28 April 2019
The old adage says that you should never judge a book by its cover. Whilst the phrase has become somewhat of a cliché, it certainly still rings true for so many reasons.
Of the reasons that make the phrase relevant in the modern day, none applies quite so aptly as to our modern addiction to social media.
Whilst social media is a hugely valuable tool for business and communication, it can easily become a fools’ game. The beautiful imagery of the seemingly perfect life draws us in. It’s human nature to feel the desire and pressure to keep up with that ‘perfection’. To ask if you’re fit enough, well-travelled enough, earning enough, tidy enough, interesting enough… the list is endless!
The social pressures that are amplified by platforms like Instagram are enormous. So much so that social media anxiety is a recognised issue for millions of young people! How and when did this happen? Young, impressionable minds, at transformative stages in their lives, see images of impossible standards that they’re desperately trying to keep up with. But it’s not just young people.
More and more research shows a clear link between sustained use of these platforms and mental health challenges like anxiety and depression. A huge number of the population is undeniably addicted to these platforms, and there’s scientific proof as to why. The ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ release a chemical reaction in our bodies – dopamine to make us feel good – the more likes we get, the more we post to continue that buzz. The fewer likes we get, the worse it makes us feel. There are clear similarities to the way that people are addicted to drugs or alcohol.
I saw a video, on a social platform where a young man talks about social media influencers and highlights that specific word. He describes how when you drink drive, you are ‘under the influence’ and that these influencers are intoxicating. That when you’re sick you get influenza, that people are getting sick because of the influencer lifestyle. It’s a cleverly written speech that makes a valid point.
Instagram itself is reportedly examining ways in which it can evolve to reduce pressure on Instagram users, by removing the like count for example. That can only be a good thing in my opinion. Yet I can’t see them implementing something that scientifically drives us to use the platform more frequently.
So, whilst we undeniably judge people more positively and look to them as examples or role models, based on their online presence, what happens when you flip it? Are we less forgiving to those who don’t lead glamorous lifestyles?
Beneath the surface
Whenever I come back to not judging a book by its cover, it reminds me of an anecdote told by the infamous life coach, Dr Wayne Dyer. The American mindset guru shares the story of a young boy. He calls it Teddy’s Story. It’s one of those stories that’s been around for many years, becoming somewhat of a modern-day fable.
Teddy was a young boy, he was naughty, often in need of a bath and could be unpleasant. So much so that his teacher would take pleasure in marking his work with bold red crosses and F grades.
When the teacher came to write his end of year report, she filed through his record and was surprised to read his history. His earlier reports noted that he was a pleasure to be around; a clever, happy boy. Then, she read “as his mother’s terminal illness progressed, his behaviour and achievement declined.”
From then on, the teacher paid more attention to Teddy. As she worked with him and he transformed into one of the smartest children in the class. He told her that she was the best teacher that he had ever had in his whole life.
Six years passed and she received another note from Teddy. He’d finished high school and that she he still regarded her as the best teacher he had ever had. At each life stage she received a similar letter. Each letter always reminding her that she was the best teacher he had ever had.
On his wedding day, Teddy, now a doctor, invited his old teacher to sit in the spot traditionally reserved for the Mother of the Groom. He said to her: “Thank you for believing in me. Thank you so much for making me feel important and showing me that I can make a difference.”
To which she replied, with tears in her eyes, “Teddy, you have it all wrong. You were the one who taught me that I could make a difference. I didn’t know how to teach until I met you.”
My Best Teacher
In a couple of weeks I am meeting up with my best teacher, a chap called Rob Durrant. (English, Rugby coach, running inspiration, house master and all round friend)
We have both set some time aside to go mountaineering together in the Snowdon National Park. We have a lot to discuss, as I was once that naughty kid. Unbeknown to everyone around me at the time, I was struggling with my relationship with my father who was a tough and often brutal disciplinarian. When all the other teachers in the school gave up on me, Mr Durrant bought me my first running kit out of his own money and pointed me in the direction of the biggest mountain in the area.
I was banned from using the TV room and going into town with my other school friends. By pointing me in a different direction, he gave me a bigger challenge to focus on and whether he knew it or not he turned me from a lost boy back then to the man I am today, still climbing.
He often posts how inspirational I have become on social media but the reality is at a time without role models in my life Rob took time to look beneath the surface. I am forever indebted.
I’ve not seen him for 30 something years and whilst so much has changed, that formula that I learnt from him all these years ago, chasing bigger mountains, searching for the adventure, is something I have shared thousands of times over. I have lost count how many people he has helped as a result of helping and inspiring me.
If this isn’t a reason enough for people to look to do inspirational work I don’t know what is.
Life is usually very different behind the scenes
Going back to Dyer’s story, it’s a heart-wrenching tale that should serve as a lesson to us all. (I recommend seeking it out.) You never know what someone is going through beneath the surface. Their persona or social profiles may paint a seemingly clear picture but in reality, life is often much more complex. I know from my own experience, we share the things that hopefully inspire others, yet at the time, life may be much tougher in reality.
We don’t like to share the times when we are at our lowest point. We store up the sunny days, because we are proud and conscious of how others may perceive us when we are honest about our feelings.
I am not sure what the answer is. I made a conscious effort to reduce the time I spend on Facebook. Whilst its worked, I now find myself using other platforms instead! I think the important thing is to read between the lines of those we care about most and keep an eye out for anyone that may need our help. It’s too easy to lash out negatively when reading something negative. When you pause for thought before reacting it’s so rewarding when we stop and offer someone a shoulder or helping hand.
It’s a very simple choice. Rob could have left me and carried on punishing me like all the other teachers, but he stopped and that compassion was something that was so unexpected it stopped me in my tracks.
Who are you going to inspire? Just think about it, it may be your kids, teammates, friends, there are so many people around you that you can help in so many ways.
Good luck with it and let me know how you get on.