Everybody has story to tell – a story that venerates the significant, yet meaningful, moments of their lives which cultivate the ideals comprising the very essence of their moral fibers. I’m going to begin this piece by briefly recounting my story…not out of a sense of narcissism or conceitedness, but rather as a means to a noble end. If I haven’t already scared you off, then keep reading…I promise it’ll be worth your while.
I’ve had a very interesting childhood. I grew up in a typical Iranian-Jewish family consisting of 23 first-cousins, 5 uncles, 4 aunts, parents who were (and who still are) in a loving marriage, two goldfish named Tom and Jerry, and a younger sister who – for better or for worse – always considered me to be an ideal role model. However, my childhood was somewhat atypical: I was by no means a quiet kid…and, as a teenager, my occasional rowdiness continually gave rise to a myriad of after-school detentions and referrals to the principal’s office.
Despite my boisterousness, I always excelled in my schoolwork while also managing to make plenty of close friends. I earned straight ‘A’s in school; I was a starting forward on my middle-school basketball team; and I received flattering notes and prank calls from the occasional “secret admirer”. All of this essentially translated to a rather-seamless childhood, right?
Wrong. All throughout my early-youth, and well into my adolescence, I grew up with the worst possible speech disorder imaginable: I was a stutterer. The stutter wasn’t just something that reared its ugly head whenever I became “nervous” or “anxious”. Rather the overt signs of my speech impediment were as unremitting as monsoon rains of South Asia: they were characterized by nothing less than perpetual cycles of tense pauses and blocked speech. Needless to say, my stutter had a significant impact on my self-confidence for a variety of reasons – not the least of which was the fact that a widespread ignorance of my ordeal ultimately fed into peoples’ derisions and misconceptions of me. As such, I was always disinclined to participate in class discussions, or to otherwise approach my teachers with any pressing questions that I may have had.
The twist in my story is that I am now a practicing attorney who can’t keep from talking: I argue fact-intensive cases in open court, I negotiate complex settlement agreements and, if need be, I present my arguments before a panel of twelve jurors (and anybody else who happens to be sitting in the courtroom gallery). If, twenty years ago, I had been asked whether I would be an attorney who speaks publicly for a living, my answer would have been a resounding “NO.”
So…what ultimately led to my “transformation?” How did I end up talking for a living when, as a young man, I couldn’t even construct a coherent sentence? One word suffices for my answer: willpower.
What do Moses, Winston Churchill, King George VI, Nicole Kidman, and James Earl Jones have in common? They were all stutterers who prevailed over their hardships through an unparalleled determination and a strength of mind. The irony is that all of these figures were also involved in pursuits which required them to speak publicly.
Moses had initially resisted G-d’s commandment to approach Pharaoh: “Oh Lord, I am not a man of words, neither heretofore, nor since Thou hast spoken unto Thy servant; for I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.” Yet, he almost single-handedly unchained the Israelites from Egypt’s venomous control. Three-thousand years later, King George VI and Winston Churchill orated among the most awe-inspiring speeches at a time when the British suffered heavy losses at the hands of their German counterparts. On the entertainment front: James Earl Jones has either won, or has been nominated for, a total of eight primetime Emmy Awards, five Golden Globe awards, and two Oscars. Nicole Kidman, for her part, has won so many awards that there is an entire Wikipedia entry devoted exclusively to her list accolades.
Their stories aren’t simply quirks of fate: they had steep mountains climb; and while, on occasion, they subjectively felt as if they would lose their grips and thereby plummet into the depths of the violent river below them…they nonetheless hung on, pulled forward, and never allowed their personal tribulations to obstruct their paths toward definitive success.
Now, I happen to believe that movies are an indispensable means of gaining constructive insight into the human experience. By situating yourself into the shoes of the protagonists and antagonists of a well-crafted film, you can acquire a true sense of the human dispositions to which you would not otherwise be exposed. That said, the premise of this entire piece can be summed up by many inspirational films such as Rudy, A Knight’s Tale, Gladiator and The Karate Kid. However, one film in particular – GI Jane – does an exceptional job in conveying the morals of this piece.
GI Jane is a 1997 film that recounts the fictional story of a woman who experiences the rigors of U.S. Navy Seal Training. Jordan O’Neil, the main character of the film, sought to defy all odds in enduring the physical strains and the mental demands of Seal training. She was the only woman in a class of one-hundred male recruits who sought to successfully negotiate “the most intensive military training known to man.” Hence, she was not only required debunk the stereotypes of “physical weakness” commonly associated with women, but she also had to overcome the chauvinism that personified the temperaments of her male classmates. Her unsurpassed fortitude ultimately laid the groundwork for her successful induction into the U.S. Navy’s fictional Combined Reconnaissance Team. The message of the film is clear: when you surrender to your own shortcomings and to external pressures, you’ve cheated yourself out of the potentiality for greatness; but if you weather the storm, the possibilities for success are virtually limitless.
Confidence isn’t something that just magically sprouts into existence; it’s something that’s gradually developed after you learn how to face your fears and to cope with your hardships. Impoverished people have become wealthy CEOs; overweight people have become world-class athletes; stutters have become famous celebrities and politicians. All of them have one common characteristic: they’ve developed their confidence by standing firm in the face of adversity, and by always swinging their bats at all of the strange curveballs that life throws their way. Every person reading this article knows personal agony and misfortune; but what really attests to a person’s character is how they cope with their struggles. You can either hopelessly accept it without a challenge… or you can defy the odds, and prove to yourself that you can, indeed, climb that unclimbable mountain. The option is yours; but choose wisely…because regardless of what you decide, your children will almost certainly learn of your judgments with their own eyes, listen to your beliefs with their own ears, and grow up following your examples.
How much time do you spend on Facebook? A recent Business Week study found that every month, Americans spend an average of over twenty hours on the social networking site. In some respects, social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram have proven to be invaluable tools to disseminate information and share with loved ones. Social media has become instrumental in organizing events, fundraising, and helping to effectuate social change. But how much of these twenty hours a month are we spending furthering such noble causes?
Most of us have seen posts ridiculing those who are always looking down at their phones. Many of us “like” these posts and can relate to the feeling of trying to spend time with someone who’s actually spending time with their phone. But despite acknowledging this flaw in society, we continue to perpetuate it. A friend of mine posted a commentary about people’s tendency to always stare at their phones. A couple of days later, this same friend scrolled through her Instagram while we were at a party. Her hypocrisy demonstrates that her habit may actually be an addiction. Our obsession with social media is twofold. First, we have a compulsion to check our social media sites – to observe and always be in the know of what our closest 754.5 friends are up to. Second, we want to share our own posts with all of those friends.
What effect does it have on us to spend forty minutes per day scrolling through pictures of vacations, gourmet steaks, margaritas, and smiling friends? To understand the effect, we must first consider the reason. The compulsion to check Facebook and Instagram is in part due to the fear of missing out – wanting to be aware of the happenings in our community. We scroll through our newsfeeds to quench this curiosity. In doing so, we fail to realize that Facebook and Instagram are hardly accurate portrayals of reality. People only post pictures of their happy moments – moments that they want to publicly share. The pictures of gourmet meals far outnumber the pictures of ordinary ones, despite the opposite ratio in reality. Taken together with photos of the beach, photos of friends dressed up, and check-ins at the airport, one will be led to believe their life is unusually unremarkable. Not only are happy moments disproportionately represented, but many of those pictures are not even accurate depictions of moments they purport to capture. People “check-in” at clubs to which they were denied access, pose with drinks that are not theirs, and dance only for the 30 seconds it takes to get the perfect dancing shot. Viewing somebody’s profile does not actually tell you what that person is like, but what they want the public to believe they are like. Not surprisingly, this phenomenon of comparing one’s life to the exaggerated depictions of others’ leads to depression and a decrease in self worth. Interestingly, a method by which people cope with this devaluation is to document glamorous moments themselves and share them in an effort to fit in and attract “likes,” which have become a quantification of validation. This urge to share feeds back into a cyclic pattern.
Our urge to share on social media is also fueled by the fact that an experience is more enjoyable when shared with others. This notion rings truest when sharing a moment with somebody next to you, such as two people watching a sunset together. The joy in sharing also applies, albeit to a lesser extent, when sharing photos of an experience with individuals with whom you maintain meaningful relationships. An example is a mother who sends a picture of her newborn to her family abroad. Social media has become a shortcut by which people attempt to attain this feeling. However, sharing on such a wide scale diminishes the value and intimacy in sharing. Oversharing on social media has contorted the concept of sharing with loved ones and evolved into a tool for self-promotion. Even when a publisher has pure intentions, a post may nevertheless elicit jealousy or judgment.
Why do people post pictures while on vacation? They have seen numerous vacation posts from their friends and may have the need to conform, or even, compete. Facebook and Instagram posts, as well as the “likes” thereof, have become vessels for validation. Some genuinely do not feel an experience is valuable unless they can publish it. “Picture or it didn’t happen.” Many times, the first thing somebody does when encountering a scenic site is to put their back towards it and look for somebody to take a picture of them, or alternatively, take a selfie. Go to any concert and you will see a sea of cameras – people holding up their phones to record performances. There is no logical reason for this other than to communicate to others that they were present at this event. They cannot all actually believe they have a better vantage point than the professional videographers who record performances for broadcast. Nor would it make sense for them to uncomfortably hold up their arm while recording the performance so as to be able to watch on a screen later, for the first time. Similarly, many parties have become more about taking pictures than about celebrating. Undoubtedly, these posts attract “likes,” ratifying the posts, and reinforcing the behavior.
What is the purpose of writing on somebody’s wall? For somebody to write, “Your graduation party was a blast! Thanks again!” is not to actually thank that person. There are avenues to do that privately. Their purpose – possibly subconsciously – is to broadcast that they are communicating with that person; to publicize that they were invited and to send a message about their social status. To be fair, there are also useful and positive purposes for wall-posts, such as posting something entertaining that other friends might enjoy.
Another oft-overlooked social media phenomenon is that of advertisements. Not the commercial ones appearing on our newsfeeds, but photoshopped pictures of people in pounds of makeup, wearing either formal gowns or bathing suits. To be fair, “advertising” oneself has its purpose if you are single and hoping to attract somebody. But contemplate what you want to be noticed for prior to posting such images. Do you want somebody to be attracted to you based on a picture depicting you as you hardly look in your day-to-day life? Or do you want to be appreciated for your natural smile, your interests, your personality, and your goals?
This article is not meant to criticize those who have used social media in these ways. I myself am guilty of many of the same actions. This is written with the intent to encourage us all to be mindful of our reasons for using social media. Next time you want to post something, contemplate the purpose for sharing it. Is it a funny joke that will make people laugh? Is it to spread the word of your uncle’s great restaurant? Is it to inform people of something important happening in the world? If you cannot think of a productive reason, then question whether it is to make yourself feel important or to brag.
Social media is a powerful tool that can bring much positivity to our lives. Reconnecting with friends, organizing events, keeping in touch, sharing memories, educating people, and raising involvement with charities. But when abused, social media has the potential to bring depression, jealousy, distraction, and a contorted expectation of life. Next time you post, consider whether you would feel sad if it received no “likes.” If so, what does that tell you about the reason for which you are posting it? Is it out of a genuine desire to communicate something to your friends, or something else? When you encounter a beautiful site and feel compelled to take a selfie, take it in and enjoy it for a moment first.
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