On Social Media and Self-Worth

I’m a Gen-X’er…or Gen Y’er depending on the definition one accepts. A career educator, I’ve spent time as the classroom teacher of middle and high school students and for the better part of the past decade as Principal for those same ages. Additionally, I coach high school basketball as well, which is a role I cherish.

Several years ago, in an effort to stay abreast of the lives of former players who made their way to college and beyond, I became a more consistent user of social media. That decision has enabled me to stay connected to my guys in ways I would have struggled to in the past. Along the way I’ve achieved a modicum of perspective into the development of these young adults navigating their way through the trappings of late adolescence and early-twenties’ life. In the midst of learning some interesting things, and an unfortunate inability to unlearn others, I’ve come to certain (perhaps not all that novel) personal realizations.

Social media is not all of something and none of something else. The positives offered are innumerable; I’ve mentioned a couple. However, one of the downsides to Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook (among others) is their tendency to serve as synthetic substitutes for healthy interaction. Saccharin if you will. When we post something, it has a way of triggering a need for validation. What will my followers think? Will they like what I’ve said? Will enough people double-tap? Will they think I look good? Whether one chooses to maintain public or private accounts, our simple humanity struggles to overcome this desire for affirmation.

The problem with this (rather subconscious) behavior is that it misplaces the inherent value of one’s personhood. What I mean to say is this: people are not special, not unique, not worthy because of what any other person thinks of or feels about them. This includes a parent, significant other, even a best friend. Rather, their self-worth derives from the simple fact that they are who they are: flaws and all. Every person is wired, designed, for a purpose, and that purpose can neither be devalued nor improved upon as a result of what others think. It’s when we begin searching for validation from others that insecurity creeps in.

The other day, I took my seven-year-old son to a local water park. Given the heat and humidity we sought refuge, like many other patrons, in the lazy river. During one of many bottlenecks, I noticed a young boy, not much older than my son, who had what appeared to be a birthmark just above his mouth. It wasn’t huge, but it was noticeable. And, I found myself wondering if that birthmark, the very thing that offers physical uniqueness actually will become a source of insecurity. Will his peers make fun of him? Will he try to hide the birthmark? As he grows older, will he consider a cosmetic “solution?” I hope not.

There’s a t-shirt connected with the non-profit To Write Love on Her Arms that says, “No One Else Can Play Your Part.” Oscar Wilde reminded us to “be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” Every single person exists for a reason. Whatever that reason may be, pursue it vigorously and encourage others to do the same. Be authentic. Above all, be yourself. After all, who will embrace your purpose if not you?

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