Thursday, January 27, 2011

Care about what people think?

Honestly, we all do. We want people to think we're well adjusted, happy, successful, smart. Some of us settle for normal. Is that a problem?

There is a tension in the Bible on this. Ultimately, we are to care first and foremost what God thinks of us not not strive to please men or earn their admiration. On the other hand, we are to work to keep a good reputation with our neighbors so as to earn a hearing for the gospel (or at a minimum, not cast disrepute on the gospel). Exploring this tension would be a worthy post, but not for today.

Instead, I want to explore how our preoccupation with others opinions of us is a hateful thing. Our caring so much about what others think is not a loving way of relating to others. Let me explain, and to do so I'll end up quoting large chunks from an article I found today about Facebook and how it makes us - especially women, it seems - sadder and lonelier.

A study at Stanford began when a PhD student in psychology noticed that people seemed to feel lousy after spending time on Facebook. Why? He explains, "They were convinced that everyone else was leading a perfect life." The article continues,

"The human habit of overestimating other people's happiness is nothing new, of course. Jordan points to a quote by Montesquieu: 'If we only wanted to be happy it would be easy; but we want to be happier than other people, which is almost always difficult, since we think them happier than they are.' But social networking may be making this tendency worse...

"Facebook is, after all, characterized by the very public curation of one's assets in the form of friends, photos, biographical data, accomplishments, pithy observations, even the books we say we like. Look, we have baked beautiful cookies. We are playing with a new puppy. We are smiling in pictures (or, if we are moody, we are artfully moody.) Blandness will not do, and with some exceptions, sad stuff doesn't make the cut, either. The site's very design—the presence of a "Like" button, without a corresponding "Hate" button—reinforces a kind of upbeat spin doctoring.

"Any parent who has posted photos and videos of her child on Facebook is keenly aware of the resulting disconnect from reality, the way chronicling parenthood this way creates a story line of delightfully misspoken words, adorably worn hats, dancing, blown kisses. Tearful falls and tantrums are rarely recorded, nor are the stretches of pure, mind-blowing tedium. We protect ourselves, and our kids, this way; happiness is impersonal in a way that pain is not. But in the process, we wind up contributing to the illusion that kids are all joy, no effort. " [emphasis added].

Facebook oneupsmanship may have particular implications for women. As Meghan O'Rourke has noted here in Slate, women's happiness has been at an all-time low in recent years...'The increased opportunity to succeed in many dimensions may have led to an increased likelihood in believing that one's life is not measuring up.' ... women may be particularly susceptible to the Facebook illusion. For one thing, the site is inhabited by more women than men, and women users tend to be more active on the site, as Forbes has reported. According to a recent study out of the University of Texas at Austin, while men are more likely to use the site to share items related to the news or current events, women tend to use it to engage in personal communication (posting photos, sharing content "related to friends and family"). This may make it especially hard for women to avoid comparisons that make them miserable. (Last fall, for example, the Washington Post ran a piece about the difficulties of infertile women in shielding themselves from the Facebook crowings of pregnant friends.)

The conclusion to the article, I think, is good:

"Jordan, who is now a postdoctoral fellow studying social psychology at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business, suggests we might do well to consider Facebook profiles as something akin to the airbrushed photos on the covers of women's magazine. No, you will never have those thighs, because nobody has those thighs. You will never be as consistently happy as your Facebook friends, because nobody is that happy. So remember Montesquieu, and, if you're feeling particularly down, use Facebook for its most exalted purpose: finding fat exes."

Ok, so here's my thing. By posting these 'airbrushed' portraits of ourselves, our careers, our marriages, our kids - our whole lives, we are giving our friends the impression that this is the way our life is. And, by so doing, we make others feel bad that their life doesn't measure up. That's not loving. Even if it were try, it would not be good to flaunt all our success in front of people. And it's not true. The cute video I posted of Luke dancing was 1:30. It was fun, adorable, and preceded by an hour or so of refereeing arguments between him and his brothers, frustration at dinner trying to get him to sit in his seat and eat...you get the idea.

I'm not at all saying we should stop posting witty updates or cute photos, but maybe we should offer a little more transparency into the tough parts of life too.

Russell Moore has pointed out how the 'happy-happy' culture of our churches can have the same effect. He argues, "By not speaking, where the Bible speaks, to the full range of human emotion—including loneliness, guilt, desolation, anger, fear, desperation—we only leave our people there, wondering why they just can’t be “Christian” enough to smile through it all." He continues,

"Nobody is as happy as he seems on Facebook. And no one is as “spiritual” as he seems in what we deem as “spiritual” enough for Christian worship. Maybe what we need in our churches [and on our Facebook walls] is more tears, more failure, more confession of sin, more prayers of desperation that are too deep for words.

Maybe then the lonely and the guilty and the desperate among us will see that the gospel has come not for the happy, but for the brokenhearted; not for the well, but for the sick; not for the found, but for the lost.

So don’t worry about those shiny, happy people on Facebook. They need comfort, and deliverance, as much as you do. And, more importantly, let’s stop being those shiny, happy people when we gather in worship. Let’s not be embarrassed to shout for joy, and let’s not be embarrassed to weep in sorrow. Let’s train ourselves not for spin control, but for prayer, for repentance, for joy."

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is an excellent post David!! THANK YOU.

Joan Kirk

Anonymous said...

I mean Dan!!