Monday, October 9, 2017

By Dan Logan and Troy Temple

After a full day of work and teaching university students aged 18-29, my wife asked me (Dan), “how was class today?” This was a typical question, and somewhat routine, for which I often answered with an expected positive response. However, this time it was different. Earlier that day I had a class that lacked energy and was fairly boring. I began to share this challenging experience with a fair amount of personalization, even sharing that I was bored with the content and I was the one teaching! After five minutes of lamenting, she looked at me and said, “You realize people don’t think about you as much as you think they think about you.” As a somewhat reactive and talkative person, this rendered me speechless. I am sure I had a pensive look on my face that prompted her to explain more. She proceeded to explain how the students have their own challenges to worry about, bills to pay, relationships to foster, responsibilities, etc. and they were not thinking about me or the “boring” class. At that moment, I realized that I had placed a fair amount of attention on “me” and what reflected “me”. As humbling as this experience was for me, I can’t help but think about how much attention people give to the “me” in the room and how much time they spend adjusting the reflection of “me” in a culture saturated with social media that also focuses on “me.”

This reflection is a reminder of the Greek mythical character Narcissus who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool, not knowing the reflection was actually himself. Unlike Narcissus, we live in a culture that provides the ideal forum for which a person can adjust his/her reflection in the “pool” of social media. I should take a picture of my food so everyone knows I am eating surf and turf. Never mind the reality of eating left-overs the previous day. I should retake this selfie at a different angle to minimize my double chin. Never mind the reality that this person knows that diet and exercise would be a good life choice. I should post pictures of my vacation to Europe. Never mind the reality of having to pay off the credit card bill for the next twelve months. The concern is not social media, but rather the use of social media as a reflection of a false reality…just a little adjustment here and there is all we need. This false reality begins to tell a story that is part autobiography and part fiction. The more likes we get or followers of our false reality the more tempting it is to entertain the idea that this false reality is in fact our real-reality.

According to the Pew Research Center, 68% of all Americans use Facebook, 28% use Instagram, 21% use Twitter, 25% use LinkedIn, and 26% use Pinterest.1 In the same report, the largest percentage of Instagram (59%) and Twitter (36%) users are men and women ages 18-29. And, this same group is the largest users of messaging apps (42%) and auto-delete apps (56%). Interestingly, this time period in human development (18-29) often focuses on identity and relationship building.2 This is a time in which individuals may be prompted to put their best “face” forward…or, at least, be tempted to adjust their best “face” — just a little bit. It certainly is understandable that a person wants others to see them at their best. However, this brings into question the influence of this false reality on the present and the future.

As each generation (Greatest, Silent, Baby Boomers, Generation X) leaves its reflective mark on society, it would appear that, in part, a common goal was to advance medicine, provide more opportunity for education, and to progress with the development and use of technology. Each generation that follows the previous generation(s) enjoys the advancements made in these areas and enjoys a “better way of life.” How will this next generation of Millennials influence the advancement in these areas and see their reflection in the pool of society? Will this reflection be an accurate reflection, or adjusted just a little bit? If the only goal is to adjust it — just a little bit, will the following generation actually have a “better way of life?” This then is our charge.

Finding Our Value in the Reflection

This betterment of life has become the defining goal of our modern culture. We have become chasers of the curated image with the hope that our stock will rise via likes, favorites, and retweets. Young adults have now valued social media breaks over refueling retreats and vacations. We, now, value and declare value solely on the perception that we control. e result, an image driven culture that feeds on the next cute video, Facebook vacation post, and Snap Chat story. But wait! Before you fall prey to the overgeneralization that this describes young generations alone, consider your own daily practice. Do you post a social media announcement of a proud accomplishment from you or your child? This may not seem narcissistic, but if we are searching to validate our value to the people around us, that’s exactly what it is. Furthermore, this narcissism epidemic is not isolated to the young as indicated by the research revealed in a recent article on Research revealed that “seven in 10 parents say they sleep with their phone next to them.” It’s no wonder that the same research indicated that more than 80% of teens sleep with their phones. The fact that we, adults, keep our phones next to us so we can check email and our calendar can reveal a narcissistic character as accurately as the 1,000 selfies that your teenager posts…by second period. We all over estimate how much everyone around us actually thinks about us. We, parents and children, have placed our value in the not so trustworthy hands of the often- faceless validators of our curated reflection and made the story about “me.”

With such a strong tether to devices and screens that we use to curate our image so that the reflection of who we are is exactly what we want others to see, we find ourselves in direct opposition to the divine image that we have been created to reflect. How can our community see the Creator and His image reflected in us when we spend so much careful, intentional energy in reflecting something that’s completely “me” and only the “me” that we want them to see? How can we see the Creator and His image in us when we look at our feed or story on social media more than we focus on Him and His grand story?

Guiding Reflections in the Home

As parents and educators, we have been given one of the hardest and, yet, most fulfilling jobs in all of creation. God has gifted us with children, teens, and young adults and commissioned us to lead them to realize the image that was placed there by their Creator. Narcissism is largely galvanized around the individual, “me.” The practical steps that we can take in our families should help us as believers to focus on others beginning with Christ and expanding to our family and friends, even beyond to the community around us. Here are some practical steps to reign in narcissism at home and allow Christ to shine through and help us find our value in Him alone.

Simply put down the device. It’s hard to take a selfie or send a Snap Chat without your phone, tablet, or computer. Social media has become the primary means for the “me” epidemic in our society. This is the practice of media solitude. Scripture is replete with guiding principles that admonish us to quiet our hearts and minds. From Psalm 46:10 where God our Refuge directs His people to “Be still, and know that I am God.” (ESV) to Psalm 62:5 where we are taught to find rest in God alone, we can and must set aside the things which keep us from truly seeing our God and Image Maker clearly.

• Park your devices, everyone! This includes parents and children. Park them at meals and bedtime. Park them in a location that limits access and distraction. This could be in another room or tucked away in a drawer.

• Take breaks throughout the day. I know it’s outdated, but what if you left your device in the car a couple of times a week when you went to lunch. Or, leave your laptop on your desk when you go to the next meeting. Try using a journal to write notes every once in a while.

Focus on what you give rather than what you get. The “me” vortex is driven by what it gets from others. Instead of pursuing response in the form of likes, favorites, and re-tweets, why not cultivate a climate of doing for others or catching someone doing something right and recognize them with affirmation. Create a culture in your home where you truly prefer one another and outdo one another as Paul charges us in Romans 12:10, “Love one another with brotherly love and affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (ESV). This sounds a little competitive because it is. But it’s not so that “me” wins, it’s the strategy for overcoming evil in our families and our lives.

Foster interdependence rather than independence. The “me” society is built on the search for independence of the individual and their dreams and rights. You can be anything that you want to be seems to be a positive affirmation of individual dreams, but it can’t easily miss the power behind the collaborative nature of the body of Christ. Individualism pushes us to find our place and climb as high as we can. But the gospel is built on the interdependence, “us.” 1 Corinthians 12 is often the most resourced text for understanding how the body of Christ works, by design. As Christians, we are family and forever connected by the salvation found only in Christ. at tie is put there by God and we now looked to each other to be actively using the gifts that we have been given to serve the mission of the gospel and each other. But, even more, Paul’s body metaphor drives home the truth that we truly need each other to function effectively and see great fruit. Help your family to see that each member is valuable by assigning tasks that only they will be responsible to do and if they don’t, the whole family will feel it. But when they do, the whole family experiences greater joy.

Chase the “me” of narcissism out of your life every day and then lead your family to take intentional steps that will change their focus on Christ and the true reflection that they have been created to be. After all, people don’t think about you as much as you think they think about you.

1. “Social media update 2016: Facebook usage and engagement is onthe rise, while adoption of other platforms holds steady,” Pew Research Center, accessed June 2, 2017, social-media-update-2016/.

2. E.H. Erickson, ed., Youth: Change and Challenge, (New York: Basic Books, 1963); Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from the Late Teens Through the Twenties (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

3. “6 Tech Habits Changing the American Home,”, April 18, 2017, accessed June 2, 2017, habits-changing-american-home/.