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Soul Searching

Tom Saretsky

10/05/2016

As the grandiosity of self rises, mystery disappears

The grandiosity of self has risen to epic proportions in the last 12 years. I’m thinking like this because Facebook is already 12 years old (not quite a teenager). I call it the grandiosity of self because there’s no greater vehicle for self-promotion, self-pity, and self-aggrandizement in the world today. Of course, Facebook isn’t all bad because there is also a lot of informative sharing, genuine caring, and expressions of heartfelt compassion.

I have a Facebook account but I don’t use it that much. I love reading the news articles people post, and I will share things now and again, like a picture of family or even a tidbit of good news. I don’t “check in” to places (any longer) because I’m thinking there aren’t too many people in my circle who really care if I decide to eat at Red Lobster on a Tuesday evening.

Facebook is a wonderful vehicle for staying in touch with people, especially family. A niece just gave birth to her first child. Their announcement on Facebook has me riveted to the new pictures. She and her husband live in Ontario, and so Facebook makes the distance of time and space that much shorter. Facebook also allows me to keep up with the lives of former schoolmates and friends from my childhood. It’s even rendered the traditional “family form letter” obsolete.

As good as Facebook can be for sharing and caring, the ego, unfortunately, is gaining a serious rise in prominence because of it and that won’t subside anytime soon.

Almost a century ago the playwright George Bernard Shaw described the ego as “a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” He said this long ago, so our time in history doesn't have a monopoly on ego. But today it would appear we are unhappy and unfulfilled. Or are we so starved for affection and affirmation that we need to go public with every thought, word, action, experience and selfie photo for all the world to see? Is Facebook the only way to fill the void?

I guess we have to “face” it: the Facebook machine, and now even more social media sites like Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and LinkedIn, have given the ego a virtual playground to roam about and freely enter people’s lives — if we let them.

Do you remember when walls were built to keep people out? Now we create walls to let people in — kind of paradoxical. It used to be that anytime we wrote on someone’s wall, or other people would write on our walls, it was called graffiti; now we write on our own walls and hope others will too. We have a thought and we want people to know just how profound it is. We are in a sombre mood and we want people to offer their sympathy and support, even though we don’t always include the details of what is wrong. A post might read something like: “I’m upset and angry . . .” Everyone who responds does so with the noblest and sincerest of intentions, offering support and encouragement. However, the post neglects to include the actual details of what caused the anger in the first place — the drive-thru got your take-out order wrong and you didn’t notice until you got home! That fact just doesn’t have as much of an impact!

Facebook is not quite a teenager yet. Pre-teens (and early teenagers for that matter), want the world to revolve around them and everything they do. That’s not a bad thing. It’s an essential part of growing up and maturing. Without beating on this child too much, maybe it’s about allowing social media to grow up and mature, and we along with it. Funny, yet sad, how Facebook can make teenagers again out of people in their 50s! We’re re-discovering the world of what it’s like to grow up all over again.

Social media is the world’s permanent resident, and humanity has now become its house guest. It's an all-powerful, all-encompassing, all-knowing, and all-observing presence. Be careful out there. There has to be a room left in your heart that allows for your own sense of your private self. Everyone does not have to know everything. Richard Rohr would say, “it's a way of keeping your mystery alive where the ego doesn't always win by revealing it for the rest of the world to see.” A mystery is meant to promote fascination and wonder, which might compel one to dig a little deeper, but on a more personal and private scale. Is it possible we might have forgotten how to “like” this way of living? 

Saretsky is a teacher and chaplain at Holy Cross High School in Saskatoon. He and his wife, Norma, have two children, Nathan and Jenna.