That phenomenon when someone gives you a blow-by-blow of every thought and action during their day. “Hey I’m awake…Here’s the bathroom I’m about to use…here’s the lunch I just ate…OMG, I’m so bored at work…WOW, that ending on Game of Thrones…Okay, goodnight Twitter.”
Oversharing has always been in the eye of the beholder, but it’s also become the fuel for commercial campaigns.
In 2015, Allstate Insurance created a set of oversharing ads during the Sugar Bowl which highlighted a couple who posted a selfie from the game. The website where Allstate “sold all their possessions” generated 8,000 visitors per second on a special website. In 2016, GEICO created a series of ads around the idea of oversharing, where the narrator critiques someone for “oversharing” on their social media profiles. Ironically, these very ads play during EVERY commercial break of several of my favorite podcasts. I call that “oversharing” the oversharing ad, GEICO!
I get the challenges social media pose. I’ve been told I “overshare”, most consistently by my wife. (Keeping it real!) Everyone has a different barometer and I’ve learned the hard way that just because you can post something doesn’t mean you should. Social media allows for total honesty, but is vulnerability always wise?
Oversharing, Vulnerability, and Voyeurism
At his 2016 Writers Boot Camp conference, Jonathan Merritt said, “we live in a voyeuristic culture but we’re all being told to ‘be vulnerable, be vulnerable, be vulnerable.'”
Vulnerability amidst voyeurism is dangerous. Today, we will watch people we know sharing fresh wounds with people they don’t know looking for affirmation they desperately need in a medium which brings out the best (and worst) in us.
Read that last sentence again. You likely know someone I described – that someone might even be you.
In the Scriptures, the Apostle Paul gave us a filter in the Scriptures about what to think about. Philippians 4:8 contains these words: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” In these verse, Paul helps us answer the question, “What should be consuming my thoughts?”
Well, with that question answered, what should our filter be for sharing vulnerably – both in person and online? How do I know what is oversharing without using the comments as my barometer?
Sharing or Oversharing: 5 Vulnerability Filters
The following questions are the filters I’ve used when deciding to share vulnerably as a writer and a pastor. They’re the questions I use to process with my wife and my sermon feedback group, whenever I speak.
These five questions can help each of us determine whether it’s the right time, place, and people to be sharing vulnerably. The question isn’t, “should we be vulnerable?” We should be. Living guarded not only prevents us from being hurt, but it prevents us from being known. And we can only be loved to the extent we are known. These questions help us determine when, where, with whom and to what degree vulnerability is wise.
1. How am I healing?
As a pastor, I’ve often failed in this area. On multiple occasions, I shared stories where I wasn’t healed and the negative reaction only deepened the wound. I have encouraged others to share their stories when it was too soon. I love the following insight from pastor and author, Nadia Bolz-Weber. “Write from your scars, not your scabs.” When we share too soon, the reaction of others puts our healing in jeopardy. That’s far too much power to surrender to someone else, especially someone you only know “online.”
2. Can I trust them?
In college, I was mentoring a younger student who stayed up all night with a girl he had only recently met. They talked the whole time at Denny’s, sharing all their deep dark secrets including sexual histories. They had not built the foundation of trust to sustain such vulnerability and their relationship, while intense, flamed out a couple months later.
Trust always precedes vulnerability. People can abuse us with the information they get from our vulnerability. We don’t need to subject ourselves to abuse. The best way to determine trust is to look at past behavior. Trust is built slowly over time, gradually as we share more and more.
3. Why am I sharing?
Motivation matters. I wonder if the oversharing we witness is a thinly veiled attempt at connecting. In other words, “please, will someone care about the life I’m living?!” Because, in addition to our culture’s voyeurism, we’re battling massive, rampant insecurity. If we are sharing in order to find people to prop up our identities, we place ourselves in a precarious position. Like a small child who asks “why?” about everything you do, pause and ask “why?” before you click Publish.
4. Will I hurt anyone?
I worked with college students on a daily basis from 2003-2013. From the early days with MySpace to SnapChat and Instagram at the end, social media was the source of contention and conflict. This post is not long enough to include every relationship rift caused by a post, tweet, photo, or nastygram between my students.
Along the same vein as the “why” question above, this question recognizes the fact every post we make will be read and shared, even with people who aren’t our “friends” or “followers.”
To determine the potential for hurt, consider these follow-up questions. “Am I sharing this to get back at anyone for hurting me? Is this my story to tell? Do I need to have a phone or in-person conversation and get permission first? Am I being generous and loving towards others, even if they weren’t generous and loving to me?”
5. What happens if I get rejected?
We have to prepare for the reaction to not be the one we intended. Social media has the ability to bring out the best…and the WORST in us. The perceived distance and anonymity make us feel more courageous and unfiltered, writing words we would never speak face-to-face. At least mentally, we have to walk through the possibility a post won’t be well-received. If we can’t handle rejection or being ignored, then we shouldn’t share. To quote the rap artist Lecrae, “If you live for their acceptance, you’ll die from their rejection.”
Walking the Fine Line
I’m not sure who said it first, but one of my personal mantras is “there’s a fine line between gusty and stupid.” Being vulnerable is a gutsy move because it’s a risk. An act of vulnerability can have life-changing consequences for the person who shares and those who receive it. Some of the people I admire most are consistently vulnerable. However, acts of vulnerability can be unwise, even foolish.
Asking all of these questions may seem like overkill for something as simple as a Tweet or Snap. But if we treated our social media platforms as the publishing vehicles they are, we might end up with the thoughtfulness of a newspaper editor or television producer who actually process the material before they publish it. In 2016, we’re all content creators.
I hope these five questions empower us to process the daily opportunities we have to be vulnerable. I’d love to know how you filter these decisions yourself.