Earlier this month I attended a writers’ workshop that was actually the impetus for me starting this blog. Among the many things that were discussed was the idea of being yourself in online exchanges. Our host for the day, the amazing and inimitable Rachel Ellyn, mentioned that one of her guests had gotten to know her on Facebook and then exclaimed with glee upon meeting her, “You’re exactly the same in person as you are on Facebook.”
The discussion that followed was rather uncomfortable to me. No, I don’t tell outlandish tales or blatantly lie in Facebook statuses, but I’m certainly not comfortable enough to really be myself there. Now an expert in social media networking was telling me that the key to online success, particularly in business and in the business of writing in particular, was to be genuine.
I realize that the act of being genuine doesn’t have to include deep personal revelations or the airing of things none of my 500 Facebook friends want to know. Rachel Ellyn doesn’t charm people with details of her bowel habits. Being genuine does, however, bring with it a level of vulnerability I’m not sure I’m comfortable experiencing. As a people-pleaser, I know that my genuine self won’t make all 500 people that follow me on Facebook happy. In fact, my genuine self probably won’t make any of them happy all the time. My points of view contain something to offend everyone.
While I personally have no problem sharing ideas and spending time with those whose views differ from mine, I haven’t found that place in my soul where I am comfortable enough with myself to be okay when others get offended by me. For example, last night I responded to a question from one of my in-laws about a letter supposedly written by the CEO of Hobby Lobby that has been making the rounds on Facebook. He, an extreme conservative, mentioned that he didn’t know if the letter was or was not a hoax. I responded genuinely but from a factual stand point with details about incorrect information within the letter. Since I was simply pointing out facts, I figured there might be a few responses from conservatives using other facts to counter my point, but I was not prepared for the crushing emotion of what actually happened. Another relative of mine came online and posted, “You are wrong, Marie Gail Stratford.” How insulting! She didn’t give any reasons for why she was declaring my wrongness. She didn’t give me what she thought was the right answer. She simply called me out in the world’s most public forum as being wrong, and I was crushed. Then I got angry. I wanted to scream. I wanted to cry. I wanted to sit her down and make her give me answers based on facts. I did not want to be told I was wrong, especially not without the “right” answer, based in facts, being given to me.
If I can’t even handle my facts being attacked online, how on earth will I cope with the fallout of being genuine? The good news is that I did manage to sleep last night, after I calmed down a bit. The bad news is that being human I will always feel a twinge of pain when someone attacks me for being wrong. The best news is that even after that experience, here I am today writing genuinely about my experience in social media last night.