I pay a compliment with a silent expectation that it will return. I give a gift in the same way. When the word or gift does not return I am hurt, though I try to talk myself out of that response. After all, the gift is for the recipient, not the giver.
Why am I hurt? Maybe my intention was wrong. Maybe I was fishing for a compliment rather than simply wanting to give. Maybe I envisioned a more generous version of me, a me who gave without expecting something in return. But the reality was a more a needy version of me—someone eager for kudos.
Social media shares similarities with gift economies: both are about presenting a bit of work to someone else. We present something we value to others as a gift. Maybe the gift comes back, maybe it doesn’t. In our more generous moments, we hope the gift carries forward to meet someone else and helps them. The gift economies that Lewis Hyde described carry an implicit understanding that gifts have a way of cycling back. Eventually.
In our social media creation, we want to create content that has value to the audience with whom we seek a conversation. Our stance must be something like this: delight in any return, but continue our diligent work in the face of long silence. This determination to keep producing despite obvious results is a life skill that job-hunters and farmers and parents and entrepreneurs and workers and artists and pretty much all of humanity must cultivate to keep sane. It is the willingness to keep producing and keep reaching.
It is a quality reminiscent of the old theological concept of kenosis: self-giving or even self-emptying without thought to a return. I hope that stronger versions of us will grow from our weak beginnings.
Image Credit: Kirk Livingston