Sunday, January 22, 2012

On Being Authentic

I recently attended a presentation by a lady who is involved in a large research project on the use of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and so on amongst young people.  I cannot remember exactly what body is overseeing the project but I think I recall it may be connected to The University of Navarre in Pamplona, Spain.  Whoever it is, it is a very extensive study and will have a lot of prestiege when it is completed because of the huge number of young people partaking across Spain and Portugal and the sheer number of questions on the questionnaire. It will be some time before all the findings of the study are published but some very interesting trends are already being displayed.

 Now this post is not going to be about those findings as I would really need to read up my notes and make sure I had my facts correct, but one thing this lady pointed out that is emerging across each region where the study is taking place...the undeniable fact that up to 98% of teenagers have two Facebook accounts, unknown to their parents!!  When the researchers presented this fact to parents in class after class, none of the parents believed that their child had two accounts.  Even the most vigilant of parents who thought they had full access to their teen's account could not swallow the undeniable evidence.

When I returned home I asked my own teens were they aware of this practice and they both confirmed that most of their friends have a Facebook account hidden from their parents and other significant adults in their lives.

Neither is this post a treatise on what parents and teachers are supposed to do about this, but the one piece of advice recommended by the researchers was do not go home and throw out the computer and  all the handheld devices in the house!! That is not the solution.  This double life is a problem of character and therin lies the solution.

Anyway it got me thinking about the way we present ourselves online or elsewhere.

Have a look at this short clip from Alice In Wonderland...


And now ask yourself the question...

Now you and I may not have two Facebook accounts...who would we be hiding them from?  If you're hiding an account from your spouse there are some serious questions to be asked, but presuming that's not the case...what about our online persona?  Are we the same person in our online interactions as we are in our real life? (Though I am of the strong belief that the people we interact with online are also real.).  Would for example our family recognise our online person to be the person they know?

I remember the first time one of my older children demonstrated a simple Photoshop programme to me.  She took a contemporary photograph of me, reduced the fine lines around my eyes, touched up my skin tone, improved my hairstyle and tidied up a few bits and pieces...

Lo and behold..there I was!!!

Me...but not me.

I was so thrilled!!

My new Facebook profile picture!!

I was suddenly swept away by a rush of vanity, ego, flattery...and an utter lack of authenticity.

The photo-shopped photograph was clearly me but to attempt to pass it off as a real representation of how I look would have been dishonest and no different to hiding an account from someone. It wasn't showing my real self, fine lines and all.  It struck me how the temptation to present ourselves as something we perceive to be just a little bit better, more hip, more knowledgeable, more...shall I say it..interesting...can slip into our interactions.  Sure, post the photographs of ourselves we like the best, who doesn't want to accentuate the positive?  I know I always cringe a little when I  see that someone has posted or tagged a picture of me as it takes a bit of neck to ask them to remove it. But at what point does a little exaggeration become a lie?

I once worked with a guy whose stories were so tall as to not even come into the category of lies.  He was so funny and interesting but there is just no way it was humanly possible that all things he claimed to have happened to him or to have witnessed could have really occurred.
For one thing, his life just wouldn't have been long enough.

The story was all-important and authenticity was paid little or no lip service.

Do you remember the personality tests that were so popular a number of years ago in magazines and periodicals.  Mostly 'A's you were this...mostly 'B's you were that.  It was very easy to quickly deduct which answers would place you in the category you wanted to be in.  Nobody was ever going to see the results except ourselves and yet it was still so tempting to appear better, even in our own eyes.  Now those tests were simply light entertainment and a bit of fun but take that a bit further and on a Saturday evening your Facebook status reveals you are popping a bottle of Dom PĂ©rignon with Mr Suave when we are really having a bottle of cheap Prosecco from a German discount supermarket with Mr Normal Man.

Is it an exaggeration that would count as a lie?  Maybe...maybe not.  
Is it good example to our children?  I don't think so. It just might be the thing that allows them to excuse their hidden account in their own mind.

Pope John Paul II, in his letter to families, Familiaris Consortio, urged Christian families to 'Be what you are'.

Good advice to apply to ourselves.  Am I real...or not real?

Get Real.

And you'll never know whether I used the photo-shopped photograph as my profile picture ;-)

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

I Was Going To Ignore You.

Last year a little incident happened to me which, as do most things, set me off on an interesting train of thought.

It was sometime before the children's school holidays and I was helping to prepare the application for a community grant for a youth activity I am involved in.  We needed to gather receipts, signatures, forms and so on and as usual we were down to the wire as regards timing for getting the application in on time before the closing date.  I needed to have the application form and all the documents on a certain desk before the owner of that desk arrived at work that morning.  So envelope in hand, I dropped the children to school as early as I could and hurried to the Public Offices building...a masterpiece of architectural excess, built with public money in a time when all common sense or frugality  had been abandoned...

No detail of comfort or finish has been over looked, including a conveniently placed traffic light which seems to be timed to display an extended green light at precisely 5.05 pm Monday-Friday ( I could be wrong about that :-))

 It is a magnificent building.

As it was so early I had just plucked a little girl toddler out of her cot and strapped her into the car still in her pyjamas.  I had forgotten to pack the buggy so I just bundled her in my arms and in I went.  I had never been further into this building before than the currently unmanned reception desk so here I was, package in one hand and nonplussed toddler in the other wondering where to go.

At this time of morning nobody had started work yet but people were arriving in dribs and drabs, some smartly groomed, Starbucks in hand, ready for a productive day, others...well...less so...
One of the 'less so' men with a bed-head countenance passed me in the foyer, casting a brief disinterested glance in my direction, coffee, in all probability, being his main (and perhaps only) plan of action for the foreseeable future. He glanced away again and hurried on.  I was preoccupied with my own quest so I barely noticed him until out of the corner of my eye I saw him stop and turn back.

"Do you want some help? Can I help you?"

Now I know 15 month olds are one of God's gifts to the human family, they are just so cuddly and aromatic and cute in every way, but every silver lining has a cloud and with the gorgeous 15 month olds it comes in the form of the fact that they are a bit wriggly and have a habit of getting heavier and heavier and heavier when you forget their buggy and have to carry them from the car-park, up the fashionable, if a bit long, entrance ramp and stand around the very nice foyer not knowing where to go.  My arms were getting very tired and a bit sore.

"Why, thank you, kind Sir!!" I said.

(Well I didn't say that but maybe I thought it.)

Anyway, whatever I said, I got the message across that I needed to get this application in quickly and I had no idea where I was supposed to go.  He started to tell me where the office was then said no, actually, he'd bring me as it was a bit hard to find. When the envelope had been deposited into the box left out for the last minute people such as me, I thanked the young man for putting himself out to help me.

"Well, I saw you and I was going to ignore you and mind my own business, but I saw the baby and I felt guilty leaving you there"

He was honest anyway.

What was nice about this small kindness is that the guy had struggled with and conquered the temptation not to do it.  It reminded me of another incident a while before where I had struggled with, and succumbed to, the temptation not to do a nice thing and was sorry later.

Over a number of months I had noticed a very young couple at early Mass each day.  The girl was very pretty and the young man was handsome.  They were clearly newly-weds and clearly in love with each other, and judging from their devotion, in love with their God as well.  Their missals were printed in an Eastern European script, so I guessed they had married and then gone abroad to work to save for a home.  It wasn't long before their imminent new arrival became obvious and I followed the pregnancy from a distance with interest, looking forward to getting a peep at baby.
Then for a while the young husband turned up by himself and finally the delighted young mother arrived back at mass with her little baby wrapped in blue.

I turned to John and asked him did he think I should go and congratulate them as they were away from home and probably didn't know many people. He said of course I should.

I didn't.

I thought they might think I was nosey.  I was shy.  I was afraid they didn't speak English.  I thought this..I thought that...a million reasons why I shouldn't do that nice thing...and I convinced myself.

I have always regretted that.

So you know, when you get a little inspiration to do a small kind act, it might be a good idea to follow that inspiration.  When you get the chance to say something nice, to help someone, share their problem or even to think well of them instead of presuming ill-intent behind their seemingly bad actions...DO IT.

A very wise American priest passed on this gem of wisdom to me years ago:

"The best opportunity to do the right thing is the first opportunity...there may be no other"

How often have you or I waited for a better moment to talk to someone, to address their problem, to do them a kindness or to say 'sorry' or 'I love you' and the better moment never came along?  Better to do a good deed at the inopportune moment than not to do it at all.

So that dishevelled young man made my day because of his 'Random Act of Kindness'.

I wish I had made a young couple's day by admiring their baby.

Addendum: As it turned out John and I became very good friends with that young couple and I told them that story.  They told me they would have been delighted, even though at that time the husband's English was poor and his wife's non existent. They have returned home now and have added two more little children to their family...

...and I have congratulated them on both those babies.

Oh...and we got the grant.

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Thursday, January 5, 2012

'To Read Is To Fly'

"To read is to fly: it is to soar to a point of vantage which gives a view over wide terrains of history, human variety, ideas, shared experience and the fruits of many inquiries"

A.C. Grayling, Financial Times

I have been contemplating whether to write a post about New Year resolutions but even with a very perfunctory search online and you will find a treasure trove of amazing blog posts, articles and discussions on that very topic.  How to choose them, how to stay on track, what to do when you's all there. 
I can't compete with these wise psychologists, managers, life coaches and so on, in fact I'm studying a few of them to come up with my own new year plans.
So I have decided against reinventing the wheel, I'd probably have nothing new to add.
Instead I'm going to tell you what's sitting on my bedside table waiting to be read in 2012.  I'm not endorsing most of these books yet as I have still to read them, though I am familiar with some of the writers and hold them in high regard.

I'll review some of them when I read them.

Here's my line-up:
(1) Message From An Unknown Chinese Mother

This book is by a Chinese journalist who has interviewed hundreds of women in China about their real lives.  Ten interviews feature in the book telling of the problem of China's one child policy and it's implications for real women and the girls they conceive.  I came across the book on a review website and it promises to be something I will not forget easily.  A number of years ago I read another book called A Mother's Ordeal by Stephen Mosher which played on my mind for years, and still does. Here is a review of it from The Population Research Institute:

I'm guessing this book will do the same.  I'm planning to keep some hankies in the vicinity.

(2) Style, Sex and Substance 

I'm going to read this book because I absolutely love Hallie Lord's blog:

She is one sassy dame.

(3) The Emotions God Gave You

This book I am willing to endorse in advance, simply because this couple's previous book 'The Temperament God Gave You' is one of the greatest parenting tools we have ever come across. A side effect of studying the temperaments as a couple in order to better understand our children, without even having it as our aim, our marriage benefited hugely.  Understanding temperament is not a method or something you do, but rather learning to see and understand what is already there.  I am so excited to start reading the Bennetts' latest guide.

(4) Marriage-Small Steps, Big Rewards

Another book I am willing to wholeheartedly recommend in advance.  Dr Ray Guarendi is a father of 10, a clinical psychologist of many years experience, author, public speaker and best of all, host of the radio show The Doctor Is In, where listeners telephone with their questions.  I try to listen to the show as often as possible with my iPhone radio app, even my girls adore him-he's funny, friendly and importantly, wise and authentic in his advice which is not tarred with what he calls 'Psycholigical Correctness' I love him!!

Here's a little taster:

(5) Time Management For Dummies

I don't need to explain this one: I'm a dummy and I want to blog about time management :-)

What are your reading plans for the coming year? I'd love to glean some ideas...

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