On-Stage, Off-Stage

 Pretend for a moment that you’re alone with your thoughts, and that whatever you think or feel in the next few minutes is not designed for social media consumption, interpersonal bonding, or heated debate – that it’s just you thinking through you. (emphasis mine)

If you’re angry, why? No, really? What makes you angry about recent comments, events, interpretations, etc.? There’s no right or wrong answer here – you don’t have to tell me or anyone else. If you feel a bit defensive, or defiant, or sad, or guilty, or even if you’ve been trying not to think about ANY of these seemingly distant riots and uprisings and whatever, ask yourself why. Just for a few minutes.

Let your mind sift a bit. No one will know.

– Blue Cereal Education, To My Confused White Friends

“Let your mind sift a bit. No one will know.”

These words and the idea of being alone with my thoughts and not grooming them for social media consumption – well now, that caught me in a sensitive place. Because, he’s absolutely right. For those of us who show up here daily on the social media channels of our choice – we admittedly have a lot going on. When we have something to say and decide that it is indeed something we need and want to share, we run a risk. In fact, we run a whole host of risks.

We risk being misunderstood and our words misconstrued.

We risk being confronted with our own ignorance, misjudgment, and narrow mindedness.

We risk saying something that may offend or hurt someone else.

We risk being called out for our arrogance and tone deafness.

We risk being too right, too wrong or simply too much.

And yet, if our online experiences are positive enough, it can become quite easy to make our presence a habit, our contributions frequent and our interactions numerous and varied. If those experiences strike us as positive enough through favorites and retweets and follow-up shares, then we feel affirmed in our presence and contributions. We may feel heard, valued and seen. Like our being here is a good thing.

A challenge I face as frequent user of a few social media spaces, however, is being honest with myself outside of those spaces. IRL – in real life, my family members do not toss out stars of approval at my wittiest statements or my forthright requests. There are no retweets of our dinner conversation.  And yet, a surprising portion of my inner dialogue seems to run through a type of  social media filter.  How would I want to blog about that? Is that tweetable? What’s the right tone here?  For lack of a better term, I’ll call it “social media creep” (as in “slowly progressing” not “wierdo”).  These more recent thought filters slide in and make themselves at home in my day-to-day habits.  Their reason for being is rooted in the potential response of the other. These social media thought filters reveal speculations about how I wish to be seen, heard, and recognized in this great big untamed space by others.

I, by myself, entirely alone with my thoughts… I know it happens and it is becoming rare. My thoughts drift into writing and that writing happens with some sense of audience in mind. Before I have gone too far, my thinking may become a text that I choose to publish. Where I used to commit all this stuff to journals, I now have the opportunity to do that AND share those thoughts with the whole dang world immediately.  When Dallas Koehn, alias Blue Cereal Education (@BlueCerealEduc), suggests that we pretend for a few minutes that our thoughts are not designed for social media consumption, he cuts to the core. He calls me and so many others out for staging our being more than actually being our being. When we enter the social media fray, we step on stage and although we may feel like nondescript extras in a scene of the masses, we want to play our parts well and to the best of our ability.  If we’re good, the thinking goes, surely someone will notice us and our performance.

And being noticed, catching someone’s attention – this becomes our new currency of influence and prestige: Follower counts, potential reach. This is how we figure out who’s boss and who’s not (yet).  Social media creep wants me to care about those things. Social media creep beckons me to maximize and optimize my presence. Because being noticed more often by more people – well that must be a reward in and of itself, right?

What does it mean that I have nearly 400 followers on Twitter? Or that some 70 people follow this blog? My hope is that each of those individuals derives some benefit, some usefulness from my occasional contributions. I’m not here to start a movement. I am here to learn. to grow. to stretch. to engage.  Staying alert to what’s happening on stage may prove to be less challenging than recognizing the processes going on behind the scenes – inside ourselves. Our vanity, our egos, desires, and our need to belong have become economic drivers on a whole new scale and we find ourselves vulnerable  in strange and unanticipated ways thanks to the wonders of digital technology.

Given the personal impact of social media creep, the time that I spend alone with my thoughts becomes the best preparation I can imagine for keeping this thing real and human and meaningful, on stage and off.   “Let your mind sift” may need to become my new mantra.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Way of The Sloth

(picture via amazon.com)
My interest in talking animals has recently jumped off the charts. Following a deeply satisfying read-aloud of Charlotte’s Web, I brought home Eric Carle’s “Slowly, Slowly, Slowly,” Said the Sloth. And there is one final passage that has a remarkable hold on me.

After hearing questions from the other rainforest animals about why he, the sloth, is so slow, boring, quiet and lazy, this is what follows:

The sloth thought and thought and thought for a long, long, long time.
Finally, the sloth replied,
“It is true that I am slow, quiet
And boring. I am lackadaisical,
I dawdle and I dillydally.
I am also unflappable, languid,
stoic, impassive, sluggish,
lethargic, placid, calm, mellow,
Laid-back and, well, slothful!
I am relaxed and tranquil,
And I like to live in peace.
But I am not lazy.”
Then the sloth yawned and said,
“That’s just how I am.
I like to do things
Slowly,
slowly,
slowly.”

What would it take to know oneself so fully and clearly?

What an absolute gift to know who, how and why you are without a hint of doubt.

For all of my online chatter, including a steady stockpiling of text upon text of insights, outrage or just plain how-to instructions, the courage to proceed slowly,  methodically and thoughtfully appears worthy of strengthening.  My more recent immersion in social media has not come without a price tag.  How I spend my attention, availability and even patience has changed and not necessarily for the better. Thanks to Eric Carle, it may well be time for me to investigate and pursue the way of the sloth. To see just what can be learned in being more of who I am while doing considerably less.  The capacity of the sloth to think without speaking, to reflect without simultaneously sharing, to take in the ideas of others without assuming them as his own offers a worthy example.

The sloth reminds me that thinking and reflecting take time; that real understanding hardly comes in bursts – rather, it requires patience and some letting go.  Those strike me as hard to come by and stick to these days.  And there’s the lesson, waiting, like it always does, like a sloth might.