About 18 months ago I began an experiment on social media.
For years I have maintained a variety of daily practices I have found helpful to become a better me and manage stress. These include meditation, prayer, writing, drawing, music, reading a variety of literature including sacred texts, poetry, and self-help (for lack of a better word), and above all else, reflection. I don’t always do all of these things every day, and sometimes I move in and out of phases.
In reflection I seek to understand, in a way that is meaningful to me, whatever external thoughts I’ve chosen from others. By doing this I allow all the various aspects of myself to react to these thoughts, and have a sort of internal discussion to enrich and absorb the meaning. My goal is to own the thought for myself, to express it in my own words and feelings. If I can crystallize the thought in the way that’s most consequential to me in that moment, I can integrate it into my consciousness and carry it with me through the day and beyond.
I’d become dissatisfied with social media, and I decided that instead of keeping these thoughts to myself, I’d share them. My goals were to offset the negativity I saw, balancing it with something more positive; to offer the thoughts for others to do with as they wished; and to let others participate in my own journey, reflecting back to me things I perhaps didn’t consider about those thoughts.
I began using Buffer to share these thoughts at scheduled times on the various social media accounts I use. Although I am sure they look suspiciously like copy-paste from a daily inspirational website, they are more or less original. In any case, whether it’s a verse from sacred poetry or a lyric from a pop singer, it’s something I’ve made my own in a sort of quiet worship. It’s not cheap regurgitation.
At one time I tried working with a remote “virtual” personal assistant. They suggested that I wasn’t spending my time wisely on this, and they offered to take over for me and find and post inspirational messages on my behalf. Of course that would have missed the point.
Sharing such deeply personal reflections has risks and rewards, and my calculus was that the rewards would outweigh the risks. What kinds of risks?
- Accidental coincidences with world events. (I had to hastily unschedule one queued message when there was a tragic event it seemed to respond to.)
- Misreadings. Or, sometimes, correct readings of something I stated badly and didn’t mean the way I wrote.
- Any type of religious message, intentional or not, that might offend someone with different views.
I also knew that I’d actually end up exposing parts of myself that others would find unlovable or needing correction. I didn’t view this as a risk, but as a reward. Better to find out sooner, and learn and grow, than persist in bigotry.
Finally, I knew I’d occasionally trigger some of the general hatefulness that flourishes on the internet, and tempt the trolls into targeting me. Fortunately, I’m a white male American, so I have the privilege of basically feeling immune to that.
What I’ve learned is fascinating.
- On the face of it, people generally find those inspirational posts much less interesting than others. My Twitter statistics, for example, show way less engagement and sharing of those tweets. This could reflect the fact that they look like so much other “inspirational” stuff on social media.
- I’ve gotten all kinds of responses. People have indeed told me I’m in need of improvement, but others have told me they find it deeply meaningful and helpful. Some have thanked me for helping them find hope and comfort in difficult times.
- Some thoughts have had a variety of meanings to different people. Here’s an example, where one person had an interesting and completely valid alternative reading of my inspirational quote. (The ensuing conversation brought up the meaning I’d intended.)
- People read the thoughts not as the thoughts are, but as they are. For example, devotees of different faiths sometimes respond in ways that express a sense of identifying me as a member of their faith.
In general, I’ve been pleased with the results of sharing these thoughts widely and opening them up to other peoples’ reactions. I feel I’ve invited a large group of people to help me grow, and at the same time I’ve contributed to them, which is a good thing. When something’s caused offense it’s often been the source of additional learning and growth for me. And, in studying the reactions to what I share, I find an additional opportunity to reflect back to myself a sense of belonging and similarity: if I were not myself, I’d likely react to me just as many others do. We are all so different yet so fundamentally equal in our shared humanity.
These inspirational messages are also related to a set of “thought leadership” blog posts and other content I’ve written or contributed to in the last year. When time permits I’ll try to write about what that’s taught me, too.
If you want to read my daily self-inspiration, I invite you to follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.
I’d like to express my deep gratitude to the hundreds of people who’ve inspired me, too, many of you unknowingly.
Snowflake by Alexey Kljatov, Dilbert by Scott Adams.