In which I ponder…Fakebook

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I still know one or two people who don’t use Facebook.

It’s my experience that people who have not succumbed to the questionable joys of the worlds largest social network are a bit proud of themselves. Smug even. And sometimes they imply that simply by eschewing its pleasures they are somehow on a higher intellectual plane than the rest of us – as if refusing to be part of it means that they spend their time, Jean-Paul Sartre-like, contemplating life’s deeper issues while us Facebookers waste our lives sharing photos of our dinner and pictures of kittens.

It’s far more likely that, like the rest of us, they are actually just watching trash tv and putting a load of washing on.

Personally I really like Facebook. As an emigrant, it has allowed me to keep up with friends and family, and for them to keep up with us, in an easy, instant way. It has meant that our connections across the miles have stayed strong. And I’ve been able to reconnect with people from school and University with whom I almost certainly would have lost touch without Facebook – given that I move so much. It’s actually been a massive pleasure to see how well everyone who went to my very ordinary state comprehensive school in the North of England has done.

But one of the criticisms often aimed at Facebook*, and those of us who love it, is that people just share the pictures and thoughts that make their life look marvelous, when actually we all know that our lives are relatively mundane. Facebook is full of pictures of lovely days out, declarations of love and admiration for other halves, and exciting news about the successes of our children. You rarely see an outright, all out ‘my life is shit and you should all fuck off’ post – and we all know we all have days like that. It’s almost like there is an unspoken law about it – no matter how grave your problem, on Facebook you are required to put a brave face on, be inspirational, and only occasionally allude to the darker moments in life.

So are we all inauthentic, shallow people posting only the best of our lives on Facebook? And does all this inauthenticity lead to a general malcontent leading to too much comparison – which can leave people feeling their life is not good enough, or lacking in some way?

I’ve been thinking (pondering even**) this question this week. An old friend of mine from the UK nominated me in one of those Facebook photo things, where you have to post a picture daily for a week of something ‘every day’ in your life. The thing that got me thinking is that in nominating me she said ‘because you always seem to be doing something interesting’.

Now on a quick survey of my Facebook page, this does seem to be borne out. My feed is full of photos of beautiful beaches (can’t help that – Australia is so beautiful), events attended, children’s achievements and lovely friends caught up with. I only post the stuff that is either interesting or beautiful. I admit it. You could be forgiven for thinking that I am always doing something interesting.

The reality, of course, is much less glamorous. In between all this interestingness there is going to work, housework, arguments with teenage children, broken washing machines, milk that’s gone off, more going to work, and long hours spent alone watching rubbish on the tv when you know you could have been reading your book if only you could summon up the energy to get off the sofa and find it (and more importantly – your glasses).

But is this all a bad thing?

At times in my life when I’ve really been struggling to see the positives, I have found three things, in combination, have really helped – exercise, meditation and a gratitude diary. Taking time out at the end of the day, every day, to reflect on those things for which I am grateful makes a tangible difference to how I feel about life generally. When you are doing it tough, it’s easy to allow yourself to get into a problem-saturated frame of mind, not noticing the good stuff anymore, and gratitude diaries refocus the mind to a more positive outlook***.

And it’s not just me. There is a body of evidence, and in particular, research done by Professor Robert Emmons that demonstrates the great social, psychological, and physical health benefits that come from this practice.

Since Facebook started their daily ‘memories’ feed, I’m always curious to see what it puts up from 5 years ago, in the immediate aftermath of the breakdown of my marriage. You’d really hardly know that my life was imploding from the posts and photographs, apart from the odd oblique reference or cryptic message. And that’s a good reminder that even when things look really bleak, good stuff is still happening – the sun is still shining, the world is still beautiful, your friends and family are still amazing, your children are still making you proud every day.

So how about we stop seeing Facebook as Fakebook, and start seeing it as a enormous, global, online gratitude diary in which we favour the positive over the negative and celebrate the good things – big and small – that happen everyday? Who’s up for that? Because actually, those of us who have access to Facebook, have got it pretty good. The media is full of information about what’s wrong with the world – and there is plenty wrong with it – but we have a secret. At the same time as all of the fear, uncertainty and inequality we are bombarded with everyday, we also know our lives are boring, wonderful and beautiful in all their predictability, and we want to share them.

 

*Of course, the other big criticism of Facebook is that the ‘friends’ on Facebook are not ‘real’ and that the quality of those relationships is superficial and might be a barrier to developing meaningful friendships in the real world. I beg to differ though. Facebook has meant I have remained connected to people with whom I would otherwise have lost contact over the years, and I’ve actually made new, real life friends through it as well. I have two friends who I met on Facebook – one because she was selling clothes which I bought, and we became friends, and another because we both commented on a webcam at the Quay in our hometown in the UK from neighbouring suburbs in Sydney. And when my daughter recently started at a new school in a new suburb and was feeling very isolated and lonely, a young man she had met once at a party but then added on Facebook (as young people do) passed her in a corridor, recognized her and then messaged her to say hi – was she ok, she must be new, if she needed anyone to hang out with to let him know. And now they are best friends. So there. Facebook is good.

**see what I did there?

***it occurs to me that this contrasts significantly with our global approach to news, which is largely negative – as we are told that the good news stories don’t sell, and almost that good news isn’t actually news. It’s hard to believe, when looking at Facebook, that if the people controlled the media – rather than the Rupert Murdoch’s of the world – that the news would be so dark, when our personally controlled news feeds seem to make so much effort to stay in the light. But that’s probably a whole other post…

 

 

 

 

In which I wonder about the courage required for authenticity…

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We are sitting in a local cafe having a late breakfast. Julie is staring at my face intently, in a way that suggests something beyond mere interest in what I’m saying. She suddenly interrupts.

“You shouldn’t wear that eyeshadow you know. You’re too old”

She pauses for a moment then says with conviction

“Yep. Nah. Doesn’t look good”

She should know. In a former life, she was a successful make up artist, working on Hollywood movies.

I laugh.

“Ok. What should I be wearing?”

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I am at the hairdressers. I am trying to persuade my hairdresser, who has been cutting my hair for so many years that we’ve become friends, that he should give me a fringe. He’s being a bit evasive but is pretty much saying no.

“I’m not doing that”, he says. “You’ll regret it.”

“I won’t”, I say. “Why won’t you do it?”

He sighs.

“Because you’ll look ugly”

“That’s a bit harsh!’ I say, then we both laugh. And I don’t have the fringe.

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We are on the phone. I am relating the latest drama with my boyfriend. I can hear that she is getting frustrated with me.

“I don’t know why you put up with this shit. While you put up with this sort of shit, you’re just inviting it in, and it’s why you have the same relationship over and over. Fuck Wendy. You need to get in your power. You’ve only got yourself to blame!”

She is nearly shouting.

A week or so later we are in the car on the way back from somewhere or other.

“I want to talk to you about the conversation we had the other day. I get where you’re coming from, but I’m not you, you know. I know I’m doing some of this stuff, but I’m on a journey, and I can only be as far along it as I am at each moment. And when I tell you about it, it’s not necessarily because I want advice or for you to solve it, but I’m kind of working through it in my own mind as I’m telling you…And you were shouting”

“Oh” she says. We are both laughing.

“Was I shouting? I won’t shout”

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Over the last few years, there have been some tough times. People who I thought would be in my life forever, have come and gone, and I’ve whittled down my group to a small core of people that I trust absolutely, after experiences that could have led me to distrust everyone, especially friends.

I was wondering what it is was that these people have in common – given that they are so very different, and that some live in the Northern and others in the Southern hemisphere, so few of them have met.

And I think it is authenticity.

I think I’m blessed to have friends who are courageous enough, and love me enough, to tell me the really hard stuff. And they’ve told me some really hard stuff – way harder than the shocking revelation that your eyeshadow is for youngsters, and you are no longer a youngster. This sort of honesty means that when they tell you the good stuff – you know it’s actually true.

I think women are particularly bad at this (and this is perhaps why I’ve always had lots of male friends). Friendships that are based on only saying what you think the other person wants to hear (‘no – you look great in that dress’, ‘of course it’s not you – it’s him, the bastard’ etc etc), lead to relationships that are not based in trust. And of course trust is the basis of everything.

But I also think I am fortunate to have gone far enough in my own journey to be able to hear the hard stuff, to extract out of it what is meaningful for me, what I think is my stuff to deal with and what is theirs, and then to move on forever learning. This also means that when paid a compliment by the same friends, the negative self talk that so often interrupts the pleasure of being told something nice about myself is quietened – because I know these friends don’t bother saying it if it’s not what they truly feel. And when people are speaking to you from a place of authenticity, you just know.

And it makes me wonder – what would life be like if we all told the truth a little more? Both to each other, to ourselves and about ourselves? Scary but a little bit wonderful I think.

In which I learn to live without ego…

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If there is something I’ve learnt in the last 4 or 5 years or so, it is that everything is changing, all the time. Things I thought were concrete changed over night, sometimes in minutes, and it was adapt or (figuratively speaking) die. Initially I felt that some of these changes were forced upon me, but I’ve come to realise that in virtually every situation I made choices, and that overall those choices have been positive, even when they’ve been painful. And when I look back across my life, I’ve quite consistently chosen change – because often change means progression and progression has been important to me.

But recently I’ve found myself weighing up certain things where the burden of having to decide for myself without being able to blame anyone else has been almost overwhelming. And it’s led me to consider two rather uncomfortable things about the way I live my life.

The first thing is that I have a tendency to blame. When something goes wrong, I quickly look for whose fault it is – generally because I’m afraid it is mine. I’m much worse at this in my personal life than in my professional life – I suppose because it’s more personal. At work I know that when things go wrong it’s rarely the fault of one person, and usually the fault of a whole system. But when I’m at home, I’m looking for the culprit and to be honest it’s pretty annoying when it’s me. One of the problems with being single is that if your preference is to live in something of a blame culture, there’s no one left to blame*.

So these days, being on my own, when big life decisions need to be made there is only me to make them, and therefore only me to blame if it turns out that the decision I’ve made sucks big time. And this is making it very hard to decide stuff. And then recently I was ruminating over something that had been hanging over me for some months and my friend Julie** said this to me;

‘Why do you think you want to do that? That sounds like your ego talking’

I’ve given this a great deal of thought. And I think she is right – I think I’ve been operating too much from my ego, and this is part of what has been making decisions so difficult. Combine that with my blaming thing, and you’ve got a big problem – because if there’s no one to blame but myself, then my ego is going to suffer. And there is no one I punish more than I punish myself. It’s no wonder I seem to be paralysed around some major life issues.

Being concerned with my ego, even subconsciously, and therefore with status must mean that when I’m making decisions I am letting myself be preoccupied with issues of external validation. And this is no way to decide things. I need to be able to get in touch with what I really want by removing all thoughts of what other people might think, of how it might affect my status, and of where the validation for those decisions might lie. Even seeking to apportion blame is really a form of validation, isn’t it?

So I tried this out on a big decision I had been struggling over for some months. I thought carefully about what is really important to me when I’m not worrying about how I’ve got to get ahead, prove myself, be the best – or at least try. What does the authentic me want? What does my heart, rather than my head say?

Suddenly it’s made things a whole lot easier. And it means that for once, although it’s a little uncomfortable, I am not choosing change.

*to be honest, it’s quite often the children. Just saying.

**if you become a regular reader of this blog, you will come to realise that I have a confusing number of friends who are called Julie or Julia. I like to call them ‘My Julies’. Ali G style.