Social Media as a Tool for Authentic Connection

I’d like to try something out with you. If you’re open to it, I’d like to say write a word and see what your emotional and intellectual response is. Think you’re up for it? All you have to do is pay special attention to what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling when you read this word. Are you ready? . . . Facebook.

How did we do? What are those feelings churning up inside? Is it elation, dread, fear, anxiety, joy, or something around those lines? Or, maybe instead of an emotional feeling you felt a physical feeling like fatigue. Okay, what about the thought that you had around that word? Here are some of the comments I’ve heard from people:

“The devil.”
“Mark Zuckerberg‘s gift to the universe.”
“Connection.”
“The greatest tool for time-suck that was ever invented.”
“My addiction.”
“The way I like to pass time.”

I can tell you, my response is one of thankfulness, because I love Facebook. I have traveled a lot over the course of my life; taking this job and that (the nature of ministry). I’ve been able to make some incredible friends over that time. However, it is very difficult to stay in constant touch with all those friends. One of the things I love about Facebook is it allows me to stay in touch with these friends on a level that does not justify blocking out a time to call or a lengthy physical visit. Whatever your personal feelings about Facebook, here’s the important thing . . . it’s just a tool. Facebook is neither good or bad, evil or saintly, destroying the world or making it smaller. The truth is, Facebook is what we make of it. Like any tool, it is important to make sure you are being responsible and that you have boundaries around the use of it. It’s important that we have personal integrity and intentional boundaries with the way we use any tool in order to make sure we’re using it for good and not evil.

So, how do we do that? How do we make sure that we create intentional decisions in using this tool that makes our life better like using an axe to create firewood to warm our house and cook our food? How do we avoid using it in a way that causes mass pain and havoc like swinging that same axe haphazardly in a crowded room?

There are three important things to think of. This is just a small list. There are probably many more things but this will get you started down the road of thinking of using the tools of social media in a way that can provide a life that cultivates connection, authenticity, and appropriate tension rather than one of disconnection, hurt, and attack.

1. Don’t blame the hammer for your smashed finger.

An alternative phrase might be, “Use the tool, don’t let it use you.” As we’ve said, social media is a tool and a tool is only as beneficial as you handle it. Any craftsman will tell you that you have to be in charge of the tool. Letting a chainsaw be in control never ends with positive results. So, just as there are self-imposed rules for handling a chainsaw safely, make sure you are being intentional with the way you use social media. Have rules and guidelines that you stick to. These rules might be how long you wait to comment on a post so you have time to cool down or think clearly.

2. I am not everyone.

This is something I talk about a lot. It’s actually one of two of my foundations for successful therapy. It’s a mindset that acknowledges that I’m an individual with thoughts, feelings, and experiences that are my own. These thoughts, feelings, and experiences may be very similar to others. They may be described the same and look the same and just generally play out the same, but that does not mean they are literally the same. Similarly, just because I may have a thought, feeling, or opinion about something doesn’t mean everyone else has that same thought, emotion or opinion. I’m not everyone. We can grow up the same, like the same things, and live in the same place, but have a completely different perception of something that we experience together. Leave room for the differences.

3. Don’t let the outside define your inside.

I think it’s important to make sure the things we post authentically represent who we are. A big danger with social media is that it comes almost exclusively in the form of other’s positions. We see other’s thoughts, pictures of other’s experiences and posts of other’s opinions. These are all outside of ourselves. Yet, sometimes if you aren’t careful you can let these things define who you are. Before you post, ask yourself, “Does this truly represent who I am?”

Using social media as a marvelous tool to live a life of authenticity, of connection, of open discussion, and of growth is only possible if we use that tool in ways that are healthy and boundary-filled. Otherwise, these can be tools of hiding, of attack, of ignorance spewing, and of living behind a mask of what we want to be rather than who we are.

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