Authenticity in a Social Media World

Authenticity in a Social Media World

Social Psychologist Jonathan Haidt has just published a fascinating new book titled The Anxious Generation. He has conducted extensive research on the correlation between our young people gaining access to smartphones and social media and the devastating effects it is having on their mental health. Depression, anxiety, exclusion, and suicidal ideations have all risen drastically in recent years. The data is clear. We are all aware of this, but we don’t seem to know what to do about it. It is also affecting adults.

Social media has exacerbated envy, social comparison, and superficiality. Everybody seems to always put their best life out there, but we all know this isn’t how life really is. Our culture is suffering from a shortage of authenticity. People are always putting on fronts and acting like everything is OK. One of the great challenges of life is to be the same person no matter who we are around. To be consistent and reliable. To act the same way. To treat others well. To not put on a front just because we are going to be around new people, important people, rich people, or church people.

We do live in a superficial world where many have mastered putting up fronts. Everything is judged on the surface. We have personas – what the world expects us to be. What others expect us to be. There is a serious lack of depth. People who are hurting put a smile on their face and pretend that everything is alright. People who are scared to death act like they are courageous and pretend that they are being brave. People who have lost their job and their savings try to continue living their same lifestyles so that others won’t catch on to the fact that their bank accounts have dwindled and they are not doing well at all. People whose marriages are struggling act happy and pretend like everything is fine when they are lonely and cry themselves to sleep at night.

It’s also a world of people-pleasing. Many aren’t true to themselves because they’re too busy living out somebody else’s expectations. They want to please their spouse, their parents, their in-laws, their children, or their friends. And so they spend all of their time doing things that they think will please other people rather than being honest and true to who they really are.

Why do we do these things? We do these things because we feel like society expects us to be somebody that we’re not. And we’re scared of being discovered. We’re scared that others might discover who we really are, and then decide that they want nothing to do with us. We’re scared that if we let down our guard, then others may not let down theirs and we’ll look like the only person that has problems. But we all have problems. We all have shortcomings and character flaws. We are well aware of the things that we do that we wish we didn’t do – worry, jealousy, lust, anger, bitterness, envy, resentment, fear. We overreact to certain situations. We say things about people that we shouldn’t and if it comes back to us, we deny it. We put up fronts, smiles, and pretend to live a problem-free life, but nobody has a problem-free life.

We all have one thing in common as humans – we are broken to some degree. The Bible refers to this as sin. But the good news is that God’s grace is available to each of us in the midst of our brokenness – all we have to do is accept it through faith. We don’t have to wear masks. We don’t have to pretend to be somebody we’re not. We don’t have to pretend. We can be our true selves every day. Authenticity is liberating.