“Comparison is the thief of joy.” This quotation is attributed to Teddy Roosevelt as he often demonstrated a joy-filled life in the leadership positions he was called to serve. Given that his life journey was not an easy one, it would have made sense for him to stop and compare, allowing joy to be stolen. He lost his first wife and mother on the same day. He stepped down from his position as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in order to form a volunteer regiment (the Rough Riders) to battle the Spanish in Cuba. And he took over as President of the United States after President William McKinley was assassinated.
Raised within the Dutch Reformed Church, President Roosevelt was likely exposed to what Scripture teaches us about comparison. From the Old Testament story of Rachel and Leah to lessons learned by Jesus’ disciples to Paul’s letters, Scripture has quite a bit to say about this struggle with comparison. Christian schools, like many institutions, can easily get caught up in comparison, a distraction that often has us chasing “likes” versus relentlessly pursuing our mission.
Facebook introduced the “Like” button on February 9, 2009, allowing members to quickly comment on their friends’ shared content. Companies, schools, and individuals compete for that “thumbs up,” that “heart” or any of the emojis that represent a positive response to social media content. It is addicting to post something then continually check to see how people like it or share it or comment on your contribution. We become obsessed with chasing “likes.” The good news from psychologists is that very few people are addicted in a clinical sense to social media. The bad news is that the use of social media is habitual and often leads to unhealthy behaviors such as checking social media while driving or constantly checking our smartphone while eating out with friends or at a movie.
Facebook and other social media apps often get blamed for the problems we are experiencing in society such as the divisiveness in our communities and even in our schools. However, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Snapchat is simply the technology. Neil Postman forecasted this challenge in his book, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (1992). He shared that technology will always be both a burden and a blessing.
From the Christian school’s perspective, social media is certainly living into that burden and blessing Catch-22. The burden might include parents publicly posting a frustration with a school policy, with a homework assignment or maybe even with a teacher or coach. Or a Christian school might use social media to claim superiority over a sister school for market advantage, then checking to see how many likes and hearts are received. Comparison–the thief of joy and killer of creativity.
On the other hand, social media can absolutely be a blessing for schools, allowing us to share our story through pictures and videos and blogs. We can post things that people will “like.” It is okay to check how many people read our post, watched the video or liked an image to help determine what posts draw people into a relationship with our school. Social media is a blessing for telling our story, communicating important information, and celebrating school accomplishments.
The irony of this post is that I do want you to read this and spend time reflecting on your personal use of social media and your school’s use of social media. But please don’t just share it or like it. Instead, talk to someone (your marketing director, your son or daughter, a student in your class who is being formed by social media in dangerous ways). Are we chasing “likes” or comparing in ways that steal joy? Are we chasing “likes” in ways that kill creativity because we are simply posting what we know people will affirm? Are we sharing the pain, struggles, and challenges of our lives as well as the successes and accomplishments? Technology is a tool, both a burden and blessing. How we use the tool is where our accountability lies. Give yourself the freedom to stop chasing “likes” . . . unless the act aligns with the relentless pursuit of your mission.
A final thought from Teddy – “If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you would sit for a month.”
Dr. Tim Van Soelen serves as the Director of CACE. Tim is also a professor of education at Dordt University. He has served as a principal, assistant principal, and middle school math and computer teacher at schools in South Dakota and California. Tim has his undergraduate degree from Dordt and advanced degrees from Azusa Pacific University and the University of South Dakota.