My friend and I follow each other on social media. Lately, though, I’m not interested in her posts. She got mad and asked why I stopped liking her stuff. Am I a bad friend?
—Jessica, Montrose County
Jessica, “likes” are fake. A good friend is authentic. Of course, you’re underwhelmed by your friend. Ours is a culture in which each of us is the star of our personal TV show, where likes are ratings and we assume people care about the minutiae of our daily lives. Social media is a great tool, but also a Petri dish in which pride and self-centeredness fester. The key is extricating the stuff that matters from the millions of posts that don’t and “liking” those with fervor as a starting point for actual conversation.
We live in a technological golden age, where the world exists at our fingertips. One click reveals both high-resolution photos of planets millions of miles away and a library of every fact on every subject known to humankind. This golden age, however, is merely gilded. Underneath lies the tarnished reality of a people growing ever more self-centered and ever more boring with each photo of their breakfast routines. The honest truth is that the only people actually interested in the day-to-day minutiae of our lives are ourselves. Yet, we live in constant anticipation of those “likes” to affirm that what we are doing, how we are living, where we are traveling and even what we are eating matters to anyone else. We are turning into sociopaths with a warped sense of human relationships, where the number of “likes” we have defines our purpose.
Linking purpose to “likes” makes us obsess over our personal stories in an effort to feel useful to society. Human development moves from childhood, an insular, self-centered existence, to adulthood, in which adults occupy supporting roles in the larger ecosystem of humanity. As the years progress, it is the parent’s duty to impress upon the child that they are just one person among many working together to create a strong, stable society. Others do not exist to serve them. That process is called maturation, and this is where we run into problems today.
In the Supreme Court’s 1992 Casey Decision, Justice Kennedy stated, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” These words are irresponsible. Humans are flawed creatures and have been since the beginning of time. We naturally succumb to selfishness and greed. However, we are also creatures capable and desirous of adhering to moral law, but when given permission to define the universe based on ourselves and our own desires, we release a Pandora’s Box of terrors, the worst of which is pride.
Pride isolates people in a world desperate for harmony. Pride makes us boring. For example, it is the norm to detail one’s favorite coffee drink and expect a reaction from others. How odd! If you encountered a friend on the street who dove into a meticulous description of their latte and how it was made, how long would you stand there listening? Yet we “like” people’s posts on the same subject. These proud little details paint an unrealistic picture of perfection no one can actually achieve. It is no wonder depression, loneliness and low self-esteem are endemic in today’s society. What happened to integrity, authenticity and humility? We can all relate personally to life’s imperfections, and that connects us.
With pride comes segregation: People focused on the greatness of their own lives cannot relate to others. In 1320, Dante Alighieri completed his epic poem, “The Divine Comedy,” in which the lowest ring of Hell is pride, where Lucifer himself is stuck in the ice of his own lonely existence. That is why social media isolates us. It is the platform on which we raise ourselves, leaving the rest of the world behind. It is a desolate place. Think about the posts in which people write heartfelt stories about death, illness or loss of employment. Yes, there are many who take the time to write a comment or two, but many more who “like” the post or offer a “sad emoji.” How many of those people followed-up with a telephone call to check in on their friend? Step down from the pedestal and join the rest of the world.
The sad truth is that “likes” allow us to escape the emotional, human, uncomfortable side of life. We can run away from the hard stuff and embrace the easy stuff like coffee drinks. What we each need is a big dose of humility. Humility creates harmony in the midst of discord by inviting others to have a voice and be heard. Humble people are better-liked, more trusted, and physically and emotionally healthier. Research shows that humble people handle stress more effectively and report better physical and mental well-being. We appreciate people who can admit to their mistakes and laugh at themselves. We like people who listen. The caveat? As Narnia storyteller C.S. Lewis’ famously said, “Humility is not thinking less of oneself, but thinking of oneself less.”
Jessica, nothing replaces personal connection. Go ahead, read your friend’s posts, but weed through the minutiae to find the important bits. That’s where friendship lives.
Theresa Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. No question or comment is too scary, difficult or offensive.