Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Hidden Greatness: What?! No Facebook Notifications?!

"There is much emphasis on notoriety and fame in our society. Our newspapers and television keep giving us the message: What counts is to be known, praised, and admired, whether you are a writer, an actor, a musician, or a politician. Still, real greatness is often hidden, humble, simple, and unobtrusive. It is not easy to trust ourselves and our actions without public affirmation. We must have strong self-confidence combined with deep humility. Some of the greatest works of art and the most important works of peace were created by people who had no need for the limelight. They knew that what they were doing was their call, and they did it with great patience, perseverance, and love.” ~ Henri J.M. Nouwen

Facebook, Twitter, E-Mail, Google+, Reddit, and Instagram - just to name a few. These are a few ways by which our voice can be heard in today's world.  In fact, so many of us are attached to one or many of these forms of social media/communication that we'd be forgiven if we were to ask WWJP (What Would Jesus Post?) or WWBT (What Would Buddha Tweet?) when we power up our computers in the morning.

Let's admit it; most of the things that we post online during the day are pretty useless. We post a status update on the minutiae of our day - what we had for lunch, or if the dog seems to have a cold. I, for one, change my profile picture so many times that it's probably listed in the latest edition of Obsessive Compulsives 'R' Us. I, get particularly annoyed by many of the so-called inspirational quotes with picturesque backgrounds that end up on my news feed.

Clutter. Clutter. Clutter.

As if our "real" lives aren't cluttered up enough with noise, tasks to complete, and people to see, we clutter up our e-lives.

I think a lot of it comes down to plain old narcissism, and I am guilty as charged. (As a sidenote, perhaps the most aggravating of Facebook posts are the ones that say "I have over 100 Friends, but I bet you that less than 15 will "Like" this status update. "Like" it to prove that I mean something special to you." Puuleeeeze.)

I'm not advocating that we all delete our Facebook and Twitter accounts, but perhaps we - perhaps I - can tone it down a notch. And I also want to mention that social media can be a force for good, like when someone is promoting a worthy cause.

But above, the late Catholic priest and writer Henri Nouwen speaks of hidden greatness that is "often hidden, humble, simple, and unobtrusive."  Are you like me and get frustrated when you log on to Facebook or check your email and you have fewer messages than expected or no messages at all? Ahhhh! The sky is falling!  Nouwen says that it isn't easy to come to a place where you don't need public affirmation, and that we have to have a self-confidence combined with a deep humility in order to do so.

One of the things we have lost with the advent of social media and being always-connected is simplicity and humility. Taking a walk to be with our Creator or just to be with ourselves is something our parents or grandparents did, not us. But this is to our peril. Our natural state is not one of serenity and being grounded, but one of anxiety - When am I going to receive another Facebook notification?

I think - I know - that each of us has a hidden greatness. We have great things to accomplish. But the first shall be last and the last shall be first.

And there's a "Shut Down" button on our computers that we might do well to use more often.

Mark Andrew Alward