Rules (or lack thereof) of Social Engagement

I’ve had something on my mind. Social media and expectations, as well as social media and judgement. You know why I signed up for Facebook back in… 2009 (I think)? My friend Jennafer said I should. That was it. LOL No expectations. No demands. Same for Instagram, though two years later. A friend signed me up as we stood in line, waiting to order some of Nashville’s best BBQ. (Thanks, April!)

Today, both games have changed, haven’t they? It’s almost like there are unspoken rules of engagement. For starters, I’m told you should be brief. We all know I suck at this one. This post actually started life as a FB post, but I realized it was a little out of control, and moved it here. Shall we continue?

The funny thing about rules of engagement is people seem to be of two very different mindsets. Where do I sit? Honestly? I didn’t know.

This question has rattled around in my head a bunch lately, mostly due to a few recent interactions. One came in the form of private FB message from a college friend. It was a nice note, wishing me a happy birthday that concluded with this: “I just wanted to say that your posts are really refreshing, I always like folks that feel like they can be an open book […]. The good, the bad, and the frustrating. Always be real!”

Just before receiving this note, another expressed concern over my ability to continue working in this industry I do if I continue to share as I have. This was not meant to be harsh. More as advice from another who works in the same industry and wants me to succeed.

These aren’t isolated incidents. I’ve received unsolicited feedback like this many times over the years. Sometimes saying it’s best to say less. Other times, thanking me for saying as much as I do. No wonder I find myself a bit confused.

Then there’s the fake vs. real in what we portray. This one applies more to Instagram. Some say it’s best to be real. Others are all about going to great lengths to stage the image they’re presenting. I like to think I’m somewhere in the middle on this one, sharing looks at my home life with family and friends, as well as staged shots of the creative work I do. Yes, it is a hobby. A hobby I love. But it’s also how I bring home the bacon bits.

A while back, a friend was saddened when someone posted about how we shouldn’t use photo filters. It really left her feeling unsure. Shamed, even. I see both sides of the coin. Filters are just another layer between reality and what we portray as reality. They’re artificial, in a way. On the other hand, isn’t that the point? If I can add a little Valencia to make my tired mama eyes look a little less tired, is there anything wrong with doing so? If it gives me a slight boost of confidence in a world where my confidence is slipping at a rapid pace, isn’t that a good thing?

No filter. Chin chub. Sleeping bags beneath the eyes. Oh, did I say this already? No filter!

Filtered, both to soften the rough and also to support the story I was telling with this particular image. A funny tale about a night gone VERY wrong that I shared on FB.

What about the photos that I really deck out? You know, like some of my outdoor shots where I’ve enhanced the blue of the sky to appear almost turquoise and added a sun flair or light burst to, ahem, lighten the mood? Is that a no-no or is it art?

I love the creative expression photography offers, but I also understand how when I look back on that trip to the water tower years from now, the sky as it truly was will be a forgotten memory. Is that bad? Does it somehow cheapen my experience and my capture of it?

Last night, as I was reading Essentials: Essays by The Minimalists (I know, I know—obsess much?—but they are SO good), I came to this, which really resonated with me.

“It’s a matter of congruency. For the longest time, I lead two separate lives. Corporate me was prim and proper—extensively flawless. Then there was creative me. Flawed and beautiful. Beautiful because of the flaws, perhaps. I kept the two separated. Over time, this took its toll. Living two separate lives was exhausting. Even disingenuous. Instead of hiding one half from the other, I decided to change my activity to align both halves… Your online persona should be a mirror of you and nothing to be ashamed of. For me, there isn’t an online self and a real life self, just my self. Whether I speak to a crowd of people, write something online, or have a private conversation with a friend, my life is congruent.”

Joshua Fields Millburn continued. I was messing with the iPad at the time, so I jotted the notes down for this part. Hope you can read my chicken scratch.

In the chance you can’t read that last bit, it’s worth restating:

“Deciding what’s private and what’s public is a personal matter. Share whatever you like. Just don’t be ashamed of who you are. Shame is ugly and you’re FAR TOO BEAUTIFUL FOR THAT!”

Isn’t that it, right there?

We ARE far too beautiful to feel shame over items shared. Post a pic of your messy house? Good for you! Post a pic of the one small corner of your home that ISN’T messy? I’m right there with ya! Write on FB about your crummy day? I hope you find some comfort in the replies. Write a FB post about your awesome day? Excellent! Enjoy celebrating with others!

As far as I’m concerned, rules shouldn’t apply as long as the messages and images abide by basic rules of public decency. It is a public space, after all. No shoes? No shirt? No service! Okay, okay, shoeless may enter. As much as I dislike feet (especially my own), I’m not about to block another for their cute pedi pic. And I’m not going to hit the “report” button at the first site of a topless Dean Cain. But it is a public domain, and I shouldn’t have to fear my daughter seeing bare bosoms if she happens to enter with me. And no perpetuating hate or hurt. Period. That business gets blocked and breaks my “rules” quickly.

Of course, saying all of this, I can still think of a post or two I regret. One in particular. It was about Cory's choice to work over the holidays. That's his story, his decision, and his to share or not. Hurt, I made it my own and said more than I should have. I guess it's all about finding a comfortable balance, which is something I still work at.

Why? Is that what you’re asking at this point? Why this post? I don’t know. I guess because these thoughts have been rolling round ’n’ round in my head for weeks, and I wanted to put a stop to the spin cycle. Thanks for visiting this here washateria (Mom's way of saying "laundromat.") No shaming. Just enjoy your beautiful self doing your beautiful thang!