So I read an article on the Guardian website the other day, and it made me a bit uncomfortable and ragey but I couldn't really figure out why.
It's this one: The Pros and cons of 'sharenting' by Nione Meakin.
Quite apart from the use of the term 'sharenting', which makes me shudder about as much as seeing mompreneur anywhere, it made me stop and think about whether the discomfort I felt was because I'm guilty of it.
And thinking that way made me think about Brene Brown's definitions of guilt vs shame. Which, for the record:
Guilt: I did something bad
Shame: I am bad
And that's when I started to feel a bit more ragey. Because although the title of the article is the Pros and Cons of (I won't type that word again), the tone of it is far more judgy and shaming than the headline telegraphed.
And it hit a nerve. Possibly my last one, and [insert tangled metaphor about straws and camels here] and days later I'm still thinking about it. Or more to the point, I'm still thinking about the culture of shaming and the lack of compassion that seem to be prevalent today. Of which more in another post.
I talked in my last post (which was longer ago than I thought it'd be, but that's how things go) about asking for help, and one of the ways I'm getting help is by seeing a psychologist and one of the techniques she's using is called Compassion Focused Therapy. It's a kind of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and one of the things it's done is make me very aware of compassion, or lack of it, whether it's by me to me, by me to others, by others to me or by others to others.
Brene Brown says that (and I'm paraphrasing here) you can't be compassionate to others if you can't be compassionate to yourself, and while a few weeks ago I disagreed with that, the more I've thought about it, the more I've realised she's dead on. I always thought I was pretty compassionate, but it turns out I'm just better at censoring the externalising that part of me, for the most part (or maybe not).
I had a compassion wake-up call on my recent work trip to Boston. My boss and I were waiting for a train/tram thing, and there were a group of people in front of us who had a ton of luggage. They took a while getting onto the train, and struggled with their bags, and I found myself getting quite stressed out, because if that sort of thing happened in London on the Tube, there would be much tutting, shoving, and quite possibly a train departing without all of the passengers. But in Boston, it wasn't a big deal. People helped. Nobody tutted. The train waited. It was all ok.
I see similar things every day. I do them myself. I inwardly tut and rant at people who do things or stand places which I disagree with, and it's something I'm now actively working to change, on the basis that if I get silently enraged with it, the only person that's going to affect is me, and not positively.
My point is, that a lack of compassion can lead to shaming, and I was particularly saddened to see the bit about a (presumably childless) friend who expressed her disgust at the "plague" of baby pictures taking over social media. Rather than take a deep breath and deploy the social media equivalent of holding your breath as you pass the bin lorry, she gave the impression of threatening to withdraw her friendship if more than one baby picture was posted, which hits right at the heart of Brene Brown's work on shame. In her book "I thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't)" she says:
To understand how shame is influenced by culture, we need to think back to when we were children or young adults, and we first learned how important it is to be liked, to fit in, and to please others. The lessons were often taught by shame, sometimes overtly, other times covertly. Regardless of how they happened, we can all recall experiences of being rejected, diminished and ridiculed. Eventually we learned to fear those feelings. We learned how to change our behaviours, thinking and feeling to avoid feeling shame. In the process, we changed who are were and, in many instances, who were are now.
She goes on:
We are wired for connection. It's in our biology. As infants, our need for connection is about survival. As we grow older, connection means thriving-emotionally, physically, spiritually and intellectually. Connection is critical because we all have the basic need to feel accepted and to believe that we belong and are valued for who we are.
Shame unravels our connection to others. In fact, I often refer to shame as the fear of disconnection-the fear of being perceived as flawed and unworthy of acceptance or belonging. Shame keeps us from telling our own stories and prevents us from listening to others tell their stories. We silence our voices and keep our secrets out of the fear of disconnection.
I'm enormously glad that none of the people I'm friends with, or who follow me, have made any complaint about the content that I choose to share online, and truth be told, I'd be enormously disappointed if any of them had. I've blogged about my life on and off for over 13 years now, and been on twitter for six of those. I don't share everything by a long way, but it'd be pretty weird if I didn't make mention of this amazing (and exhausting, and all the other ings) change in my life.
Issues of physical safety and identity theft aside, one of the "Cons" listed in the article is the googleableness of said children, and the potential embarrassment in later life. While I agree that some things are better left unsaid, or at least, shared only in person, I also think that if more of the things which are part of the normal process of growing up were talked about (like bedwetting, for example), they'd be less shameful and stigmatising.
I can't deny that one of the reasons I've struggled with what to write here (despite wanting very much to) is fear of judgment. I'd love to have a conversation about cosleeping, or extended breastfeeding, that's a bit more in-depth and nuanced than is possible on twitter, but I'm also very aware that by writing about it here, I'm opening myself up to criticism. I'm also aware that makes me a bit of a coward, because I've benefitted hugely from the wonderful parents ahead of me who have bravely talked about their experiences and choices and the resulting outcomes.
I'm not sure that I'll ever overcome that fear of judgment, but one of the things I'm learning is to trust my judgment, and make informed decisions about what I share, when and where, and to revisit those decisions regularly, to make sure that I'm still comfortable with them.
I may not always stay the right side of the oversharing line, but honestly, I'm astonished by the tiny human that Jnr is developing into, and I'm equally astonished by the parent that I'm becoming. I love seeing other friends journeys on the same path, and I can't help feeling that it'd be a much sadder, poorer world if those moments of joy (or tiredness, or despair, or WTFness) weren't shared… it may take a village to raise a child, but in these days of globalisation, who says that has to be limited to immediate family and the half mile around your house? Especially if none of your family are close at hand, and your local support network is on the threadbare side of thin. It's not an ideal situation, but even the tiniest "like" or virtual hug can make the difference on a bad day (or even during a bad moment).
So, a plea, of sorts. If you're upset because a friend (or acquaintance) is oversharing, use the tools available to you to control how much of their content you see. Mute or unfollow for a bit (or longer, depending on how good a friend they are). Don't just bitch about a plague of red-faced potato babies, or try to shame them into changing how they share their story. There's too much shame in the world already, lets not add this to it, too?