From your face to your heart: Accepting the tense, daily invitation of Instagram to forge a deep and healthy character

Photo by Justin Lim on Unsplash

A social media-infused world

Over recent weeks I’ve been trying to increase my engagement across my social media channels. 

It’s not what I’d call my favourite activity!

It can be tense and fraught with danger. (LOL)

It can also be quite fun, and can open up a lot of meaningful conversations. The hardest part I think is how you can end up being “always on” and at the mercy of the digital dopamine hit that comes from the combination of notifications and scroll, from whichever device is closest to hand.

On the run & in the raw

Anyway, I have been choosing to be forward-facing and proactive in online spaces. I’m trying to “improve,” to be more open to new connection, and be a natural inhabitant of the complex networks that are available.

Part of the challenge for me is letting go of the fear of mistakes. Another is about shredding the perception of perfection and instead accepting my imperfection.

I’ve thought about this idea in other spheres of my life, and I refer to it as trying to do work “on the run & in the raw.” This is been helpful again recently, serving as something of permission to play without needing to get it all right.

I do selfies now (“NOOOOOOOOO!” screams past self)

This is especially pertinent on my Instagram, where I have moved from a feed exclusively dedicated to poetry (in reality something like visual micro-poems) to selfies and other ways of playing with photography, colour, and image.

I suppose I have looked down on selfies for something like 15 years. I have mostly thought that selfies represented a more selfish way of presenting myself to the world. I’ve honestly never really liked selfies, neither taking them or looking at them.

Leading with a “words-as-image” approach has been for me a way of trying to be active without having to sink down to selfie level. (Mainly ‘cos it makes me vomit.) But actually, there is a selfishness and pride in my words-first approach too. While being afraid of or downplaying the selfie, I guess I’ve been just as engaged at constructing an ideal image of self as any other over-confident, perfectly-photoshoped selfie-taking influencer. (i.e. Our whole culture. i.e. this is a stab at no-one, just at all of us, and with extra critique on my own self).

Actually, I may have been wrong. Maybe, just maybe, image and video of myself might be a more honest way of facing outward, despite the danger and lures of broadcasting.

Why? Because it means I have to face up to the multidimensional ways I can be perceived. Pictures and video can show this, loud and clear. Sure, you can over control your. But to keep up, I think you have to let the guard down a little.

A healthy way forward for Instagram/broadcast culture?

In our lives, humans have always broadcasted. And now we live in the Age of Instagram. But prior the beautiful sheen of the Perfectly-Instagrammed-Present-Moment, broadcast has been more about in the constant, small movements of everyday and every week. Prior to our “always on” age, I think that broadcast has been more about character and less about manipulating public perception.

(I am really adapting the meaning of broadcast here. I suppose I am really talking about how we as humans interact with the wider web of relationships that make up the human world.)

I wonder if perhaps we are heading back to that.

In an era of social media, reality TV, mass surveillance, and the possibility of nearly constant broadcast for those who want or choose it, how should we live? How should we cope with the intense demands of this “always on” technological society that we live in?

Beyond avatar design, mask construction, and image curation

Maybe the forward is to choose character integrity.

To choose character integrity over avatar design, mask construction, or image curation.

Of course there is room for PLAY and the necessity of that (avatar design).

There is room for safety and preservation of identity behind safeguards (mask construction).

There is room for story-telling  and the amplification of a message (image curation).

These are necessary and important. But what if the only way to successfully navigate the varying demands and challenge is through a focus on character?

Character Development

If so, it begs the next question. What does healthy character development look like?

Integrity

First, there is something about integrity. Integrity is a sense of cohesive authenticity that is equally distributed through the whole of your life. It means in your internal world of thoughts, intentions, desires, and decisions all of the same movements of will are at work as in the external aspects of your life – interactions , speech, relationship, activity. You are one person.

(There are limits to integrity too. Beyond cohesive authenticity, we enter the realm of purity of heart, speech, and action which is the work of the Spirit. That is another article.)

Direction

Next, healthy character development is about the calibre of your direction. This refers to the need for movement in your life, and movement in the direction of a destination. It also recognises that there are many destinations and although arbitrary choice in this regard is better than purposelessness, not all destinations are created equal.

So we have integrity of being and meaningful destination. Finally for now is the strength and beauty of the heart. No matter the destination, the true journey is about becoming all that you are and have been called to be. It is about awakening to your full creative power and becoming a person of beauty and strength, a beautiful fragrance and source of life and flourishing in the world you live in.

Heart

Strength and beauty of the heart is about becoming like Christ. You can think of this as stepping stones, mini-pathways of growth and challenge that shape the texture of your life. These little adventures are the Virtues. They are the adventures of each day. They provide the coordinates of success in the moments and minutes of the journey. They invite prayer, holy joy, and an engaged relationship with God. And they are brought into focus by the Deceptions. The deceptions are the negative counterpoints to the Virtues, sources of volatility, disorder, and sabotage. These are expressions of the flowering of sin in the human world.

Moving forward & forging healthy character

To finish this unexpected reflection on the invitation of Instagram’s broadcast culture to become people and societies of deep and healthy character, let me summarise my argument: the way to engage rightly in our networked, complex, social world is to ensure that we focus on healthy character development.

And to do that, there are three things to pay attention to. First, pay attention to the integrity of your internal and external worlds. Second, ensure you have a direction, and that you are updating your coordinates to make sure it is a destination of the highest possible calibre. Finally, it is paying attention to the strength and beauty of the heart. This means listening to the voice of Christ, receiving the curating power of the Spirit, and awakening to all that God has called you to be.


Thanks for reading, this was an reflection that arose unexpectedly. I know for sure I’m touching upon several areas I don’t know much about, but I think this piece holds together well enough for what it is. I have resisted the temptation to hold it back (I already held it back a day) to perfect it and make it water tight. “On the run and in the raw.” Feel free to reach out and engage via comments and so forth. I appreciate you reading, have a good one.

Get in touch @thomasmepham or @studentsoul at IG

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