotten. As a result, our written words are not communicated properly, often misinterpreted, and fail to get the intended point across, leading to hurt, pain and contention.
This same conflict occurs with the use of social media, but on a much grander scale. Not only are we using the written word, but also photographs – the stories of who we are, or oftentimes, whom we want you to think we are.
In this space, there is so much room for the misinterpretation of our intentions, especially when we are unaware that they might be doing so. But the part that I personally struggle with the most, that which is the biggest root of my internal conflict is that this space naturally creates a platform for judgment. It creates a platform for judgment not only on the part of the viewer/receiver, but also on the part of the creator/giver. And how does it do this?
Firstly, social media is set up in a way that is contradictory. It’s a platform for us to put ourselves out there, without having to really be there. We sit behind our computers and phones, and send a message out to the world. We are not personally there to communicate that message, so just like the issue presented before, the face-to-face human interaction is lacking. Now for all of us introverts, this is a HUGE relief, and a strong reason why this form of communication has become so wide spread. You can say whatever you want, and present whatever you want, without having to do it eye-to-eye. Obviously this is a great pro, but alternatively, it lacks the feeling and energy given and received from human to human connection – con.
When we put ourselves out there, we are reaching out to an audience that we have no direct contact with. For many of us this is a group of relative strangers, with similar interest sure, but for the purposes of knowing their soul and spirit, they are strangers. Therefore, we are completely blind to their background, their challenges and their life story. We cannot feel their energy, read their mood or facial expressions, nor do we have the opportunity to receive any impressions of who they are. As a result, there is a great filter by which others see our words and pictures through. This is a filter that we have no direct control or influence over. So every time we post a picture or words, it is being received through a filter that is not our own, but someone else’s. Meaning that the message received, or really felt, is oftentimes so different than what was intended.
How does this look in the real world? Here is a good example of how it touches me. As part of my Instagram I love to post pictures of the food that I eat. Green smoothies, grain bowls, wildly enormous salads, raw desserts and such. I do this because my intention is to show people how delicious healthy food can be, with the hopes that they are inspired to eat healthy too. While this is my intention, it is frequently received differently. I have friends that will say, “I don’t know how many times I have been sitting down to eat what I thought was a healthy meal, only to see what you’re eating on Instagram. I instantly feel bad, thinking that I should be eating what you’re eating, which is obviously healthier. And I think, God I’m fat, I can never eat healthy enough… What’s wrong with me!”
In this case, this reaction is absolutely not what I had intended, and it pains me that I created this in some way. While I had hoped to uplift, inspire and to motivate a positive change, I instead created self-hate, and feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness. And while this is only one case (and I’m sure there are many positive ones too) it is still a case where my message was wrongly received. One could argue that this was about HER choices, about her reaction to the world (which is most certainly true), but I played a role nonetheless. I think to myself that if only I could’ve been there to have this conversation in person, I might have had the change to influence the outcome somehow – customize the message to her, to what she is going through, to ensure she felt my intent… to read my message as I had truly intended. But because there is nothing there but her own filter, my message did not serve her well. Which is part of my conflict over social media being a chosen platform for communicating with others in a manner that upholds my intentions of love. So it makes me think, how can I make this better? How can I be more authentic, more sensitive, more aware of others?
Now the irony of this past example is that this happens to me too. As it so happens, being a nutritionist does not exempt me from this same experience. On numerous occasions I can remember scrolling through Instagram, coming across glorious, and deeply healthy foods that other people are eating. Oftentimes I save to make for later, but depending on the mood or time, feelings of jealousy and inadequacy arise. Maybe I had been cheating too much, maybe I was on holiday and indulging, or maybe I was just getting lazy, but in any event, my present situation made that post ALL too revealing. And the reason being is that social media seems to act like a mirror. It reflects our own self, our deepest self, that self we often try to hide from, get away from or ignore. It can bring up dark feelings, ones that we don’t like to see, or feelings of a person we don’t want to be. It poses questions, forces us to see something… something that we either choose to explore deeper into, or to turn away from.
Truth be told, my greatest challenge, the time when the mirror is right up to my face is when I am looking at colleagues, people who are in my same space. I see beautiful photography, excellently arranged props, perfectly executed food styling, ideal lightening, the quintessential “healthy” shot, and oftentimes think, “they are so good, I’ll never measure up, I’ll never have that kind of talent…” and so the negative thoughts arise.
The real kicker, the one thing that makes all of this all the more real and relevant, and evident for that matter, is the system by which all social media is measured… likes and follows. This has become our way putting “value” on a person or what that person does. The question that arises in my mind is, what is the purpose of the likes and follows? Sure it definitely has its pros. It helps a business person measure how successful its messages are, how effective the chosen tactics have been, and it gives positive reinforcement, but at the same time, it also wreaks havoc on the ego. It is a constant measure, a concrete, indisputable number of how GOOD you are, how many people “like” you, how talented they think you are, and how much they love, or God forbid HATE what you are doing. It feels like a forum where people have free reign to judge you and your work, and the worst part is that it makes you feel like you NEED their approval, their love, their “likes” and “follows.” So not only are you constantly judging yourself based on these numbers, you are then taking that judgment, and comparing it to how you measure up against others.
Do you have as many followers as other people in your business? Do you get as many likes on your pictures and posts? What do they have that I don’t?
This is the harsh side of social media that I believe we all succumb to no matter how many likes and followers we have. It is basic human nature – question your self-worth based on others – their interaction with you, and to you.
Where does the love live here? …Can it live here?
These are the questions that I constantly ask myself whenever I get into this viscous cycle of negative self-talk in relation to social media. And while I wish it was infrequent, when your business depends on your interaction with social media, it comes up more than you’d like. And while I am writing this, the answer becomes clearer and clearer in some way. My answer is not to turn away, but to stare directly into the face of it. Yes, social media is inherently a space that creates self-reflection, comparison, and possibly (and most often) feelings of jealously, inadequacy, and worthlessness, but isn’t that a gift? By seeing something in ourselves that we don’t like, can’t we choose to explore that? Explore those feelings to see WHY we are feeling. If we can, can we not fix it and eradicate it?
Believe me, this work is not easy, and it is something that I humbly admit I am working on too…. and daily. It is painful and uncomfortable, and it makes us look at parts we don’t want to believe are there, much less feel. The truth is that change is never easy, but it is necessary for spiritual growth, for human growth, to come to know who we REALLY are, and to be who we really WANT to be. While on many days I’d love to cancel all my social media accounts and to throw my phone out the window in order to stop SEEING and FEELING, but I know that I would only be turning away, saying I am not ready for the challenge of growth and change. I would be turning my back to what my soul truly needs and desires, and I would stop helping and inspiring all those who I touch. So perhaps for now I can make perimeters around my social media use, how often I use it, and what I choose to look at until I can come to heal that which is hurting inside. I believe that if we can open up that space and shine some light on it, perhaps social media and spirituality can coexist, and LOVE can be found.
All in all, the world is a perfect representation of the good and bad, the up and down, the positive and negative, and the yin and yang. Social media is no different. For every new “follower,” loving comment, and word of appreciation or gratitude, love and joy is given and received. That’s why we are all moved to be a part of it, right? But perhaps with our new understanding of how WE can be affected by its negatives, we can help to improve the system overall. Be conscious of the words we say and the pictures we post, always be authentic (never create a false image of who you are), reveal our human flaws, and never consciously strive to create jealously or inadequacy in others. If can choose to think beyond our own self and unto others instead, maybe our chosen form of communication can truly be all that we intended.
Thank you for giving me a space free from judgment, and full of love, in which I can share my thoughts. I do hope that you feel safe enough to share your own as well. As I work through this I would love to know your thoughts, experiences and feelings on the matter. I believe that the more open we are, the greater the chance for healing. What do you think? How does LOVE exist in the world of social media? Do you deal with the same challenges that I do?
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Photo credit: Alyssa Smith, Morgan Sessions and Julia Caesar