I haven’t written for a long time and I miss it. I miss how the words can flow from mind to fingertips to the click of the keyboard. I miss the blank white page filling up with tangible black ticks and symbols of the heart. It’s been a weird time. I have so much I wish to write and talk about – big, hard truths and lessons from the last few seasons of this life that I need to filter though and process. But I can’t really speak out at the moment – and for someone who needs to write and connect to grow and learn, this is tough. Journaling is all fine and well, but in my experience, my journal has never up and said back to me, “me too!” or “wow that must have been tough” or “amazing gurl! Well done! Let’s crack open the champagne!”. Which has got me thinking… are we addicted to feedback? And is sharing our innermost feelings and secrets to just a couple of good friends or a secret diary not good enough anymore?
The more we engage and connect on social media, the more we share our biggest fears and greatest triumphs. And this is so great in so many ways, as we gain power and strength in discussing our feelings and experiences with others. Sharing with others can offer us comfort and community and connection in their resonation. As we share stories of our childhood traumas, we connect with others who have been through the same – we seek comfort and understanding in numbers. As we share tales of our own failures and atrocities, no matter how big or small, the more we can begin to heal ourselves with the help of those who have also ridden that wave of shame and hurt. And similarly, as we celebrate our successes in life, we can inspire our peers to work hard and achieve their goals.
But is there a fine line between honest interaction with your audience and over-sharing? Is over-sharing even a thing? Is there a line to be drawn? Is anything sacred anymore? I’ve shared many stories and opinions in my articles, posts, podcast and on my social media channels – things that some may deem as a bit “too much”.
Images of me breastfeeding my child? Yup.
The agonizing up and down emotions of becoming a new mother? Yup.
What really goes on behind the production of your favourite foods? Yup.
An unpopular opinion? OFTEN.
Marital disagreements? Yup.
Washing my menstrual cup? Hell yes!
Have I shared the worst? The deepest, darkest, saddest things? Nope. Not yet. Not even close.
I’ve shared personal and professional successes too – goals I’ve reached and milestones I’ve ticked. For some reason though, the sharing of success stories no longer seems as boastful or frowned upon as it once was. We’ve become a society of celebrators and it’s an amazing and awesome thing that we can now happily support one another and give each other big old virtual high fives. But when it comes to the dark stuff, there is another layer to the sharing. A deep rooted fear of being met with nothing. What if you put your controversial opinion, or twisted and sordid past, or crippling self doubt out there and no one says anything? What if you’re met with a resounding and deafening silence? What if there are no “me toos?” Are your feelings then invalid? Is your story then insignificant?
Feedback is an essential part of existence. On a physical level, it keeps us alive. Our body gives feedback to our brain when the temperature changes and we feel the need to wrap up warm in extra layers. On a professional level, it keeps us on our toes and inspires us to do better for both the good of our clients and our bank accounts. On an emotional and mental level, it connects us as humans and helps foster a sense of community. It makes us feel less alone on this crazy beautiful planet.
The truth is, we’ve always over-shared. Is it any wonder most of our parents and grandparents made such an effort to see their friends almost every day? Where else were they supposed to get their feedback? We don’t know for sure that we’re oversharing any more than our parents and grandparents did – there were just never so many platforms to do it on before. In decades and centuries past, if you managed to write an article or a book and get it published, it could take weeks or even months before you got any feedback on a big and public level. By which stage you’d probably moved on from that experience and learnt your lessons anyway.
These days you needn’t be a famous journalist or author to share your thoughts and experiences. The internet and social media has given everyone a soap box to stand on. You can publish an online article, an Instagram post, a YouTube video or a podcast episode within hours from its original conception. There is usually no middle man or agent or editor to hold your hand through the release of your heart into the world. Which means that when you receive feedback, it’s immediate. And raw. YOU are still raw. There has been no time to really process what you’ve put out there. The emotional response when you share something so personal, and so quickly, is so intense that it plays out in your body – your heart races, your palms sweat, you may even get goosebumps or feel your tummy churning. It’s kinda addictive, isn’t it?
I’m guessing that that addictive feeling is probably the same feeling our grandparents got whilst having tea with their bestie down the road and sharing a bit of an uncensored chat about themselves and everyone in the village. What a thrill to have got all their thoughts and opinions out at last! What a release! What a comfort to share a meaningful exchange! Over-sharing in those days was the same as it is now – it just mostly happened behind closed doors. These days we share out in the open – there are no real concrete walls to hide behind in today’s digital society, and this scares the bojangles out of so many of us. And I think this is also where the shame attached to being labeled an “over-sharer” stems from. The more liberated many of us become with our stories, the more we scare those who feel safer hiding out in their neatly labelled boxes and putting others in similar neatly labelled boxes.
Oversharing on public platforms may get a bad rap and many an annoyed eye ball roll, and some may argue that it is to the detriment of the human race, but I am someone who is firmly for it. It’s always those posts or articles that we are nervous and hesitant to share that bring the most engagement – and, yes, more often than not, more engagement often leads to more followers and opportunities, but it’s also the best path to making yourself feel less lonely and irrelevant. It’s the way change is brought about, for the better. And of course, it may make some feel uncomfortable, but that’s usually because they wish that they had had the guts to say it first.
When I first went vegan four years ago, it was not something that was spoken about openly, well at least not in the circles I moved in. Now almost everyone I know is vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, or at least understanding or supportive of a plant-based lifestyle. How did this change in such a short amount of time? I’ll tell you how. It happened because people started speaking up about it; people started sharing their truth and their experiences around animal agriculture and living a plant-based lifestyle – no matter how hard the feedback was. And because there are not many concrete walls and closed doors in the digital world, more and more people saw these posts and discussions, and opened their hearts and minds to a new truth.
Trust me, whilst becoming vegan was the easiest decision of my life, talking about being vegan is not always easy. It took me a good few weeks to first talk about my decision to stop eating animal products. When I eventually got over that fear of stepping out of that neat and non-offensive, people-pleasing box, I wrote a post that was shared over and over again across the world and resulted in many people deciding to go vegan too. I could have remained silent. I could have just “live and let live” and kept my story to myself. I could have chosen to not offended anyone or deal with the barrage of negative comments, silly questions and mean tweets (which I still get to this day, by the way)… but then I would never have inspired anyone either. I’m not saying that everyone who read that first blog post immediately stopped eating meat and dairy. I’m not saying that every time I discuss veganism on social media, I motivate all of my followers to drop the chicken mayo toastie they’re busy eating… but I will say that two years ago, there were two thousand five hundred people marching in London for animal rights. In 2017, there were five thousand, and just this past weekend, ten thousand people left their homes and walked through the streets of London to demand the end of all animal oppression. Talking about big and uncomfortable things may not always bring immediate change or positive feedback, but never underestimate the power of a planted seed.
So yes, we’re addicted to feedback. Of course we are. That’s human nature. And it’s not a bad thing. It’s how we find ourselves in this crazy world. And no, we’re not over-sharing. In fact, I firmly believe that we’re still not sharing enough. We especially need to share more about the things that scare and challenge us. Let’s stop hiding behind the myth of keeping things sacred, for it’s often behind the veil of sacredness that evil hides. And yes, we all appreciate a good restaurant review or a fantastic primer recommendation, but I’m talking about sharing the big stuff. We need to encourage individual voices. We need to shine light in the dark places. We need to have healthy discussions and debates. We need to listen to each other and hold supportive space for our truths. I want to hear about your fears; about your anger; about your shitty experience at the hands of the people who hurt you. I want to hear about your odd fetishes and cool rituals, because I have some weirdly awesome stuff I do too. And yes, let’s talk about the seriously freaky things. I firmly believe that if murderers, misogynists, rapists and paedophiles had the space and support to speak of their own traumas in a healthy way, they too could heal themselves, and in so doing, we could heal the world. How much violence in this world is actually just suppressed expression of self?
Who you are is nothing to be ashamed of. What you feel does not need to be hidden. You do not need permission to share your truth. You do not need approval to continue sharing your stories. There will always be people who love your story and there will always be people who hate your story – and that’s their business. Practise listening to other people’s stories without judgement; if you really cannot resonate with someone’s truth in any small way, that’s ok too. Leave no feedback and move along. It is time to stop moaning about the percieved evils of social media and our new online world. Say what you like, take all the digital detoxes you want, but this is our reality now. For the first time in history, we all have the power to reach people beyond our neighbourhood and immediate friendship circle. Let’s use the magic of our digital world to share and spread our truths, to encourage real human connection, and in so doing, change our physical worlds for the better. I promise you right now, if you tell your story in a way that is mindful of others, but without limiting your truth, it is worthy of being told and it is worthy of being heard.
So, go on. Get on your soapbox. I’m listening.