I recently reactivated my Facebook account. Go ahead. You’ll see I added a new profile picture. The last one was a picture of my 2-year-old son and me at JFK Airport on the day we moved to Israel. That was eight-years ago.
“The world runs on social media,” my friends have told me. If you want to build your new business, you can’t avoid it. If you want to locate a friend, that’s the best way. If you need entertainment and distraction from the stress of your day — what better way than to open up your newsfeed and see all these inspirational videos and shocking ones too that expose you to the injustices of the world.
They’re right. The first day I posted I heard from so many people and made so many connections with people I haven’t spoken to in years…it felt really good. There’s something incredible about that. And I found lots of cool recipes and saw that I should pray for a sick child. I clicked onto someone’s fundraising page. I also got to see that another friend traveled to someplace in Africa (that’s exotic) and another one just celebrated a twentieth anniversary (and her husband is so amazing) and yet another posted a new family photo from her son’s bar mitzvah and I was impressed. How did she get everyone to smile at the same time and gosh, they look so put together! Someone also got a promotion at work. Wow, looks like she’s got a great career. I’m so proud of her. And this friend just finished another graduate degree. How did she have time for that?!
Before I realized it, two hours had passed. I stood up to stretch my legs and to look at the clock. Oh no! I was supposed to pick up the kids from school five minutes ago!
As I stepped outside into the sunshine, it felt as if I had just emerged from a cave. The light was so bright and blinding…and I felt unsettled. It wasn’t that I had wasted time. Okay, maybe I did. But sometimes a little wasted time makes other time more productive. There was something else that bothered me.
It was all the smiling faces. The exotic trips. The amazing husbands. The unbelievable accomplishments of my friends. And more smiling pictures and cute kids. And I wondered if all this happiness and perfection was good for me. Or anyone.
Very few of the posts broached the messiness of life. How getting that extra degree cost her a lot of time with her family. How five of those 20 years of marriage were spent in marriage therapy. How one of those smiling children was difficult to manage. But don’t think I’m going to say — let’s post all our struggles to balance out all that perfection.
That’s not the answer.
As Jews, we know that everything Hashem put into this world has the potential for good and the potential for bad. Facebook is an incredible tool to bring communities of people together and create communities where they might not otherwise exist. But it can also isolate individuals.
Even the simplest conversation can create this same isolation in the world of verbal communication.
“My best friend bought me the most amazing birthday present…” Hmmm…I don’t even have a best friend, much less amazing birthday presents!
Who are we speaking to? Why are we communicating (posting) these thoughts and what are our goals?
With Rosh Hashanah on the horizon, how can one really do a cheshbon hanefesh (an accounting of the soul) if one’s sense of self is calibrated by (unconsciously) comparing oneself to others. Especially if those others have not presented a true picture of themselves, meaning — the whole picture.
We will never know the whole picture of another person’s life. Only our own.
As we work on our cheshbon hanefesh (accounting of the soul), may we have the strength of mind to focus on our true selves. To recognize where we’ve come from and to know where we’re headed. To truly believe that our individual life’s journey is unique and designed specifically for us by G-d.
Perhaps with this level of focus, we will also be able to imagine where others are coming from and where they’re headed, enabling us to be more mindful before we communicate something we consider perfectly neutral and nice. With this in mind, we will surely save others from experiencing pain or isolation.