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Facebook and Modesty

February 12, 2015 | by Emuna Braverman

The challenge of maintaining privacy and dignity in the Facebook era.

Every day it seems I uncover another downside to Facebook. Like many modern inventions (and perhaps old ones as well), it can be a positive force in our society (I confess to marveling at its efficiency in terms of work events and rsvps), but we need to use it well – and thoughtfully.

Others, wiser and more expert than me, can address cyber bullying or online predators or the destructive possibilities for marriage and real-life relationships. Others, wiser and more expert than me, can document the danger of searching out old high school boyfriends with whom you have never had to fight about the bills, the garbage, the toilet seat or the children. Others can discuss the tendency to brag and how that hurts other people or how we make people feel left out of our vacation, party, simcha by posting pictures of it on Facebook or even the gossip that gets written online – and left there for posterity. All of these issues should give us pause.

I want to focus on yet another area where caution is advised.

In Jewish life, we put a high value on modesty. Modesty doesn’t just mean the length of our hemlines. Modesty is an attitude. It’s how we talk, it’s how we walk, it’s how we conduct ourselves. It’s a sense of dignity and privacy and a focus on our inner selves. Modesty means I am not looking for credit, I am not looking for honor, I am not trying to draw attention to myself. And then along comes Facebook which seems to encourage the exact opposite.

“Look at me!” the Facebook posts seem to say. Even if it’s not me on the Alps or me at a café in Paris or me in Tahiti. It’s still all about me. Look at my marriage! (“Here we are celebrating our anniversary – he’s so wonderful and kind and loving and…” I’m very glad for them – I’m not being facetious – but tell your husband, not your Facebook friends).

Look at my children! (“Did I tell you they were accepted into Harvard, Princeton and Yale?”)

Look at my good deeds! (“Here I am chairing the banquet of our local non-profit and here I am receiving an award from another”)

None of these are bad things, especially the last. But they don’t belong in the public arena – especially if we post them ourselves.

One of the highest levels of giving is to give anonymously. Because it’s the modest way, the private way, the way that doesn’t attract attention, the way that makes it about the mitzvah and not about me. This is very hard. The desire for honor and recognition is universal and something we need to fight against. Facebook has made the battle more difficult and the temptation much greater.

We can still maintain our privacy. We can still limit our posts. We can still keep most of our lives undocumented, private, special for just our immediate family. (Our family has its own little “whatsapp” group for those special moments – but it’s only for our family – no one else wouldn’t appreciate our “unusual” sense of humor anyway). Facebook can be a great, productive tool. It’s up to us how we use it.

In the early days of television, the educational opportunities were frequently touted. Those still exist but we’ve lost the battle and entertainment dominates. I think it’s probably too late to turn back that clock.

But maybe not for Facebook where we each have total control over what we choose to post or not. We can start a new trend by not updating our post with every new life event. We can keep those to ourselves, to be shared with our spouses, immediate family and close friends. I guarantee that instead of feeling like the event is less special because 675 people didn’t see a picture of it, you will feel a heightened pleasure because you have preserved its uniqueness and intimate quality.

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