On a news program recently, I heard a judge being quoted as saying that, in deciding the sentence for someone who’d been charged with a crime, he was influenced by neither emotions nor public opinion. And my response was… REALLY?! Is such a thing even possible? I think it would take some kind of unnatural, non-human capacity for detachment to be influenced by neither your emotions nor public opinion. (Or perhaps sometimes it’s sociopathic or narcissistic personality disorder?) We are all influenced, in big and little ways, every single day, even when we’re not conscious of the influence.
Back when I used to teach university courses in communications and public relations, I would teach my students to pay special attention to the voices and ideas that most influenced them. A final assignment in my Writing for Public Relations classes was to do a presentation on one piece of writing that had influenced them in their lives. It could be a book, a movie script, an advertisement, or even a poster. I wanted them to at least be conscious of when and how they were being influenced, and, as they became public relations professionals themselves, I hoped that they would make conscious choices to use their influence wisely and not put unnecessary propaganda into the world. (I also taught them the difference between propaganda and persuasion.) Many of the students had never considered who they were most influenced by.
Part of the reason why I’m taking the sabbatical and social media break that I’m currently on is that I want to be more conscious of the voices I allow in to influence me. Sometimes, when I’m not paying enough attention to how much I’m online, social media feels like a whole lot of noise, and in the midst of that noise, I can hardly hear my own voice. I start to feel like I’m in a boat without an oar and I’m just drifting along on the current of public opinion, not choosing my own direction.
It’s an easy thing to slip into, and it can happen for a lot of reasons. Sometimes it happens because I’m just too tired or emotionally drained to make conscious choices and I find myself picking up my phone like a drug that comforts me in my exhaustion. Sometimes it happens because I’m feeling disconnected or abandoned and I want to renew my feelings of connection with people (especially in a pandemic). Sometimes I’m just bored and slip into mindless behaviour.
I am not against social media, by any stretch. I value the very real friendships it has made possible in my life, and I acknowledge the fact that it has helped me grow a thriving business. It would be hypocritical to turn my nose up at it after all of the value that it has brought.
But I want to live in a conscious relationship with social media. I want to be conscious of when it feeds me and when it harms me. I want to witness when I feel like it’s sucking me in almost without my consent. I want to notice when I’m feeling manipulated by the algorithms and when I’m making choices I wouldn’t otherwise make because I’ve been unconsciously influenced.
I especially want to be conscious of when it makes me lose connection with my own voice and the voices of people who matter the most to me. My voice is important to me and I want it to ring clear and true and full of integrity.
This summer, I am intentionally focusing on the relationships that happen offline – with my daughters, my friends, my family, and myself. I am doing a kind of social media detox to see if I think and feel differently when I’m not being fed with a constant stream of other people’s opinions. I’m going to spend a lot of time listening to myself and to those who sit with me for long, slow conversations over campfires. I’ll also read books, but only those that feel nourishing to me and don’t take me down a river I don’t want to float along.
It doesn’t mean I won’t be influenced by voices other than my own. That seems like an impossible thing to achieve (and not necessarily a desirable one, because it borders on narcissism). But it means that when I AM influenced, I’m doing so consciously and with my full consent.
Not sure how to engage in healthy conversations online? Here are some tips:
If they didn’t ask for advice or fixing, don’t assume that they want it.
If you don’t want advice or fixing, go ahead and say you don’t want it.
If you weren’t there, don’t assume you know what happened or how to interpret what happened. And don’t assume your opinion is needed.
You don’t belong in every conversation. Choose wisely and respect other people’s boundaries.
If someone has strong feelings about something, don’t tell them how they ‘should’ be feeling.
If you start a conversation, take responsibility for how people are treated in that conversation stream (and shut it down if necessary), but don’t take responsibility for their feelings about it.
If a person who’s more marginalized (or abused, ostracized, etc.) than you shares a story of their marginalization, believe them, even if it implicates people like you.
If you are triggered by something, resist the urge to respond out of a fight/flight/freeze/tend&befriend mindset. Walk away and (if necessary) return when you’re more grounded.
When you make a mistake, admit it, make reparations, apologize if necessary, but don’t over-explain or justify your actions. And don’t delete your mistake if there is learning to be had from the conversation around it.
If someone exhibits the kind of behaviour you wouldn’t allow in your home, you don’t need to allow them in your social media stream.
It’s not your job to convince people of the truth as you see it. If they’re intent on arguing, but the argument exhausts you, walk away.
Consider it a general rule-of-thumb that if the privacy of something is set at “public” it’s shareable, and if it’s “friends only” it’s not.
If someone regularly shares selfies, photos of their food, or other things you think are trivial, just stop following them instead of offering your opinion.
If you need comfort or support, go ahead and ask for it, but if you’re feeling really vulnerable or raw, consider asking in a smaller container (ie. a private group) rather than out in public.
Comments like “not ALL white people” or “not ALL men” are defensive and never helpful in a conversation. If that’s all you have to offer, step away from the conversation.
If you don’t want Mark Zuckerberg to share your personal information with the Russians, don’t post it online.
Just because you’ve known someone since kindergarten, doesn’t mean you have to accept their friend request.
Tend your own heart first, then tend the hearts of those closest to you. If you still have energy after that, tend those who have the fewest protectors or supporters.
If someone shares something relevant to their culture, race, gender, etc., and it’s outside of your experience, ask questions respectfully (if it seems the right place for it), but don’t offer judgement or critique.
This post is part of the 30-Day Bloom Your Online Relationships Challenge. If you’d like to play along, you can sign up here (don’t worry — it’s FREE). We’re working through these small, powerful actions together and sharing our questions, learnings and experiences in a Facebook group. And we’d love to have you join us!
What does it mean to “host yourself first”? It means, simply, that anything I am prepared to encounter once I walk into that room, I need to be prepared to encounter and host in myself first. In order to prepare myself for conflict, frustration, ego, fear, anger, weariness, envy, injustice, etc., I need to sit with myself, look into my own heart, bear witness to what I see there, and address it in whatever way I need to before I can do it for others. I can’t hide any of that stuff in the shadows, because what is hidden there tends to come out in ways I don’t want it to when I am under stress inside the room.
AND just as I am prepared to offer compassion, understanding, forgiveness, and resolution to anything that shows up in the room, I need to offer it to myself first. Only when I am present for myself and compassionate with myself will I be prepared to host with strength and courage.
To serve the world well, I need to serve myself first.
How do I do that? I do it by being honest with myself about my emotions, by engaging in the creative/spiritual practices that sustain and enrich me, by working things through in my journal or in a walk in the woods, by engaging in self-care, by getting support from the right people, and by claiming my own power and authority before I step into the room.
A few years ago, I was frustrated over what was happening on social media and I started questioning my presence there. I was getting dragged down by pettiness, I was feeling pressured into “doing social media marketing the way the pros tell me to”, I was wasting too much time in mindless surfing, and it was all feeling rather icky. I was suddenly painfully aware that I’d let go of my authentic voice and my sense of purpose.
And then the words I’d repeated so often in my in-person work came back to me… “Host yourself first.” Oh yeah… right.
So I asked myself, “what if I apply this to my presence on social media?” What if, when I’m on Facebook or Twitter, I take myself more seriously and consider myself to be “hosting meaningful conversations” the way I’m doing in retreats and in the classroom? What if – before I post anything – I check in with myself to test the emotions around what I’m posting and to make sure it’s coming from a place of authenticity and positivity rather than ego and marketing? What if, before I walk into the “room” on Facebook, I make sure I’m clear about my own values and passions and boundaries? How will that change the way I interact?
I started experimenting with it, and it didn’t take long to realize that my online presence had shifted. I was returning to my authentic voice. I wasn’t just posting for the sake of being popular or funny or to make a sale. I didn’t do anything just because the pros told me I should do it, but instead I did what flowed organically from who I was and how I wanted to be in the world.
To solidify my commitment to hosting myself first online, I wrote my social media manifesto, naming all of my intentions in how I wanted to show up online. (Click on it to see it larger, or scroll to the bottom of the page.) I shared it and invited others to do the same.
People started responding. Beautiful conversations resulted. New and deeper relationships grew. More people bought what I was selling because it was coming from the kind of authentic heart that people were longing for. My business grew and my social media reach grew, but more importantly my relationships grew.
How do you host yourself first?
Here are a few tips:
1. Do your personal work before you go online. Start with whatever creative/spiritual practice sustains and enriches you – art, meditation, journaling, dance, walking, etc.
2. Sit with your emotions before you broadcast them. Are you angry, sad, disappointed, confused? Sit with them for awhile, without judgement, and honour what is showing up. Ask yourself: “Is this is an emotion that is worth sharing (and perhaps asking for support for) or worth holding close to my heart?”
3. Ask yourself each day how you can be of service to the world. How can you serve the people in your social media stream – with uplifting posts, with humour, with invitations to justice and compassion, with offers to support them, with meaningful conversation, with reminders of how beautiful/kind/courageous/resilient they are?
4. Remind yourself that each person in your social media stream (including yourself) wants to be loved. When you think of it that way, then the things they do that annoy you are softened somewhat because you recognize in them a quest for attention and love.
5. Choose your own mantra that you repeat to yourself before you post or respond to anything. It can simply be a question: “Is this authentic to who I am?” or “Is this serving the world in a positive way?” Or a statement “I choose beauty.” or “I am a messenger of light.”
6. Think of yourself as a facilitator or host when you appear on social media. If this were a party or retreat you were hosting, what kind of atmosphere would you like to create? How would you like to make people feel about themselves? What kind of conversations do you want to facilitate?
7. Be as kind to yourself as you would be to anyone else you’re hosting. If you were hosting a party and someone was feeling down and discouraged, you’d sit next to them and listen to them and offer encouragement. If they were celebrating something, you’d celebrate with them. Offer the same kind of compassion, encouragement, and friendship to yourself. When you do that to yourself first, you’ll feel much stronger and more able to withstand the highs and lows of social media engagement.
8. Write your own social media manifesto. Start by journaling about all of the things that are important to you about how you want to engage online. Then write a list of your commitments. Share them or keep them to yourself – whatever feels right. If you want to, share them in the BYOR Facebook group.
NOTE: When you’re done trying out today’s challenge, come visit us on Facebook and let us know how it went. What did you share? What was the response? Was it easy for you? Hard? No right or wrong answers here — we’re all just experimenting!
If you’d asked me a year ago, when I was in the process of leaving my job, what I’d be doing now, probably the last thing I would have said would be that I’d be producing a guidebook for engaging in social media in a meaningful and mindful way.
And yet… I’ve just written that very guidebook and now it’s ready to be released into the world.
I don’t consider myself a social media expert by any stretch of the imagination, and most of the time I feel like I’m still stumbling in the dark. So why am I releasing this guidebook?
For a few reasons:
1. In the last six months, I have been asked by half a dozen people for help in stepping into social media and developing online profiles. Every time I was asked, I’d stammer and say “but… I’m not an expert, I just do what comes naturally and I make friends online. I don’t have a clue how to get larger readerships or how to do fancy things online.” And they say “you’re exactly the kind of person I want helping me. Someone who will offer me friendly advice without going over my head or encouraging me to do things that don’t feel right for me.” Since I like the people who asked, I started putting some thoughts on paper and before long, I had a guidebook.
2. I’ve been hired by the university to teach an introductory workshop in social media engagement. They apparently think I have a clue what I’m doing. When I started preparing for the course, I realized I knew more than I thought I did. Those thoughts added more ideas to my guidebook.
3. I’ve been witnessing some of the icky stuff happening online, like the suicide of someone who built an empire online, a strange relationship that resulted in possible death threats or at least some weird behaviour on the part of more than one “social media guru”, and more than one house of cards tumbling. Watching all of this was a strong reminder to me that we need to continue to foster meaningful relationships online and stay away from snake oil salespeople and emperors with no clothes, and we need to work hard to put good things into the world. I believe I have some wisdom to offer in terms of following your intuition, building trust online, and living authentic lives, so I added those thoughts to the guidebook.
Before long, I had something worth offering.
If you want to learn more, go here. It’s just $15 for a one time download, cheap enough that if you want to offer it as a gift to that aunt who keeps bugging you to teach her how to use Facebook, you can do so without breaking the bank.
?”I’m not a teacher: only a fellow-traveler of whom you asked the way. I pointed ahead – ahead of myself as well as you.” – George Bernard Shaw