I was tidying up my Evernote today when I came across a note I made after watching this TED Talk by Aimee Mullins:
I re-watched the video, and she makes so many poignant and powerful points, but the one that stuck with me, the one that I Evernoted, was this one thing she said,
“I decided to find people who said yes.”
Most of us find ourselves trapped in the language and perspective in which we were first socialized. The well-intentioned adults in our earliest years say “no” in a bid to define safe boundaries for us as we explored our exciting environment – physical, linguistic, emotional, and social.
“No, don’t do that!”
“No, don’t say that!”
Little wonder that for many of us, the first word we learn is “no.”
And for many of us, “no” has been so internalized that we never outgrew it. We live always within boundaries that others have set for us, and if those are missing, we draw them in for ourselves, using the safe familiarity of our existing boundaries as a template.
Those boundaries kept us safe when we were vulnerable toddlers just beginning to explore the possibilities of life.
Safe from harm. Safe from the unknown and its incalculable and unimaginable risks and dangers.
These boundaries are a response to our basest and most primal sense of survival.
Safe from exhilaration.
Safe from the different.
Safe from our fullest potential.
In our pursuit of boundaries that keep us safe, we neglect to explore our own internal boundaries, to explore the full potential of what we could be.
We live in fear of injury, of death. My wise late grandma used to observe that some people have an over-developed sense of self-preservation – she called it “scared of dying.”
Some people are so precious with their own lives that they forget to live. And we enforce this Everlasting No on everyone around us. We’re not content to limit only ourselves but are compelled to limit others.
From an evolutionary perspective, that sense of those boundaries is our sense of self-preservation, a gift of Nature to ensure the survival of an organism. Yet, these very boundaries that were intended to preserve our lives are also the same things that keep us from living. Being alive and living are surely not the same thing.
A life that’s motivated by what’s safe is mere existence.
A life that’s motivated by exploration and what’s possible is surely more fulfilling.
Social media seems inherently the ultimate pulpit for the self-important. While a site like TweetingTooHard.com invites us to out the self-important, most of the tweets are so mundane, they're forgiveable. Twitter critics like to deprecate navel-gazing tweets about breakfast foods and sundry itches, and while such esoterica of the flotsam of life might not be of "real value" to society and the economy, they too are forgiveable. They're forgiveable because they are, ultimately, harmless.
What I find more disturbing are the tweets I see from self-inflating types who brag about busy-ness. Some of these folks' to-do list per tweet would be longer if more than 140 characters were possible. Even within the 140 character limit, some of these lists test the limits of credulity.
There is a long Christian tradition concerning the notion of busyness into which this post isn't intended to delve.
What I'm wondering about is whether there's a cost to real personal relationships? By real, I mean those deep emotional relationships with friends and family, rather than business relationships. Is there a risk that social media offers an insidious avenue of busyness to connect and broadcast online, to be so busy that there's little time left in a day for family and friends who are not immersed in the online world.
The always-on world of online socializing enables a wholly different level of busyness. At least in the old-school, offline paradigm, there was still some level of social pressure to spend time at home. In our new world order, even when we're not at work, the means to stay tethered are readily available. Some of these electronic tethers are ever so alluring, and the affinity of the social media types for technology makes it easy to rationalize away the increasing encroachment on personal lives.
It brings to mind the modern morality tale of Martha Stewart in which we all reveled. She who built a profitable and mighty myth of ideal family life at the cost of her marriage and family. We enjoyed the delicious irony.
My husband and I have but two or three hours every evening in which we're both awake and in the same physical space. Rather than actually share experiences together during these precious few hours each day, we often find ourselves on message boards, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, websites, etc., only peripherally aware of each other. Luckily, we're aware of our tendency to wander away, and like the person who nods off while driving but wakes with a start, we do also snap out of our reverie and consciously shut down the laptops and smart phones.
Are we at risk of being so tuned in to our online lives that we live our offline lives in a fog, so connected online as to become disconnected offline? How connected is too connected? I'm prepared to concede that there are super-achieving men and women who manage to balance it all. For the rest of us mere mortals, it may take a constant watching and self-awareness to walk this tightrope between two worlds, lest we unconsciously drywall the cat into the wrong side of the wall.
Or is this notion of an offline and an online world merely a false dichotomy constructed by the under-achieving?