I decided to plop down for some much deserved relaxation (if I might say) to discover that the Family Channel, in an effort to count down to its 25-day countdown to Christmas, is showing yet another Harry Potter marathon. There’s nothing too spectacular about that – it seems they show a Potter marathon every month at some point. However, in watching tonight, a particular line jumped out at me. It’s a line from Dumbledore.
“It is not our abilities that make us who we are. It is the choices we make.”
Could there be a more apropos statement about the world of social media?
The Abilities We Admire
If you look at a lot of the most well-respected and/or most popular people in the online world, they all share many of the same abilities. Think about it for a moment. They are good writers. They are good at simplifying the difficult and talking about things ahead of the curve. They are charismatic and can make you feel like they are talking to you (and only you). They can make you feel really special and thus can guide you to do things that help them in return (some might call this being manipulative, but manipulation is still an ability).
If you bring these abilities to the online world, you may define yourself as an up and coming star. It may seem like the way is paved with gold for you and that you have no choice but to head towards 100 million followers, 2 million Facebook fans, and, well, Google numbers of people circling you on Google Plus. Like King Midas, it can seem like anything you touch in the online world can turn into gold and magic.
Abilities can take you pretty far. There’s no question about it. But we define what abilities are special and what abilities will go without recognition. These abilities are in the eyes of beholders. We do not really define ourselves by our abilities, in the end. Rather, it is the choices we make that define us.
Consider the following comparison. There are two people standing side by side. Both are great writers. Both are charismatic. Both can entice people to think in new ways. One of our guinea pigs opts to use these abilities to help out people and spread positivity. The other chooses to spread negativity and uses their abilities to create controversy and discontented masses.
Do you define both people as merely good writers, or does the latter person become known as “the troublemaker” or the “troll”? Does the first person merely remain “a good writer” or do they become “that helpful person”?
We are focusing on the wrong things
Every day in the online world, we concentrate on abilities. How can you write so that you get more comments? How can you hone your Twitter strategy so that you get more followers? How can you make the most out of Facebook pages or Twitter chats?
But these are all abilities. Mastering these skills brings us into a certain category in the eyes of others. What defines us? What differentiates us?
Our choices. Our decision regarding what to do with all of those followers. Our methodology for how to deal with our blog community. Our rationale for following back or talking to some people and not others. Our theorizing that spreading kindness is more valuable than spreading hurt, or vise versa.
The online world as a whole (and I count myself quite guilty in this) is stuck in the first step, at that first rung of the ladder. We are helping each other to increasingly high levels of abilities, but we are not assisting each other in dealing with those abilities. What do you do when your abilities bring you to a point of online celebrity? How do you decide how to treat those who hang on your bloggy coattails? These are things that people do not talk about, but ultimately, all of our online legacies depend on this second and most important facet of what we are doing here.
People can learn to write well. People can learn to fit pretty profound things into 140 characters. But choices, every day and with every bit of content you send out into the world, well, those are the things that people will remember about you in the end. They will not remember that your grammar was spot on or that you got retweeted a lot. They will remember what you did with those abilities. They will define us as we define ourselves – by the choices we make, not the abilities we hoard and nurture.
Don’t you think?
Image by B Cleary. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/br0