Socially Unacceptable: Social Charades

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One of the most essential components of ancient Greek drama were masks made from wood or clay that actors wore while performing. We know these masks as the dueling comedy/tragedy faces that serve as the universal symbol for theater. But these masks are more than just a symbol. They were actually the vehicle through which actors properly displayed certain emotions at certain points of the play. In this day, there was no voice amplification outside of the acoustics of the theater itself. All of the performers were male, and there was typically a few people playing several roles. These factors naturally made genuine emotion much more difficult to display, so the solution was for various exaggerated masks to indicate what emotions the audience should see and feel.

Think about watching one of these plays. You watch a boy on the left side of the stage who’s wearing a very distraught-looking face, acting out a scene, when all of a sudden, the same boy runs to the other side of the stage and is now wearing a mask that is beaming with joy. Of course, this is the best ancient Greece could do. But after being exposed to film and music and theatre and the depth of talent we’ve seen over hundreds of years, wouldn’t it be hard to watch such a staged (sorry) expression of a play? Does it get any more fake than having to literally wear a “happy face” to show you’re happy?

In one way, we are completely different than the ancient Greeks. We don’t have to rely on these kinds of mechanisms to get our point across. Hollywood actors don’t have to use a clay face mold strapped to their head to indicate sadness; they just cry, and convince us so well, that we sometimes find ourselves crying, too (even though we know this is another form of a mask in itself). In another way, however, we are much like the ancient Greeks.

We don’t have to rely on masks,
but we choose to.

“Social charades” are a part of our everyday social media habits. How can I make such a broad statement? Because I never open Facebook and see a status saying, “Tonight my wife and I had a pretty heated argument,” but rather a full feed of smiling faces, hugging couples, and selfies in the sunlight or next to celebrities (celebrity cut-outs for some people who feel really, really, really alone and bored). Because we never Instagram our half-eaten Big Mac, but only the hand-crafted angus burgers from non-genetically-modified cows. Because there was a documentary and a popular television show centered around “Catfishing,” where a few people with no time on their hands live double lives to lure people into a relationship with a fake person.

And when I point one finger at others, I still have three pointing back at me. I am the guy who’s eager to share an encouraging Bible verse online after just being egregiously rude to my wife, or putting on the “I’m okay” front to retain social order despite my true anxiety over an issue. Sometimes I get mad at God yet use my public platforms to judge others for doing the same.

We can’t peg all of the reasons we use masks on our sinful nature. In the same way social media invites us to be hasty with our words, it invites us to put on the mask. Because Facebook, for example, includes a place for likes, comments, and shares on every single Facebook entry, it has conditioned us to think the only things worth sharing with others are what another person would like to see, or comment on, or share. We measure our ability to use Twitter by our follower count, which tailors everything we tweet. There’s certainly nothing wrong with uploading pictures of the newborn or the engagement photo shoot or a great story from your day, but there is a danger when we begin to hide behind these things.

Let’s face it, social media has become our theater, and when we take the stage, sometimes we put on the mask.

Check out this study of American teenagers and young adults conducted
in 2014 by Harris Interactive.

69% of respondents said their friends weren’t being true to themselves most of the time on social media, and 57% wished their friends would be themselves more. 56% of college students said they would “defriend” someone who was being fake, while 47% of high school students would do the same. But at the same time 40% of respondents said they feel like they can’t be themselves online either. What’s more, 36% said they don’t believe there is currently a social media platform that allows them to fully express their real identities.

We all naturally expect everyone else to be genuine, and we seem to have little tolerance for “fake” people we come in contact with, but when it comes to ourselves, a good amount of us play the charades game anyway. We don’t have to rely on these masks, but we choose to. Social media sites should be an extension of ourselves, not a substitution of ourselves.

A few exhortations will hopefully help us abandon this practice and start placing higher importance on authenticity and being genuine in the social world.

Don’t view social media as a place simply for connection, but the place for relationship.

I think we could all agree that we have more Facebook-counted “friends” than we do actual, trustworthy “friends.” Social media has degraded the word “friend” to someone you’ve talked to before, or a high-school acquaintance. It’s no longer about people we have legitimate relationships with, but people we are merely familiar with. And let’s talk about Twitter, the place where average joes can “talk” to celebrities and follow as many people as the site will allow. It’s the perception of “connection,” which has made forming “relationships” less of a priority. There are even features where we can “mute” people yet still remain their “friend.” It’s so bizarre and backwards.

Proverbs tells us, “A man of many companions may come to ruin” (18:24). In the same way God has chosen not to “connect,” but “relate” to us, it is by His design that we strive to find friends, brothers in the faith, iron-sharpening partners, not mere acquaintances. We see connections as opportunity (LinkedIn, anyone?), and my fear is that we see relationships — real, authentic, time-spent-together relationships — as less fruitful. Social media has made our association with each other so shallow, that not only do we struggle to have our own “Paul, Timothy, and Barnabas” in life, but we don’t know how to. Shallowness is only more inevitable when we focus on making connections, not relationships.

All of this to say; spend some more time actually going to meet someone over coffee. Get to know people not through their online persona, but through the face that shares a table with you. You can’t develop Paul, Timothy, and Barnabas partnerships through only a digital screen.

God’s image supersedes your online image.

Creating an image in the online world is essential to start-up companies, musicians, and oftentimes the common man and woman. There is a certain need we place on creating our very own guise to the rest of the world in order to sell ourselves, to perhaps garner more “likes” or gain more “followers.” We all do this in some sense. Even I, a blogger and a Tweeter(sp?) have a certain “image” I want to display. But I must remind myself, and want to encourage you, that our need to create an image for ourselves is unnecessary; our Creator already did that for us.

God has a three-fold plan for making us in His likeness; in creation, redemption, and glorification. We were created to be a representation of God for the earth, we were redeemed to give us the chance to continue to share in that image we slightly lost in the fall, and we will be glorified, restored back to the image we were created in. If all those things don’t bring you more joy than social media analytics and what imperfect people think about you, it’s time to reevaluate what and whose image you are truly living for.

The mask will inevitably come off one day.
Live an open life.

We are no strangers to this, but we lose sight of it sometimes. We all know someone or have heard of someone who has been unable to keep up an impression they’ve put on. Impressions are futile. Affairs don’t last. Addictions get exposed. Lies are uncovered. And even if somehow, on the rare occasion, that our online/social masks last for a lifetime, there will be no surprised look on the face of the Judge we will all face. Putting on the mask, therefore, is inevitably a lost cause. We must simply live an open life. Live a life void of any need for a mask.

Think about the people in your life that you respect the most. More than likely, you admire these people not because of their level of perfection, but their level of honest, genuine realness. It’s the people who are open about what they’ve come from, and what they’ve been through, that gives you an ability to respect these people. I look at the ministry of Paul Tripp, for example. He’s one of the most humble and honest pastors and ministers of our day. I’ve heard countless sermons and read multiple chapters of his that outline his failings and flaws. He constantly reminds himself and his audience of how much he falls short. It’s not done for effect; Tripp is simply a wonderful example of a Godly man who has learned how to preach, write, and live without a mask. This gut-level honesty is more admirable than any projection or impression one can carry. We respect people who get real with us, and we detest “fake” people, so why hide?

Is it time to take your mask off? People are watching. It may be entertaining them for a while, but soon its value will wear. Start having genuine relationship.

Start living in the image you were designed to live in.

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