Social Media and Humility

The juxtaposition of the words ‘social media’ and ‘humility’ may strike you as incongruous, but earlier this week I was privileged to attend the Social Spaces: Sacred Spaces conference in York (a study day for Anglican clergy).  Subsequently, in the monastery we have been reading chapter 7 of the Rule of St Benedict, on humility. I have therefore been mulling over some of the conference comments in the light of Benedict’s imperative, and I think it may be worth sharing my questions if not my conclusions.

To many, social media is just one long, self-indulgent exercise in self-advertisement; and I have to say, there are users of Twitter and Facebook, for example, I would probably not choose to meet in the flesh. You know the kind I mean. Those who are so busy collecting followers that they omit to say anything interesting themselves; those whose every posting has an element of Stalkie’s cry, ‘Hear me, hear me: I boast’. It is inevitable that any system that can be monitored by statistics (no matter how questionable some of those statistics may be) will attract those who are by nature competitive. Collecting ‘followers’ and ‘likes’ is really no different from collecting cigarette cards, except for the involvement of the ego; and that’s where the trouble begins.

When social media ceases to be social, when its use becomes detached from friendship (‘social’ comes from the Latin socius, meaning ally, companion or friend), it becomes a parody of itself, and often a rather sickening one. Yes, social media is great for sharing, not only among people who, in some sense, know one another. One has only to think of its impact on events (e.g. Egyptian Revolution) or attitudes (e.g. sexism, trolling). Yes, social media is great for bringing together people who would never otherwise meet (hello, friends in Australia and Japan). But ultimately, it is what its users make of it. So, it can be used for good or bad; to build up or tear down; as a vehicle for pride or humility.

Benedict has several wise things to say about the uses and abuses of speech, but he makes the point that true humility is manifested in every aspect of our lives, in the interior attitudes of mind and heart as well as our more exterior behaviour. So, my question for today is: how do we manifest humility in our use of social media? This is another way of approaching the old conundrum about how we integrate our online and offline persona, but sometimes posing the question in a different way can highlight things we have hitherto ignored. Over to you!

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23 thoughts on “Social Media and Humility”

  1. Humility- to be grounded, earthed, rooted in….

    My opinion, don’t put anything up on social media that you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying in a face to face conversation or discussion.

    To endeavour to stay rooted in my faith in Christ in all that I do, think or tweet. Yes, I stumble daily, but that’s an expected part of the bigger picture. ….

  2. A very important question. Just yesterday I was involved in a discussion on FB that made me think about what St Benedict has to say about how we speak, and especially how we speak of others, whether on social media or anywhere else. What frightens me is that many Christians, including clergy, don’t seem to think that there’s anything wrong with disrespectful speech and name calling. And, looking back, I once didn’t see it so clearly myself either. But what the Gospel teaches us is that violence begins with our thoughts and these are then expressed in speech, etc.

    I’m not sure that that’s contributing much, but what you said resonated with me!

  3. I have certain rules to help me keep a balance.
    I have a rule that I don’t have any friends on facebook that I don’t have a real friendship with in real life. And it helps that I am friends with my mother-in-law and mother. It certainly makes me consider what I write online. I also never write anything about my children that I wouldn’t want them to read.
    It is easy to disconnect from the online world and so I hope to always remember that it is real people connecting with real people.

    • Yes, as a private individual you can do that, but for those with a public face, eg. clergy, religious, politicians and so on, it is more complex as FB brings ‘friends’ one doesn’t know but whom it would be churlish to disregard. I think one needs to develop a sense of what is appropriate to share and what isn’t.I regard the internet as a kind of permanent post card: one never knows who will be reading, one just knows that it si there for ever!

  4. I have realised how easy it can be to have two faces, one for social media and one for the world. However technology seems to be moving so swiftly that it is impossible to keep these separate. This is, for me, a good reminder that we have to be willing to be known for who we are. If someone disagrees then we have a polite, reasoned, discussion even if we can’t sit down over a cup of tea and a biscuit, and try to understand the other person’s point of view.

    Someone who was a fellow student* with me at Regent College in Vancouver, BC, once told me that the point of theological debate was to try and come as close as you could to understanding a different point of view. I was non-plussed for a moment and have to admit that I topped this off with the observation that yes, you got as close as you could to understanding the other person’s point of view without necessarily taking it on board yourself.

    *I haven’t given their name as I haven’t asked their permission to share this story in this forum.

  5. Perhaps it’s worth considering that much overworked word ‘sharing’. Sharing Life. Not using social media as a tool for propaganda, blatant advertising or score settling, but building relationships, albeit mostly online, via similar routes one would in real life. Learning. Growing. Being enriched by new thoughts and concepts. Keeping in touch with what’s going on in our field. Contributing if we can.

    As regards Facebook, it seems to come with its own set of problems which only encourage boundary infringement of every hue.

    Those with the best Good News to share will be coming from a different place to the zeitgeist even in ‘secular’ and ordinary matters. We might always expect to be swimming against the tide, but the world so needs the realignment that come from acknowledging a Creator and our need of Him.

    This is the top and bottom of humility.

    • Yes and no! I completely agree with you about the need not to use social media as a form of propaganda for our own views, but it is a fine line at times between arguing a case and unreasonable obstinacy. I think online communication is an art we are only just beginning to learn, rather as our grandparents had to learn to use the telephone (different greetings, different forms of speech, notably brevity, less reliance on body language to convey meaning.)

  6. The strangest thing ever is when someone I haven’t met in the community says to me, ‘Hello Carol’ and then they launch into a conversation about something spiritual. It reminds me that if I have shared Christ with them or a part of my life, I have had the privilege to have been in their sitting room too at some point. Maybe through seeing a conversation on someone elses page. That in itself is an awesome and humbling experience, also a tad bit fearful as it has its vulnerabilities. Words can wrap people in love through the power of God’s Holy Spirit when they are genuine, so I think they are worth learning to craft well.

    I am aware that I probably write things I shouldn’t do at times, we must all do, we’re human. Paul’s every word must have caused him great agonies.

    I think that there’s a difference in writing authoritatively, academically and connecting with people on a personal level too. On the whole people have no interest in reading the authoritative/academic stuff, some do, but most don’t. They just want to know that someone loves and cares and are holding a light for Jesus.

    I have watched Father James Martin’s fb page grow from a few hundred to thousands. The page must be managed now by other’s too in order to keep an element of the personal side, otherwise he’d be dead on his feet. lol (Exodus 17:8-15) It’s a bit of a battle field, a rather large one.
    https://www.facebook.com/FrJamesMartin?fref=ts

    The Internet is an interesting place to be because men have no superiority over the words they write, but Love does, there are no rituals, dress codes, parades etc…

    • Personally, I don’t think there should be a disconnect between authoritative/learned and accessible writing. The best communicators are those who have read and thought deeply and are able to express the results clearly and simply.

      • Hello sister, I speak to a lot of people on fb whose every other word is an expletive, especially young women. It’s difficult to engage and be a part of the conversation at times because it’s like another language. Sadly, they can be talking about some quite painful things that have traumatised them. For example, being pregnant and being left without any money for weeks because the Job Center stops paying them.

        I agree when you say. ‘The best communicators are those who have read and thought deeply and are able to express the results clearly and simply.’ I am just not sure where worlds meet in Cyber space. I was thinking that the young women I speak to would never read a piece of academic writing. Yet, they might join in a conversation about Bingo or the injustices of the benefits system in quite crude language.

  7. I think this is the crux of some of my discomfort with social networking. I think it’s paradoxical that on social media the more effort you put into creating a particular impression, the more you may be giving away about what really motivates you. For me it’s about interaction – if people feel challenged by what you write on a social media site they can come back at you, I think how you deal with that and other unexpected exchanges shows up a lot about your real personality!

    Shall think more about this – humility of course being perhaps the hardest virtue of all to aspire to!

  8. Interestingly I have just read a piece by Peter Oborne about Baroness Ashton, European High Representative for Foreign Affairs. He said he and most other people had written her off as completely ineffective, but over her time in post she has had significant success in keeping the Middle East peace process on track, all completely unsung. He says

    “I have never met Baroness Ashton but I guess that one of her secrets is that she keeps her head down, does not flaunt her ego, and allows others to take the credit.”

    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/peteroborne/100238311/we-were-all-wrong-about-baroness-ashton-she-may-save-the-iran-nuclear-talks/

  9. I’ve come to the conclusion that if you have nothing useful to contribute, than don’t try.

    I believe that having the right contacts through social media can be helpful to personal growth spiritually and as a Christian. I am able to attribute huge personal growth to my membership of i-church, which took a raw, opinionated person and through their listening and gentle criticism or praise, has provided a formation that I might have missed out on if I hadn’t been there.

    In the same way coming to your blog has had an affect on that growth, it has given me many things to think about and to reflect on and has provided one of those safe places to come for debate, learning and just plain talk in some cases.

    The internet can be a sacred space, but it’s up to all of us to preserve and to protect it with integrity, humility and love.

    • You are always generous, Ernie, and very humble in your own view of yourself, which is very refreshing. You help to make the internet a sacred space, so don’t ‘weary of doing good’.

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