A friend recently e-mailed me the following quote and suggested — with due respect and affection I’m sure — that it also describes bloggers:
“.. they love to receive praise, and sometimes they even seek it. In this they resemble the foolish virgins who had to seek oil from others when their own lamps were extinguished…”
– St John of the Cross
There was a time when I whole-heartedly agreed with this. I still maintain that social media — be it blogging, Facebooking, or Tweeting — can foster narcissism. It’s too easy to become possessed by the thrill of comments and likes and re-tweets. I know this first-hand.
When I started blogging, I wrote for myself. Blogging was intended to hone my craft as a preacher. When my blog attracted an audience, I was surprised, and I was pleased, and I was changed. By that I mean my blogging changed, and so did my motives. I liked getting comments, and I sought them out by posting on controversial subjects. I linked to my posts on Facebook and delighted over likes and shares.
When I became aware of this, I considered closing down the blog. I’d been down this road before. I joined Facebook in 2007, back when “Facebook walls” were important. (Now they don’t even exist.)
Facebook was supposed to connect me with other people, but that didn’t happen. Most of my Facebook activity was focused on crafting the image I projected on my own wall. After a few months of this, I recognised the spiritual and moral dangers this posed, and I closed my Facebook account. It was only reactivated in 2011, a few months after this blog started. And now I was succumbing to pride again. Was this a pattern? Did I have to shut down my blog like I shut down my Facebook account? I think I must have mused about this online, because readers persuaded me to persevere. So after rectifying my intentions, I did.
Sometimes I falter. For example, you might remember Pope Benedict announced his abdication late Monday night Australian time. I happened to be online as the news was breaking, and after texting a friend in Rome who confirmed the reports, I copied and pasted into my Facebook status the full English text of the Pope’s statement.
I think I must have been the very first — or one of the first — to do that. That update was shared several hundred times, and liked by hundreds more. I was especially chuffed to learn that a cardinal first learned of the news, and reviewed the Pope’s statement, via my Facebook status. I spent hours on Facebook that night, swept up in the history of the moment — not to mention the mild hysteria that echo chambers typically incite. It was great!
Next morning, though, I was appalled at myself. What sort of priest was I, to have spent the first few hours after learning of the pope’s decision in front of a computer screen? I moved to the Tabernacle eventually, and spent time there in prayer. But that should have been my first resort, not the second. I again had to rectify my intentions, and change my social media habits.
Right now, I’m much more detached from blogging and Facebooking. In recents months, they have become onerous to me; I have viewed them not as pleasant pastimes, but as apostolic duties. This week’s new media conference has renewed my zeal for this apostolate, and in fact I’m very excited at the possibilities of expansion and focus. But still, for me right now, blogging is very far from a narcissistic exercise. (With the help of God’s grace, which I pray He grants me now and always, it will stay that way.)
It sometimes surprises me how universal is the attitude that only narcissists run for political office, or that politicians who survive and succeed are narcissistic, anyway. I don’t believe that. I’m sure that some politicians are narcissists, and it may well be that politics is the cause of that. But still, St Thomas More can’t be the only statesman who was not only motivated by a spirit of service, but also able to sustain and even enhance that spirit of service throughout his political career.
Bloggers, I think, are in a similar boat. And, come to that, so are priests. Max Lindenman proffered a memorable piece on clerical narcissism, which I think I’ve linked to before. It bears re-reading. He mostly poses questions, but he also makes several good points.
The lesson is not to avoid professions and past-times that foster narcissism. (You might be hard pressed to find a place in the world if you do.) The lesson is to identify dangers — both interior and exterior — and employ strategies to avoid them.