In a world where so much is digital, I ask myself often:
If someone that followed me met me in real life would they be disappointed?
It is kind of a weird question. Theoretically, my online self should really be an extension of my “IRL” self. It is just one other way that people connect and get to know. But everything has a filter, and you and I know that, despite our best efforts, usually that isn’t what happens.
My son loves Snapchat. He’s not even three. He’s loved Snapchat for almost a year and a half and his obsession with it began one day when I thought it would be fun to see if I could put a filter on his face. It totally worked and he lost his mind with laughter. He thought it was the greatest thing, ever. He could finally realize his dream of becoming a puppy.
He still likes to play with he app from time to time, and we both still think it is hilarious. There is something inside every person, I guess, that likes to dress up and be something else or someone else. It is part of the reason kid’s love Halloween and adults love ComicCon. You know you aren’t really a stormtrooper, but isn’t it fun to pretend just for a day?
But, what if in that stormtrooper costume you started to find that people liked you more and even treated you differently? What if you liked you more as a stormtrooper? You might find yourself wanting to be the persona much more often and “Roy from floor 9 accounting” a lot less.
This happens all the time in and out of stormtrooper costumes. There was a comedian that was relatively unknown in 2000. Suddenly, he started to get some press because people believed he had escaped one of the World Trade Towers on 9/11. Really, they had misunderstood his story but he realized that he was finally getting some attention. He needed that press for his career. So he went with it. He just embraced the story – after all, who could it really hurt? This became a part of his biography for years. He did become famous and starred in a couple of shows and commercials.
But the biggest part of him – the thing he was most often interviewed about – never happened. It was a lie.
You, but Not Really
Every person has an innate fear of rejection. It is probably some awful evolutionary carry over that at one point was designed to help us find and live in a good tribe so we didn’t get eaten by animals somewhere in the wilderness. Now, it is almost maladaptive and just makes middle school a terrible time of life.
We want to be accepted, affirmed, appreciated, and loved by others. But, too often, we just aren’t confident that people will like us for who we are.
“If they really knew me, they wouldn’t like me.”
“If you saw me with makeup, you wouldn’t think I was pretty.”
“I’m not anything special.”
We aren’t confident that we have anything to offer on our own, so we supplement it with some half-truths and a few filters. Not only does it make us more interesting but it adds a layer of protection. Now, if I get insulted online, I don’t have to take it as personally because you aren’t insulting someone that isn’t real.
Like if someone looked at that stormtrooper at ComicCon and yelled, “You suck! You are terrible with your blaster! You are the worst stormtrooper ever!” The person inside the costume would just laugh and think, “But I’m not a real stormtrooper.”
That is the comfort that an online self gives us. There is no more brutal arena right now than social media. People say whatever they want because they don’t need to see how much it hurts another person. An online persona is kind of a body shield for negativity.
But it is also a magnet for positivity. And when someone looks at us and says, “You are an awesome stormtrooper,” our response is “Hell yes I am.”
That’s a bit disjointed. It isn’t good for us mentally. It’s confusing. And it is a world most of us are living in.
My dad used to tell me that the key to happiness was having three parts of your life aligned:
Who you really are.
Who you say you are.
Who other people say you are.
When those three things match up, a beautiful, authentic harmony exists. When they don’t, though, we exist in tension and it is exhausting. We are trying to hold together a bunch of lies, half truths, and filters that can get confusing to even us.
Authenticity is that simple. It begins with knowing who you are – that is something given by God and discovered by us. Embrace it – the quirks, the weird smiles, the way you can’t really say “taco” the right way.
Then, project that to other people. Be that person. And if you do it well, people will see that and say you are the same person. It is so simple, yet so terrifying. It may mean more rejection, criticism, and things that are difficult to hear because they strike at who we were, not who we are pretending to be.
But the fruit is authentic friendships, joy, and less mental dissonance as we try to hold together a bunch of different lives. That is worth it. That is real.