An extremely hectic time
with extraordinary problems,
an extremely effective remedy.
Julian van der Wouden – Vita Florentis
Personal development has been hot for years. Sometimes, with a more negative connotation, it is also called ‘self-help’.
Self-help books – online platforms – websites – online groups – annual programmes – podcasts – seminars and webinars: numerous fill-ins for the current demand and strong need for development, meaning and happiness.
“People squeeze into express trains,” the little prince said,
but they no longer know what they are actually looking for.
So they just run around in circles.”
ANTOINE DE SAINT-EXUPÉRY – THE LITTLE PRINCE (translated from Dutch version)
This can partly be explained by the fact that traditional religions and movements – speaking purely about the Netherlands for a moment – are seeing their constituencies shrink.
Backed by all the online possibilities, society at large has rapidly become more individualistic. We have less inclination to join an overarching community (or as before: pillar) that determines how we should think.
We want to be our own bosses and be responsible for our own lives. As a result, we have also become less loyal to religious movements, associations, a regular employer for our entire career etc.
We act more on an individual basis, combined with a flexible and somewhat more opportunistic approach.
With all this comes a responsibility for our own development and happiness in life. It is therefore a logical consequence that we ourselves have to look for the best way to do this.
But despite all this, humans are by nature a ‘social animal’, so we don’t want to end up in social isolation.
We have a natural need for humanity that we can share with each other.
That need of shared humanity, is largely met today by social media.
We can mirror ourselves to others to our hearts’ content. Experience a form of connection through shared interests and know ourselves to be part of something bigger.
Yet this is not the solution. In fact, online accessibility has a huge downside and even contributes greatly to the problem; the cause that had started the search for meaning and happiness in life in the first place.
This search for some footing, for core values that serve us and for meaning and happiness in one’s own life, can also be explained from an increasingly fast-paced society.
With all the opportunities, an increasingly demanding society, asking more of all of us.
There is an urge to make it, because with everyone suddenly connected online, it is also clearer than ever what is achievable.
The outliers get the most attention and are consciously or unconsciously elevated as the norm.
In doing so, we forget1 that what can be seen online is far from representative of everyday reality.
They are the best moments and usually the brightest fragments, cut from a much greyer context of the film reel of life2 .
Unfortunately, it is precisely those spotlight moments that we constantly compare with our own worst moments. That’s when we are extra sensitive to them.
We often only see the people who have made it in life. In any field. Of the 99 out of 100 who don’t get that far, you don’t hear much. The masses are not interesting. The standouts are.
¹ Forgetting mostly subconsciously. Rationally, we know quite well that what we see is usually not that representative.
Unconsciously, however, we catch a continuous stream of images and they are all stored in our unconscious brain. As comparison material. As a frame of reference. As a benchmark. As a standard. And therein lies the danger.
Healthy use is supplementary use. Balanced with and supplementary to real life. NOT as a surrogate for needs in real life.
That is where it goes wrong.
The question of conscience is whether the application still serves us, or whether we have become slaves to the application. That is sometimes a tightrope walk. We can only answer that question ourselves. Provided we dare to be honest with ourselves.
² What do social media still have to do with reality, when almost everything is contrived, directed and rehearsed countless times before anything is ‘really’ posted?
The everyday reality that we no longer dare to share, other than with people who are very close to us and who know us as we really are.
Illustrative of the ever-increasing discrepancy between everyday life and the manufactured online world we all create ourselves.
It can be a useful and very entertaining addition in many ways, but it has been made so addictive that it is difficult to guard that boundary. To do so, we need to be firm in our own minds. Which can be tricky as children start using social media at younger and younger ages and, by definition, are not yet doing so.