Respect your personal space and learn to keep certain information about you private.
A young friend feels that all her “Facebook friends” are hypocrites. “They are very nice, gushing and demonstrative with their likes and comments on Facebook, but they suck in real Life. A majority of them are just not available when I need someone who I can speak to, who will listen to me, whose listening can help me,” she lamented to me the other day.
I have often heard similar sentiments being expressed by my peer group and by older friends as well. I believe if we want to avoid this kind of social media ‘meltdown’, we must examine who we are adding as friends on Facebook, and important, we must ask ourselves, what are we sharing there?
A simple rule of thumb that Vaani and I follow is this. We invite or accept as friends on Facebook only those who we can invite into our living room, into our home. And second, we share on Facebook only stuff that we would share in our living room. Simple. We treat our Facebook Walls as our personal space, so admission is strictly regulated, and we don’t share any private information there. This way we have no one who we don’t want around us and we have no trespass on our privacy.
The key to a meaningful, stress-free, social media presence is for you to value both your personal and private spaces and understand the distinction between the two. Besides, given the choice you have exercised to be present on social media, always insist that everyone you invite or include in your circle respects your personal space.
To me, Facebook – or any other social media platform – is a place where any thought you share is really about you making a loud claim. The moment you post a status out there you are saying, “Come on, look at me!” When people comment on your status, they are making a claim too – sometimes, they want themselves to be louder – saying, “Come on, look at me too!” Making a claim does not mean anything at all. It is just a claim, a comment sans any stickiness. For instance, someone saying, ‘Wow! You are awesome!!’ – in response to your new profile picture – does not mean they will be available to you in your hour of need. This is why this feeling of being surrounded by hypocrites arises in some people. Because, simply, a Facebook friend, who is a mere commentator on your status message, may really not be your friend in need. Perhaps that person doesn’t want to be that friend to you, perhaps that person is not even realizing that you are counting on them. Clearly, it is you who banked on that person; you loved all the adulation, the admiration, the attention, and when the person didn’t show up in real Life, when a need arose, you feel let down! Examine where this expectation arose. Examine whether this expectation is worth it at all. And re-examine your Facebook friendships. Let me assure you, you will quickly want to launch a mega-drive to weed out all unwanted connections that have been inadvertently or naively added.
The ‘living room’ thumb rule applies in the case of comments on your Facebook Wall relating to political or other social views too. Let’s say, you are having a party at home. And some of your friends hold views that are divergent from you on politics or religion or sports or cinema or society. After making your point, when you don’t wish to argue or belabor the point, won’t you shift your attention to some other person or subject? If you disapprove of either your friend’s conduct or views, you won’t invite them home the next time you have a party. Simple. So, on Facebook, you simply unfriend them or put them on limited profile. Why get irritable about them and their views? You invited them into your space – you will have to bear the consequences of your choice. You can’t expect people not to have views divergent from you or to have only views that toe your line. Think about it.
And finally, just as ranting is a lousy idea anywhere, ranting on Facebook is meaningless too. Complaining about your spouse or about your neighbor or about your government are all just that – mere complaints. Hot air, in fact. Unless you take concrete action, and unless you lead and participate in that action, ranting always is just a waste. So, when you rant on your Facebook Wall and you have a 100 people joining the cacophony, please understand that it is as meaningless as all of you sitting in a bar, getting drunk and talking of a revolution in absolute stupor. The next morning everyone will be on their way again, disparate, disunited and blundering along. So, keep your Facebook Wall free from ranting, just as you would want your living room’s energy to be positive, happy and thriving.
I refuse to believe that Facebook (or, for that matter, social media) is evil. Nor are people evil. Facebook, in fact, is a good place to hang out, have fun and share constructive perspectives – you can learn, and unlearn, a lot here! But everything begins with who you are adding into your circle and what you are sharing with them. An old adage says that you are the company you keep. An appropriate variation for today’s times should perhaps read: “How you feel is the result of who you are adding, and what you are sharing, on Facebook!”
Don’t expect appreciation and recognition from others. Celebrate yourself!
A young friend is exasperated that no one reads her poems. To be sure she writes very well. There is clearly evidence of a genius at work when she expresses herself through verse. But her beautifully designed and presented blog hardly attracts any traffic. She is upset because she thinks people don’t like her work. She reached out to me to see if I had a perspective to offer on her ‘predicament’. I explained to her that you cannot and must not live your Life for social approbation. What is important is that you are doing what you love doing. In her case it is writing poetry. That’s all that matters. If you start living your Life for social acclaim and applause, you will lead a very incomplete Life. Because someone, somewhere is never going to like or support what you do. On the other hand, if you do what you love doing, you will end up being truly happy – irrespective of whether others appreciate or recognize your work or not!
I curate a popular Event Series called The Bliss Catchers in Chennai. It is a live monthly conversation that celebrates all those who have had the courage to go do what they love doing. In the April 2016 edition of the Series we had a guest, Sridar Natarajan, the Dean of the Chennai Business School, who is also a music composer. In November 2015, he launched his own music album, ‘Reminiscence’, which is a throwback to the melodious music of the 1980s. Someone in the audience asked Sridar if it bothered him that not many people will know of him and his music. And Sridar replied, non-plussed, “Oh! Not at all!! I love the music I create!” I believe everyone must imbibe Sridar’s spirit. Do whatever you do for your inner joy. If it doesn’t make you happy, don’t do it!
But these are times when people are driven by social media pressure. The number of likes and followers someone has on social media seems to have become the benchmark for whether or not someone is worthy of recognition. The quality of one’s work is no longer the only criteria. So, you need not just be immensely talented, you also need to have a followership on social media. Now, it is also true that social media does not necessarily celebrate talent or world-class quality. So, chances are that even if you have something brilliant to offer the world, you may still not get anyone to follow you, because the followers are all grazing in mediocre pastures. So, how does anyone break free from the tyranny of this social media pressure? Very simply, you stop looking for recognition or reward. Love what you do, love yourself and celebrate yourself.
In Anu Menon’s recently-released, beautiful film Waiting, Naseeruddin Shah asks Kalki Koechlin what Twitter is. And when she explains that it is a ‘notice board where people can share their feelings and their work, and others can follow them, like them, converse with them, critique them and criticize (troll) them’, Shah asks her: “What is the point?” The audience laughs heartily, soaking in perhaps the futility of the entire social media charade. To the lay viewer though it may just appear that the question concerns the pointlessness of Twitter, the platform. But, to me, Shah’s comment was also about the pointlessness of seeking engagement, acclaim and approval from others.
Indeed we are all social animals. No doubt about that. But if we live forever pining for recognition from people who have neither the time nor the inclination to understand us or what we do, we are wasting our precious lifetime. So, the only person who needs to love what you are doing is you. Live your Life this way and see how happily you live!