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Facebook and Dignity

May 6, 2012 | by Emuna Braverman

They shouldn’t be an oxymoron.

How much sharing is, as they say, TMI (too much information)?

Is it the former GSA Pacific Rim administrator posting a picture of himself in the bathtub with a glass of red wine during his scouting trip to Las Vegas? (It’s almost a party game deciding which aspect of this photo is the most disturbing one!) Is it Roseanne Cash (the famous singer’s daughter) tweeting to her 43,000 plus followers about the challenges in her marriage? Is it pictures of the fancy gourmet dinner your friend made last night that surely puts the rest of us to shame? Is it pictures from your exotic vacation? (We stayed home and repaired the roof but we’re glad you enjoyed – really). Is it possibly even just pictures of our children?

Almost anything could qualify, depending on context and viewers.

We begin our morning prayers with the blessing uttered by the non-Jewish prophet, Bilaam, “How goodly are your tents O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel.” He wasn’t praising our camping skills or our artistic talents. What he noticed, the commentaries suggest, was the sense of modesty and privacy inherent in the structure of the community. No one’s door faced into anyone else’s home. What happened inside was not for sharing, wasn’t anyone else’s business, was private and sacred. A sense of dignity was preserved.

Nowadays, everywhere we look, the opposite is true. We’ve opened the doors and rolled up the shades, revealing all to the world outside – without a second’s thought or a moment’s sense of shame. No one stops to question whether it is appropriate.

How can we preserve our marriage if we let 43,000 strangers in on our struggles?

We’ve forgotten that our home and our family are something special, something to safeguard and preserve. We’ve stopped noticing that something precious has been lost with each further encroachment on our privacy.

The most egregious examples are the easiest to learn from. How can we preserve our marriage if we are willing to let 43,000 strangers in on our struggles? Not to mention the fact that in Jewish consciousness, embarrassing someone is like killing them. (Our jails today don’t have near enough room for all the guilty parties!)

How can we maintain a healthy relationship with our children if we reveal their foibles for the world to see – on our daily television show, newspaper column, or online blog?

And most importantly, how can we maintain our own sense of self-respect if all of our life experiences, all our innermost thoughts and goals along with every momentary impulse are expressed on our Facebook page? Facebook seems to have the dubious distinction of making exhibitionism and voyeurism socially acceptable.

Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal suggests that we’ve lost all sense of discretion as well as many other crucial and valuable character traits (WSJ 4/26/12):

“Discretion, before its recent death, had many allies – judgment, common sense, prudence, reticence and the two better selfs, self-control and self-discipline.”

I would venture further. Discretion is an aspect of modesty. In the midst of serving the body, we’ve lost our souls. We’ve stopped thinking before we speak. We’ve ceased carefully examining our words before using them. We no longer worry about material excess or bodily indulgence. We’ve stopped trying to preserve our inner core. We’ve stopped noticing our inner core. When everything is public, as my husband would say, “There is no longer any there there.” We’ve lost touch with our souls. We’ve lost track of what’s truly important and of who matter’s the most.

Apparently young couples are now negotiating social media rules – what is okay to share and what isn’t. This should be obvious but we’ve lost perspective. Traditionally, the more precious something is, the more we want to protect it – and vice-versa.

We live in an upside-down world where the most important personal details are revealed almost before we say hello – and frequently on national television.

But we don’t have to participate. We can take a step back. We can build some fences. We can try leaving Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and all social media out of our marriages and personal lives. (I dare you!) We can build our inner world and have the confidence that it can withstand the buffeting of the outer one.

We shouldn’t post or tweet about our marriages. It coarsens and devalues this holy institution. It embarrasses our partners. And we shouldn’t post or tweet about ourselves. We should have too much self-respect and self-esteem to invade our own privacy in that way. If we could really exercise and promote this level of restraint, we would change society. True, some magazines might go out of business and some shows off the air but the public discourse would be on a higher level and we would all be able to rediscover our spiritual centers.

Our ancestors were on to something. We need goodly tents and dwelling places – not just for shelter, but in order to preserve our essential humanity and sense of self.


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