What does it mean to contribute to a greater good—to be of benefit?
And how often do we consider this before we speak or act? Do we take a moment to think about our words before we express them—perhaps even choose to withhold them if they don’t seem necessary or kind?
I’d like to say that I am always mindful of my words and actions. But life gets in the way, and I can often be unconscious about my behavior.
More often than I would like, I speak, do, and share from a place of need or reactivity rather than heartfelt intention. I’ve found it’s easy to get caught up in our own stuff instead of thinking about the interests and feelings of the people around us.
I find this to be especially true when it comes to social media. Time and time again, I have pondered if authenticity is actually possible in the age of selfies and 24/7 updates. It seems that everyone is obsessed with showing everyone else how wonderful their lives are—whether it’s touting a delicious meal, hot body, beautiful vacation vista, or adorable new pet.
Everyone’s life looks great. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always feel real.
I believe that most people join Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, or other social interfaces as means for connection. It begins as a desire for communication and sharing with people we genuinely have a connection with. But quickly the sharing of personal photos with relatives and close friends morphs into a need to uphold an image to a greater public.
The connection we are seeking becomes less about those we are sharing with, and more about proving to ourselves that we are worthy of tons of attention.
Yes, we share our dreams and ideas, but are we doing so with generosity and an open heart, or are we doing it to seek approval—to become more “like-able?” As we strive to be electronically validated, are we actually hiding—even denying—our vulnerable and true selves, and thus the potential for authentic connection?
I have been on a spiritual path for years and I like to believe that I am a compassionate and conscious person. But it wasn’t until I participated in elephant journal’s Apprenticeship Program in writing, editing, journalism, and social media that I realized how much of what I was sharing with the world on public platforms was not always coming from a place of true generosity.
What does “to be of benefit” mean, anyway? It means offering something that is helpful to others—and most importantly beyond yourself. Being of benefit is about treating others as we would like to be treated. It’s a basic tenet of most every religion, but something so many of us tend to forget when we are feeling lonely, confused, anxious, or unsure of ourselves.
With the help of the elephant journal editors, I came to realize that my articles were often more about me discussing what I had learned or overcome than about offering something tangible and of benefit through my insights. I thought I was connecting by sharing my experiences, but I wasn’t thinking about how they could relate to, and thus impact, the readers.
I had inferred—or taken for granted—that people would read my articles as examples that would be helpful in their own lives. I forgot to break down my words to address the reader as a human, and to relate why what I was sharing might be worthwhile to them too. I realize now, it’s like running into friends and telling them all about my day and forgetting to ask them about theirs.
Being of benefit is about being in relationship. It is give and take and true compassion—as in putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and then experiencing them from that place. It’s also about being humble enough to invite others to participate with you. When we don’t invite our readers or friends into our stories or posts, we are just talking heads demanding to be heard and seen.
“See me, hear me, notice me” are words that a young child yells to a parent or caregiver seeking confirmation that they are doing well in life. Of course, we adults like this type of validation too, but it is very one-sided and frankly self-engrossed. In our need for approval, we are asking for something from others without offering something to them in exchange.
True engagement makes for true connection, and unfortunately, when we are seeking attention, we can easily forget to be loving, kind, or compassionate to the people we are trying to impress. We almost forget they are human beings with feelings, insecurities, and a desire for connection—just like ourselves.
My question today is: How do we change this?
How can relationships and “friendships” on social media feel authentic? How can we take the time to tap into what is really going on with the people we interact with? And how can we build connection and create real relationships within this world where so much communication is electronic?
I think we can take an example from Buddhist teachings and elephant journal, and start asking ourselves “Is this of benefit?” every time we post.
For authentic connection and engagement, it is essential we pause and become mindful of why we are posting something, and consider what good it will offer others as well as ourselves.
This should go without saying, but this is also a worthwhile practice when communicating with others in person too.
Author: Samantha Eddy
Editor: Nicole Cameron