Thursday, December 19, 2013

An obligatory statement on social media

"Nothing happens by accident; scenarios present themselves and we have the choice of which path to take; make wise decisions. When the pieces are properly aligned on the chessboard of life, it's checkmate."

If we're on Facebook at all, we likely have "friends" on the site whom we barely know. And if you're at all like me, the vast majority of these contacts post a neverending stream of cat pictures, selfies, and political propaganda. I can't bring myself to defriend them, though, because at some point I obviously considered their inclusion important - even if I don't currently remember them at all.

There's this guy named John who is a Facebook friend I barely know - I remember meeting him several years ago, and I remember a brief but surprisingly intellectual conversation, but I think that may have been the only time we actually met face-to-face. He does not post cat pictures, selfies, or political propaganda. He does not use social media to glorify himself, idolize celebrities, or spread partisan talking points. He is one of those rare people who uses social media - that all-consuming thread in which we can spotlight anything we want to thousands of other human beings - to try to inspire them.

"My drive and determination will not accept failure. The one's who are willing to work harder than the next will be successful; the one's who have an iron will to go above and beyond will last long."

Humanity of the last decade or so is unique in history, in that we all possess more celebrity, and more potential for celebrity, than any 'ordinary' people before us. There's a joke floating around that we now can access the sum total of worldly knowledge at any time, in virtually any form, instantaneously, through a tiny device we keep in our purses and shirt pockets, and yet we mostly use it to find cute kitty pictures. There is an extension of this line of thought that goes unmentioned - through social media, we now have a unique opportunity to reach out to thousands on a daily basis, to share with them a little of ourselves, whatever we want. What do we use this amazing ability for? Well... mostly to share cute kitty pictures, as it turns out. We are also enamored with telling people about what a terrible day we've had, how crushing the traffic or weather is, how good we look for our big date tonight, or, of course, how much we hate Mondays. We have an unprecedented opportunity to touch the lives of others, and for the most part, we waste it on drivel and narcissism.

And then there's John.

"This is the day that The Lord has made, I will conquer all obstacles and make history with the blessings He has gifted me."

What would you post on Twitter if it was your last day on earth? How would you update your status on Facebook if you knew it was the very last status you'd ever have? If our great-great-grandchildren located our social media accounts a hundred years from now, what would they think of their ancestry? Would they be proud to have you as a relative?

"You never know when a kind word or smile can save a life or inspire a soul; the heart of the world may seem cold, but it's up to the individual to be greater than the status quo and break the mold."

There's an individual I know who I consider a very good friend, although I haven't seen him in well over a decade. He is embarking on an extraordinarily challenging adventure which will test his responsibility, character, and leadership to the limits. I only know this, of course, because of social media. With the quote above in mind, I sent this old friend a message. I told him about the time many years ago when he was an established organizational leader and I was the youngest and most insecure person on his team. I told him about how I could tell even then that his motivation to lead was obviously based on service, which was somewhat amazing to the younger me. I told him about an event he had undoubtedly forgotten - that time when he had to leave the team briefly amidst a planning session, and he looked around the room, and he told the group that while he was absent, I would be in charge. It was undoubtedly a small thing to him, but it was something I never forgot. Looking back, I don't think I deserved his faith then, and I'm not sure I'd deserve it now. But a man who led for the right reasons believed in me. I didn't believe much in myself, but this man did. That was important, that meant something. In fact, it still does.

"Positivity. Lets promote it. Real heroes. Lets celebrate them."

So a couple of days ago I let him know how much he'd meant to me. I hope it helped him to truly believe that he can succeed in his new endeavor, to realize the impact he's undoubtedly had on countless others. I wrote in this space last time about meaning, and I firmly believe that part of meaning, part of what we as tiny beings in this tremendous universe can do that actually matters, is compassion. The best of us, regardless of race, sex, or religion, find meaning by improving the state of the world, even by just a little bit, even through impacting just one person, every single day. These people may not benefit directly from reaching out to others, but they feel satisfaction in their compassion and service - in fact, there's a great deal of psychological research demonstrating that one of the best ways to make yourself feel good is to do good by others. There are big ways to do this, and there are small ways to do this - and the big things can't happen without the small ones. John's Facebook stream is one of those, small but meaningful. In small ways, here and there, we have the potential to make people smile, and build our own well-being while we're at it. We should do it more often.

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