Is it your story to tell?

by +CrystalThieringer    @cdthieringer


chimpsA social function I attended was going well until the moment when someone tried to take group photos. This was not a function where selfies were documenting every moment as proof the event had in fact occurred, but rather a small gathering where the primary people interested were already in the room.

When the question was posed, “Do you want a group photo?” one attendee became upset, swore, and left the room. Under no circumstance was permission granted, nor would it ever likely be. People in the room shuffled and resettled as they tried to cope with what many felt was a huge overreaction to a simple request.

What’s the big deal? It’s just a picture.

In a completely unrelated event, Someone intended to share childhood photos of  a woman, without her permission. Someone would have, if the photos hadn’t been misplaced, because the woman and the third party had been schoolmates together. According to Someone, this meant the photos were of interest, potentially embarrassing though they may be. After all, they represented a shared moment in time. The woman stated she would not be amused, and asked that the photos not be shared. Predictably, Someone was hurt.

After all, what’s the big deal? It’s just a picture, and would only result in a little healthy teasing, right?

I see it differently.

Social media has brought about many good things to our world. I’ve watched as Fort McMurray successfully evacuated their city when faced with a raging forest fire, with the help of timely tweets and Facebook updates. I’ve used it to determine what restaurants I’ll eat at, or what roads I’ll avoid on the drive home and I’ve experimented with up-to-the-moment updates for conferences I’ve attended. I’ve connected with many former friends and schoolmates myself, and am blessed with new relationships I value greatly. It has a place, a good place, and I’m grateful for it.

However,  we’ve also allowed it to erode our sense of privacy to the point where we assume others don’t care about their privacy either. We forget there are real people on the other side of the screen. I’ve watched as death announcements have been made before the immediate family has been notified, and I’ve seen as much misinformation sent out as real information.

In the examples, outsiders see “just” a photo because they view the pictures with the filter of their experience–not with the filter the individual involved brings to it.

Consequently, we have no idea what emotions or reality such photos might represent. In the first circumstance, for example, an outsider may not understand the attendee had left behind an abusive relationship, and was trying to minimize an online presence so that interaction with the abuser was also minimized. To that individual, the photo represented the potential for genuine physical and emotional distress.

little feetTo the second woman, the photos represented a challenging childhood, and the person they were going to be shared with was a casual acquaintance, someone she hadn’t seen since she was a child herself. She wasn’t interested in rehashing old memories online or in having the Facebook algorithm remind her every year about it without any warning. Perhaps there was a counsellor involved, perhaps there were significant triggers that Someone wasn’t aware of–or had even ignored.

Social media lets us share all kinds of things, and do it very quickly. It has a purpose, but perhaps in addition to like, retweet, and repost icons, it also needs to have a pause button. What if there was a way to remind ourselves to ask the question if it was our story to tell in the first place?

19 thoughts on “Is it your story to tell?

  1. First of all, yes, I like the duck. Secondly, you bring up a couple of very good points. I love the idea of a pause button. I need to remember to pause more often, not just on line, but I my real world life, as well.

      1. I love how you two are trying to help us keep you straight, DeniseD!

    1. I think I missed the filter gene in my makeup, DeniseB, so I understand what you’re saying. My real-life world could totally benefit from it. Things just seem to come out of my mouth, but I’m working on it all the time.

  2. Bravo, Crystal. I learned that phrase from you several years ago, and it has brought me up short many times when I was about to share something I didn’t own. Thanks for always keeping us honest about this. We don’t get to choose what’s okay for another person, especially when we don’t have all the information. And in a sense, we never do …

    1. It’s a tough line, sometimes–and online is a different beast than a face-to-face discussion with our most trusted friends (where discretion, which you’ve always displayed, is still necessary). Online seems impossible to eradicate. Someone truly being “in the know” is so much different than someone assuming consent simply because it would be okay according to their set of filters.

  3. Oh, if only more people would pause. It particularly annoys me when people take “inspirational” photos of disabled people and post them without consent. All of those “inspirational” memes and photos (the girl on carbon fiber legs running a race with the caption ‘What’s your excuse?’ or the photo of the disabled boy and his prom date with the caption ‘Hit Like if you would take him to prom!’ and more) objectify the subjects without any consideration of privacy. Thankfully, nobody has taken a photo of me and used it for such a purpose, but I know many who have suffered this. It’s almost as bad as complete strangers coming up to you praying over you (it happens all the time) or asking, “What happened to you?” And let’s not even start on the parents of disabled kids sharing intimate photos and stories about their kids when their kids are not able to give consent.

    I got off on a tangent, but probably because my feelings are strong when it comes to sharing without consent. We are not here for your inspiration, to paraphrase the late Stella Young. Just because you could share something, does that mean you should?

    1. Those “inspirational” memes and pics are the worst. Like the pics of sick/dying children (share equals prayer!-Yuck), they usually come from like farmers who stand to profit from it.

    2. I have to admit that because of discussions with you, DeniseD, I’ve asked even more questions about what is okay to share–and I’ve modified what click-bait headlines I’m willing to click on. I was a sucker for a good tearjearking story before. That said, sometimes it is inspirational, and sometimes it does make me wonder why if I’m living the best I can. That is the point though, isn’t it? We each have a life to live, and it’s up to us to live the breadth of it. Misusing someone else’s circumstances to prove a point, or because it doesn’t matter to the person posting it, or because heartstrings can be manipulated is inexcusable. I love your fire for this.

  4. This is one of my big things. I have always been the recipient of many secrets because “it’s not my place to tell” has been a guiding principle in my life.

    Good job with this.

    1. Thanks, Cynthia. Sometimes these secrets are a heavy load. Most often, they are an enormous privilege. I had a friend who knew so much about other people, but she was a vault. No one knew she knew, unless the person the secret was about told you she knew. I always admired that, and strive for it. I don’t always attain that goal, for sure–but it’s what I reach for.

  5. Great points here. I don’t share photos without permission, and I hate mine shared without it. I won’t even share one of my daughter unless she approves. You are correct that we need a pause button.

    1. I’m not a parent, so I don’t know how it works with kids. I do wonder sometimes how the three-year-olds of today will feel when they google themselves in the future and find their in utero pictures. Will body shaming girls criticize even those?

  6. Excellent point. “Was it our story to share?”

    I have personally benefitted from the internet, but there was a time when I was in the hospital for elevated blood pressure and my brother died. The doctors did not tell me yet, but an aunt had posted it about my brother. There I was on the internet, but I felt too tired to stay on, so I left. I believe God protected me in that instance.

    1. You raise a good point as well, Anne. I know you to be a person who has invested time in having a relationship with God–do you think that made a difference in your case? I also know many people who have seen stuff prematurely on the internet. I wonder if they feel God didn’t protect them?

  7. We see life through our own lens–and in the rush to post photos (or tell stories) it’s too easy to forget the other point of view. I teach this over and over to my middle schoolers–how not to get a laugh at someone else’s expense. But in my own life am I as careful? Thank you for the reminder to ask permission before charging ahead.

    1. I’m relieved to know that teachers still teach this stuff–I remember learning it in school, but sometimes it seems to be something no longer on many curriculums. It’s easy to forget, until someone gets hurt. I’ve done it–and I’m trying now to be more thoughtful. I’m so glad students have you to guide them.

  8. Well written, as always Crystal. Excellent reminder to be mindful in this respect.

    1. Thank you Via. I think you may have gotten a duplicate of my reply to Laura–sorry about that. Techy problems for me this morning, and that is frustrating because you are not Laura! Thank you for stopping by, and for your kind words.

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