I have a friend who lives in Papua New Guinea with her husband and kiddos. We met while I was living in PNG and we now keep up with each other, as I do with many of my overseas friends, on Facebook. Facebook can be a great communication tool and because it helps me to keep up with people all over the globe, I’m not giving it up anytime soon. However, sometimes relationships are hindered in the Facebook world (think comparing ourselves to others, only showing our best selves, using the distance or anonymity to say things we otherwise wouldn’t say in person, etc.) My friend recently posted these words and I thought they were such great food for thought and not just applicable to the Facebook world. I’ve included my own response and thoughts after but for now here are her words:
“Something has been kicking around in my brain for a while and while hanging laundry just now the words finally came to me to express what I have been thinking. About six years ago, a wise woman told me “Everyone is entitled to their own story.” At the time she was pregnant with surprise twins that came six years after what she thought was her last child. She was a little overwhelmed at the thought of doing the baby thing all over again and also feeling guilty telling some of her friends who had been struggling with infertility for years that she had accidentally ended up with two more kids! But God gave her this bit of wisdom that she was entitled to her own story and all of the feelings that came along with it.
I have been feeling lately that in the Facebook world we don’t allow each other to be entitled to our own story. Instead we have a tendency to place our story, our reality, on the shoulders of the one posting and expect them to feel the weight of our situation.
I’ll give you some examples. A friend posted on New Year’s Eve that her newborn was being fussy and jokingly asked if anyone wanted a newborn for New Years. Someone posted and said essentially “Oh, please don’t say that. I would give anything to have a newborn in my arms right now.”
Or this one. A friend who is a mother of three went down to visit another friend who had just given birth to her firstborn. The mother of three posted expressing how simple life is with just one tiny baby. Someone said “Oh, don’t say that! My son is serving in the military and I would give anything to have him with me right now.”
And my “favorite” example. Another friend who is the mother of four gorgeous American/African children was expressing frustration one day about negative things that had been said about her beautiful children just based on the color of their skin. Someone wrote “You think THAT is a bad day?! My mother is dying of cancer!”
While all six of these women are experiencing very real situations, some of them very sad and terribly tragic, I want to call us out and say that it is unfair to put the burden of your reality on someone else’s shoulders. I would say that most of us who are mothering children, whether it be one or many, feel like we are doing our darndest just to keep all of our own balls in the air. When someone shares on Facebook about her reality, she isn’t expecting other people to take on her burden. So, let’s do each other a favor and not throw our own ball into someone else’s circus.
Do you see what I’m saying?”
Reading these words made me think. We all deal with good, bad and ugly situations in our own lives. And in our minds it seems simple to place all our own story as well as the stories of others on a continuum of easy to difficult but that’s not realistic or wise. Sometimes relatively ‘easy’ things in my own life seem overwhelming and insurmountable because it’s my current reality and I am living through it. And I know from experience that while sometimes hearing someone else’s pain or greater problem can be a good reality check, more often than not it just annoys me that my own feelings are somehow discounted because whatever is happening to me isn’t bad enough to warrant sympathy or empathy.
We are all living our own story. And I believe that the Facebook world (and the world outside of Facebook too) would be better if we were each allowed to live our own story. Of course there is a time and a place for speaking into someone’s life but that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about general, public comments/Facebook posts that seem to invite comparisons and sometimes criticisms of one persons current reality.
However, we ourselves should also be sensitive to our communities. On Facebook, posts are general and not for any targeted audience but we could all do with a little sensitivity check once in awhile. For example, a friend who finds herself pregnant with surprise twins would be wise not to express her frustration or trepidation within earshot of a childless friend longing for their own. Likewise, married friends should be aware of singles in their midst when voicing longings for the single or childless life. In addition, complaining about your job to a friend who is currently unemployed is also probably not wise or helpful. And, of course, this list could continue. This doesn’t mean that we should never express ourselves, by no means. Instead just be aware of who is around you and what you are saying.
“Everyone is entitled to their own story.” I hope this is thought provoking for all of us, whether applied to just Facebook or to the world outside of Facebook as well. I’m thankful for my friend who put this into words and I’m thankful for the reminder that, we are all entitled to our own story, the story that we are each living one day at a time.