Steve Heisler

Teacher Author Speaker


"Every single child wants to be successful. The problem is, if they can't be successful at being successful, they'll be successful at screwing up. Our job as educators is to change the latter to the former."    

- from the The Missing Link by Steve Heisler

Careful...You Know Who is Watching

There's a lot of concern, especially among young job seekers, about social media posting history and the potential for secure employment. It is a legitimate concern but on more levels than just getting a job. As a life long believer that protected speech is a more critical core value of democracy than almost any other constitutional protection (yes, this includes guns) the pressure on folks to self-censor seems to me a fearfully huge problem. 

Clearly this is an issue with many attendant complications, not the least of which is privacy which one cannot necessarily expect to be respected. As Socrates said, "the minute a second person knows it, it is no longer a secret!"  Moreover,  we need to separate the right to do something  from the consequences of having actually done that thing. If we choose to share something, whether with one individual privately or in a public venue, we need to give up the expectation that those comments will be greeted without judgement. Posting online, as James Baldwin might have said, is "putting your business on the street." Anyone expecting their dirty diapers to be wholly greeted with the level of parental joy they have come to expect from their significant others is in for a rude awakening.

Might a potential employer be alarmed by what he or she might see on one your social media pages? Absolutely. Might it affect you employment potential?  Of course. That said, should we then hide ourselves from public view? Well, here's where it gets complicated.

It is perhaps a consequence of being born into, or becoming accustomed to, a digital reality but living online is as important to folks these day as social clubs were to an earlier generation. Many of these clubs were so important, in fact, that great edifices were erected to house them. Certainly being a member of say the DAR may have bought with it a certain cachet but even before they shamed themselves by not allowing Marian Anderson to sing at Constitution Hall, being a member pf the DAR may well have closed several doors even as it opened many others. We make the choice, we pay the dues, we take the consequences.

So how do we balance this new social need even even as it conflicts with established mainstream values of being highly circumspect about what you share in public. Somewhere in this mix is the need to be truthful to certain genuine values about ourselves and have the courage of our own convictions to be willing to accept whatever consequences being who we are will bring. It is no easy task, particularly when the need of a job is greater than the need for self-expression (a place where I myself have gone to visit myself). However, as Cady Stanton pointed out, "the truth is always a safest ground to stand on." The same is true for what we choose to reveal about ourselves.

What is needed, as we teach those for whom we are responsible, as well as broach these decisions ourselves, is the courage to not shrink from posting out of fear. The question of what to post on a social media site should be driven by the desire to express what is genuinely true about ourselves, in the context of what the site is enabling us to share.

Fear of inadvertent offence, such as in 'do I dare post something that might make me a less desirable candidate for some position' is the kind of self censoring that almost always empowers others at a personal cost to our own sense of self. It's one of the tougher ideas to teach and to be sure the freedom to post...whatever...can and should be limited when it comes to our children until they reach the land of responsibility. At the end of the day though we need to equip our children to be able to make real world choices about their values about how they want to represent themselves, how they want to be seen and valued.

It would be as much a shame to let 'marketing' our image dictate everything we do in our public lives as it certainly does for so many political and business figures where sales (votes are sales, too) are the only desired outcome from any public action. Free people must take risks to remain free so when it comes to social media perhaps we can coach each other and our children to make meaningful choices about what to post. JFK saw the highest duty of the artist (and by extension, all of us) in a democratic society is to to "speak the truth as he or she sees it, and let the chips fall where they may."

Speaking truth is the key, and knowing that the truth is often hard to find. For instance, before you share anything, be sure you can answer this question: is this who I want the world to see, or am I playing to an audience, trying to please, impress, prove love, shock or otherwise enthrall and allure. Is this just a passing me that I am just testing out or is this an expression of deeply felt, core values. If it's you, really you, post it and consequences be damned. If it's not, consider giving a little more (or much more thought) before you put your business on the street.

If you can't stand by what you say, or even think that if the thing you are about to share goes viral it would destroy your life, don't do it, never, not for anyone.  The key is 'living well out loud' is to be sure that when we do we are thoughtful instead of fearful. When it comes to what we choose to post let's not let being too careful keep us from living a public life that is a meaningful expression of a life that we can value but let's be thought all the same.