Category: Positive Society

When Social Media Becomes Toxic

When Social Media Becomes Toxic

I’ve had a Facebook profile for 10 years now. That’s a decade, or almost a third of my lifetime on the largest social media platform. It acts as my lifeline to a pseudo-social life, a documenting of my time (I post incessantly.), and a memory jogger. I give a lot of time to Facebook, but I don’t get much in return as far as meaningful content or personal growth is concerned. It’s how I spend garbage time. It’s the modern equivalent of sitting in front of the television having my mind filled for me with discount whatever. I click “Like” to show someone I’ve acknowledged and validated them while never saying a word, or to gently end a string of conversation that I’m not sure how to continue.

I’ve taken “Facebook Vacations” before, where I vow to log out and stay out for a week at a time so that I can either focus more on something important to me, or focus less on things that keep me clicking refresh on autopilot with minimal reward.

Every time I’ve taken one of these Facebook vacations, I have this fantasy of deleting my Facebook altogether. Good morning Productive Me. Yet as much as I hate it sometimes, I have tricked myself into thinking I need it. Not in an oxygen kind of way, but in the way that I’ve relied on it for so long to keep contact with people that I’m afraid deleting it will effectively delete everyone I know from my life. Is that a little over-dramatic? Sure, but I’m still afraid. If you do something and there’s nobody around to click “like”, does it still matter?

I recently watched Black Mirror (a Netflix show you should absolutely watch) and it really got me thinking, like all good television shows should, about how I use social media. I already know that I spend too much precious time and give too much priority to Facebook, or to YouTube, or to Instagram or Reddit. The amount of time I’ve spent just in the last month sending stupid Snapchats to my friends could have been better utilized to finish editing my novel. I have over 2,000 images in my Instagram account. I know I need to learn how to turn off this hyper-social-consumption part of me on a regular basis.

I’m a human with a lot of aspirations. I thrive most when I’m learning and expanding my mind, opening up little doors to different parts of my self. I think that’s why I’ve grown to love Medium so much. In the short time I’ve been on the site I’ve read life changing articles that have challenged how I think. I can’t say the same thing for an endless Facebook Newsfeed filled with dank memes, as entertaining as some of them might be.

I’m sure most people don’t have these problems. Most people probably have an iota of self control that keeps them productive, but I feel like I lose myself a little bit every time I waste an hour here or there on things that do nothing to challenge me. I’ve got an amazingly addictive personality, which equates to entire days flushed down the proverbial “social” toilet with nary a thought. I will procrastinate entire weeks away watching makeup review videos. The worst part is that I know that when I take that same energy and put it toward something goal-oriented, there’s nothing in the world that can stop me.

I would never say that social media is inherently bad. Like most things, the magical world of moderation gives it a prescribed value. To a growing chunk of the world, if you don’t exist on social media, you don’t exist at all. It’s not going anywhere and will only get stronger so I will only alienate myself in exile from it.

Rather than take a Facebook vacation this time around, I am issuing myself and anybody else who wants to participate a permanent challenge: to limit yourself to a combined total of 1 hour of social media per day. For myself this will be Facebook, YouTube, and Reddit as that is where I spend the most unproductive time. In its place I’ll spend more time reading and writing, two things that are more in line with the person I know I am.

Don’t Talk, Don’t Talk – The Value of Listening

Don’t Talk, Don’t Talk – The Value of Listening

Sometimes I like to just sit in a crowded public place and listen. Listen to the bustle of the crowd; catch snippets of conversation in passing. Listen and watch. You learn a lot about people that way.

I like to sit in a restaurant and watch people. Based on what I see of their body language, notice about their physical presentation, and hear of their conversations, I construct elaborate back stories about their lives in my head. I make my best guess at what they love and fear, how often they smile, and what brought them to this specific moment, where we share a space and a time.

When you act like a sponge; when you pay attention: that’s when you learn the most. While absorbing the actions of strangers in public might be more of a bizarre hobby than a helpful addition to your life, listening to the people you are directly communicating with makes all the difference in the world. I don’t mean listening, like… hearing the words they’re saying an nodding your head while waiting for your turn to speak. Looking like you’re listening doesn’t mean you are listening.

Truly listening to someone who’s sitting in front of you means you don’t talk. You don’t give your opinion, you don’t insert your little quips, you don’t go off on a random tangent related to what they’ve said. You just. Listen. You listen until they stop talking, and then you listen some more. If they stop talking for awhile, you ask a question about what they’ve said to get them talking again. You do this until you have a deeper understanding of who they are as a person.

It’s in our nature to want to be known, and to share, which is why we’re always so quick to want to take hold of a conversation. It’s why so many people feel fulfilled when talking about themselves. Hell, it’s why some of us blog. It’s the willingness to share who we are in the hopes of making a connection. But, if everybody is wanting to talk and nobody wants to listen, any connections made will be entirely superficial.

I work with a lot of incredibly smart people: doctors, nurses, social workers and the like. On my break when I join many of them in the coffee room at work, I love listening to what they have to say. I hear such interesting stories and even learn something every now and then.

When you’re just getting to know somebody, it’s so important to listen. When I have someone new in my life, I want to learn all about them. I want to know what makes them tick, what they love, what makes them smile or laugh, how they see the world and how they see themselves. I love deep connections, and it’s easier to achieve those when you listen.  If you don’t, you’ll end up projecting onto that person who you think they are, or who you want them to be, rather than who they’ve been trying to tell you they are.

Try it. Next time you’re having a conversation with somebody, don’t think about yourself at all. Don’t talk about yourself if you can avoid it. Ask questions to the person you’re conversing with and let them talk. Listen to what they’re saying and pay attention while trying not to subconsciously dismiss them in favor of trying to make yourself known. It just might be one of the best conversations you’ve ever had.

Love Yourself – You’re Beautiful

Love Yourself – You’re Beautiful

I look around me and all I see are beautiful women. All a lot of them see are their flaws. An endless race to nip this and tuck that, too fat here and too skinny there. It’s a race that can never be won, because for every person you might think is perfect, they might look in the mirror at the end of the day and hate what they see.

If perfection is beauty, I want no part of it.

My best friend visibly cringes every time she tries on clothing in a store. She will look amazing but won’t buy a clothing item because of some perceived flaw or insecurity. She’s her own worst enemy and as much as everyone around her tells her she’s beautiful, she doesn’t quite seem to grasp it as a reality.

It’s not men who make us feel this way. I’ve known men who are attracted to fat women or thin women, or women with large or small breasts. Black hair, blonde hair, red hair, green hair, it doesn’t matter. I’ve known men who don’t seem to give a single shit about stretch marks or a less than ideal figure. In my experience it’s rare to see a man trashing a woman’s appearance. No, it’s not men. It’s us. We do it to each other. Women hating on other women. It happens all the time, and I am sick of seeing it.

I see it on message boards and in the comments section of any social media website I’ve ever been on. Women tearing other women down. It’s always confused me. Maybe it’s because of my long history as a portrait artist, or the fact I was raised not to allow physical beauty to dictate my self worth, but I think everyone is beautiful. For every stereotypically “beautiful” woman I see presented in social media, there are at least a hundred comments, usually from women, cutting down what she’s wearing by calling her a slut or a whore, or finding some flaw in her appearance and ripping her to shreds for it.

Remember that Miley Cyrus music video for Wrecking Ball? Honestly, I was never a fan of Miley Cyrus prior to that music video but now I respect the hell out of her. It’s a good song, and I understood the video. It was powerful. Yet, she got torn apart for it because of how she chose to express herself. I watched my Facebook Newsfeed blow up with women posting the video and ripping into Miley about what a “skank” she is and how ugly she looks. Why? The typical excuse is that she’s providing a “bad influence” for young women. I think the opposite is true. Miley is a strong, intelligent and confident woman who is comfortable with her body and with her sexuality. If I had a daughter, those are qualities I’d hope she’d grow up to possess.

I like to think I’m fairly comfortable in my own skin. I don’t obsess over jiggly bellies or saggy boobs or cellulite or double chins. My body is what it is, and I love it and take care of it. But of course, like everyone, I have my moments of insecurity as well. This is a very new realization, but I find my confidence dips along with my depression lows and I start looking for some form of physical validation. I might put a ton of makeup on and hope someone compliments me that day, or I might try to boost my confidence by taking a hundred fucking selfies at just the right angle and in just the right light to look a little bit closer to what I think my own personal ideal should be. I never realized just how ridiculous that is before now. I know it’s unhealthy, and I’m trying to stop.

We all just need to love ourselves more. I know how cliché it is, trust me, but don’t compare yourself with others. Don’t dwell on your perceived flaws. Focus on being healthy in mind and in body rather than punishing yourself. Celebrate your differences rather than trying to hide them. For a number of years now, I’ve made it my goal to compliment at least one person every day. Not only does it bring smiles to the faces of other people, but it makes me feel really good too. As human beings we deal with enough stress and hate and anger in the world without getting extra from ourselves. You are beautiful. Be kind to yourself.

P.S. I know this post has been completely dominated by the female perspective on this. I know men have the exact same problems with insecurities and confidence, but as I’m not male I didn’t feel qualified to comment. I know my readership is mostly female, but if any men read this, I hope you know you’re beautiful and I hope you love yourself, or soon learn to.

“That Shirt Looks Nice on You” and Other Ways to Make Someone Smile

“That Shirt Looks Nice on You” and Other Ways to Make Someone Smile

There is no better feeling than when you make someone smile. It’s easy to do, but people shy away from doing it because making someone else feel happy can sometimes make you feel awkward or vulnerable.

You’re walking down a sidewalk, and you are about to pass by a man who looks like he’s had a bad day. His eyes are pointed downward, his hands in his pockets. Maybe he’s dealing with something terrible at home. Maybe he was in a relationship that just ended. Maybe he’s questioning his life choices. You notice that the jacket he’s wearing perfectly complements him, or it’s a really cool style or colour. “Hey man, that jacket looks really nice on you”. Smile at him. It only took you a few seconds to say it, and you might have made a big difference in his day. He’ll walk a little straighter for the rest of the day, because of the compliment of a stranger.

You’re in line at Starbucks and there’s a girl standing behind you, waiting to order. She’s looking very despondent as she stares through the glass at the available sweets. You notice her shirt: it’s a great style and it complements her in a really nice way. Smile and say, “That shirt looks nice on you”, before ordering your coffee. For the rest of the day, she’ll walk more confidently and feel really great about herself and how she looks in her shirt.

Normally, you might walk by these two people without a thought. You might recognize how nice they look but you wouldn’t dare tell them. Why? Why  not try to make someone smile? Why not let a little honesty slip out about a stranger if it gives them a reason to smile? How many times have we whispered to a friend, “I love her shoes/style/hair/glasses!” making sure they don’t hear that you’re talking about them? Our lives are made up of a series of experiences, most of which involve other people. The unnecessary kindness of a stranger, a compliment given without obligation, a simple smile… it can make someone’s day. Try it.

Just as it can be great to make strangers feel awesome, it’s even better to make friends feel good. I think a lot of us get comfortable with our friends and we might feel like there are things that no longer need to be said. Telling a friend, “I appreciate you.” can go a long way and create a stronger bond. “I’m glad I met you”, “I love having you in my life”, and “You’re beautiful, inside and out” are all examples of things you can say to the people in your life that will lift their spirits and let them know you value them.

I’ve noticed a startling lack of people telling other people how they feel when it’s something that will spread happiness. I’m absolutely confused as to why people hold back in this area. Is it some deep-seated fear that we’ll be rejected? Is it that, as a society, we’re so detached from one another that smiling at another person is considered “creepy” rather than a nice gesture? Maybe I’m the crazy one for thinking it’s a good idea to help raise the confidence of other people in this way. Most of us struggle with problems surrounding our self esteem and I would love to be part of a society where we help build each other up.

Be genuine. If you notice something positive about another person, tell them! You just might make someone smile, make their entire day, and make yourself part of a happy memory in their life.