Learning from Jack – navigating relationships on social media

Me at The Kilns 2002

Many years ago I had an amazing experience. I lived in C.S.Lewis’s old house in Oxford. It was as incredible as it sounds. Of course, it was a bit like living in a tourist attraction. We would regularly welcome visitors to show them around the public areas giving them a glimpse of what it must have been like to have lived there with the yellowed ceilings (he was a chain smoker) and a lounge full of books. These books would spark in me a love of his writing wider than Narnia; books which opened up his life and gave me a lot of food for thought. I’ve remained fascinated by him over the years – I like how his mind works; the no-nonsense approach to life and his faith. He uses logic to persuade and topics that he has written on are vast and eclectic.

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on how to keep up good relationships on social media. It’s a place where anything goes (almost!) and whether or not we should care is often down to personal integrity or professional boundaries. I’ve upset people on social media and I most definitely do care. I’d like to say it’s down to a misunderstanding but actually sometimes I’ve misjudged a comment or made a remark that was just too close to the bone. Social media is a place where we can get lulled into a false sense of security and feel like we really know someone when actually we just really know their twitter feed. That’s not to say that people aren’t genuine – far from it – but there is a difference between knowing someone as a friend, outside of the virtual realm where all is public, and sometimes those boundaries can be blurred.

One of my favourite quotes of CS Lewis (or “Jack” to his friends) is one from an essay called “The weight of glory”. I like the way he describes our relationships with those around us and how we should treat people with dignity and respect. This doesn’t mean we can’t disagree with them – far from it! But it’s I guess about the attitude in which we do so. He says:

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.

CS Lewis The Weight of Glory

I’ve never considered this in the context of social media before but just today, I wondered if, for me, there is something to be learned here about the way I interact with people. I’m fully aware not everyone will agree here and that’s part of the richness of social media as well. People have different philosophies about their online presence and I’m still figuring out mine.

We can’t control the reactions of those we interact and neither should we. But we can control the way we act and interact and actually, at the end of the day, I want an online presence that ultimately has a positive impact rather than a negative one. When I first strated on twitter I was that indignant, shouty ranty person and I cringe very deeply when I think back to those tweets I sent. But at the end of every handle is a real person – generally speaking anyway. Actually ranting never really got me anywhere even if it did make me feel a bit better about whatever it was I was indignantly pointing out in the moment.

So, I guess this is really for me but I think it’s been helpful to reflect. I’d love to know what you think.

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