The Reflection and the Adventure: The Viewpoints of Social Media

I recently read a fantastic blog by Health is Social’s Phil Baumann, called “Windows and Mirrors—The Rise of Inadvertent Narcissism.” In it, Baumann discusses how social media functions as both a window and a mirror —a window showing us “the world beyond us” and a mirror showing us…us. He states, “I know you don’t mean to be a narcissist. Neither do I. But given enough tug and pull, if we don’t pay attention to the world outside us and confuse the media for the message, that’s what we’ll all become. A Web of inadvertent narcissists.”

flickr: notfrancois

Since I read this post, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. I’ve become almost hyper-aware of how I interact with social media—paying close attention to my relationship with Facebook, Twitter, Pandora, web searches, and blogs. Do I read what I read, and view what I view, and listen to what I listen to, in order expand or contract my worldview? Do I search out differing opinions and experiences or do I simply reinforce my beliefs and attitudes by placing myself in a hall of mirrors?

I can recall other times in my life when I questioned the role of social media in the creation of my character. One of these instances was during the last presidential election. I was raised in a very political household with a strong point of view and 2008 was my first experience making election choices in the age of Facebook. I remember being extremely put off by friends making what I thought were ridiculous political status updates and I ended up hiding a lot of people with the opposite political affiliation.

I mentioned my distaste to a friend, saying, “I respect the urge to be politically active, but, only if… only if…” and she said, “Only if people agree with you?” I was thunderstruck (she was halfway kidding), laughed, and took a good look at my ability to listen to viewpoints other than my own. I un-hid a lot of friends and genuinely tried to understand where they were coming from. I tried to react to ideas that upset me by further educating myself and expanding my realm of information. It was an important lesson for me to learn—and the beginning of an exciting adventure. Expanding ourselves is often frightening, but the new vistas are exhilarating.

So, what does this have to do with hospitals? Well, recently, I was talking with a hospital employee who holds one of his organization’s top positions. He has several advanced degrees and is a successful man with a young family. He deals with patients on a daily basis who have problems that he hasn’t yet encountered in his life. They have extremely limited finances and mounting medical bills. They’ve lost a child to illness. They have cancer. They struggle with addiction. He remarked that very often these patients say to him, “You don’t understand what I’m going through.” And he admitted that, most of the time, he doesn’t. All he can do is try his very best to listen in order to better understand, attempting to walk in myriad pairs of shoes.

I was impressed by his candor and reflection and thought back to Baumann’s post. This hospital employee is trying to use the most difficult part of his job as a window. He uses what he doesn’t understand, and often can only barely relate to, in order to expand his worldview, his awareness, and his compassion. He goes beyond the bare bones of his position in order to acknowledge the humanity in his patients and find out how he can best help them.

For me, this is the goal of hospital social media—accepting the windows patients open for a vision into how they can best be served, which often leads to creative solutions. When I read the walls of hospital Facebook pages, I am always touched by the diverse needs and experience of patients—by their gratitude to the doctors who heal their children, by their fear of a new diagnosis, by their need for all the information they can get. All of us get stuck in our own reflections at some point—professionally as well as personally. Let’s hope that we can avoid the narcissism Baumann warns of and, instead, embrace the chance to look through the windows so often offered to us in order to better aid those in need.

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