These are the days of the platform. And everyone has one.
For most of us, that platform is small. It’s an online persona on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. It’s our outward facing self; the projection of a version of us we want people to see… and to like. “Liking” is not just an emotion or feeling in the days of the platform; it’s a measurable quantifiable action.
Back in the old days, the ones before the days of the platform, “liking” was much less visible. You sensed you were liked by how many people wanted to have lunch with you, how long the signatures were in your yearbook, and whether you were included in the vote for class favorite. But now, “likes” are social currency. They’re the means by which we justify our own existence. And for many, they are in truth the ultimate goal we are shooting for in life.
Consequently, we spend a ton of time an energy in reputation management. We carefully craft the picture, and then the caption, and then we monitor it to see whether it’s resonating or not. If it is, then we have a pattern we can replicate. If it’s not, then we can change one of the variables to make this version of ourselves more palatable to a greater number of people. Of course, the opposite is also true. The last few years show us no shortage of examples of people who have not done a good job at reputation management. They have misstepped in their platform, and they’ve gotten killed for it. So much so that it’s nearly impossible to recover.
That shows us that these are dangerous waters we are swimming in. The fickle sharks of the internet can smell blood a mile away, and the only thing more fun than liking is hating. So here we are – seeking likes, and fearing dislikes, so we spend our energy in managing our reputations.
I feel the tension. Perhaps you do as well. And our children feel it even more acutely than we do.
What does life look like when you spend your energy in reputation management? It’s a life constantly on edge; constantly monitoring; never able to really speak or feel freely, but instead just dipping your toe in the water of authenticity to see whether the winds are flowing favorably in your direction at a given moment. This is the life of reputation management.
But this is not the kind of freedom that comes through Jesus and the gospel. Jesus frees us from any number of things – He frees us from the power of sin; He frees us from the fear of death; He frees us from our self-worship and idolatry; He frees us from the lies of the enemy. And He frees us from the need to manage our own reputation.
A word of qualification at this point, for Christians should be people of the highest integrity, and therefore the highest reputation. We should live such good lives among non-believers that even though they might accuse us of doing wrong, they have no option but to glorify God when they actually observe our lives (1 Peter 2:12). So I’m not suggesting here that Christians should be unconcerned about their reputation in society. I am suggesting, though, that Christians should be free from the compulsion of reputation management.
What’s the difference between those two things? It’s the difference between a person who sees someone in need and wants to help them. But rather than immediately giving that person some shoes, or some food, or some clothes, or whatever, they wait for the right moment to act. They wait until there are a few more people around before walking up to the person and providing for them. And while they would never outright ask someone to film and then post what happened, they certainly won’t discourage it.
Contrast that with a child who sees someone sitting alone in the cafeteria and unselfconsciously walks over and grabs the chair next to them. And then gets up and leaves, not to think about it much more after that. Chances are the act of kindness will be visible in both cases, but in the first, the act was motivated by reputation. The second act was done in an almost forgetful way, simply because it needed to be done. And in the first case, the person will likely wonder when they will see their act of kindness go viral, while the child will simply go on with their day.
All this reminds me of Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats. Perhaps you remember it – in Jesus’ story, all people are divided into two groups – sheep, and goats. To the sheep, Jesus says that He will commend them for their lives, saying:
“Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you took care of Me; I was in prison and you visited Me” (Matt. 25:34-36).
The sheep, in response, are less articulate. In essence, they say, “Huh?”
“When did we do that stuff? We don’t remember seeing you or clothing you or feeding you.”
This is the kind of freedom Jesus brings. This is the freedom from reputation management. It’s the freedom to simply act, to simply speak, to simply feel without self-consciously fixating on how that act will be perceived.
Lord, bring us this freedom. And let this kind of freedom be yet another way Christians stand apart from the rest of the world, even in an age of platforms.