What we say versus what we mean.

The craziest part of the ridiculous photos people put on Instagram is actually the captions they include. It’s in the captions where we tell our biggest lies. It’s where we cover our tracks and try to justify or ignore our real motives for posting a photo.

Case in point, my friend Donald Miller had given me and the 1,200 other people at his conference a sample from his new book, Scary Close. His New York Times Bestselling book Blue Like Jazz sold 1 million copies and he’s definitely an author I look up to.

I thought for a minute about posting a photo of the pages with the caption, “So proud of my friend Donald Miller. Can’t wait to read his next book!”

That’s a noble caption at first glance. Look at me celebrating a friend! Look at me helping drive more book sales! I am such a giver!

But if Instagram had an honest caption filter, this is what it would have said:

“I’m friends with Donald Miller and I want you to know that. He gives me stuff that he doesn’t give you.”

Well that’s a tad bit gross. I don’t think I like that caption nearly as much as the first one. I was a hero in the first one! And there’s the rub. Most of us aren’t true because we want to lie or trick people. We just want to look like more of a hero than we really are.

We want people to think we’re cool. Or that we win a lot. Or that we’re smart. So we do things online that perpetuate that perception. We create a character instead of living with character. The first step to being true is to just gut check our motives.

I’m not asking you to go off in the woods and beat a drum each time you’re about to tweet or post something on Facebook, I just want a 3 second pause. Sometimes simply asking the question, “What’s my motive here?” is enough to bump us back to the land of honesty.

Live with character online instead of playing a character online.

  • David Mike
    Posted at 06:11h, 02 February Reply

    I take such terrible pictures that everyone can see right through me. No need to fake it here. Authentic nerd here.

  • Jesse
    Posted at 06:22h, 02 February Reply

    Just when you thought the Internet couldn’t get any scarier, imagine if people were honest in their captions and comments.

    There have been several times when I had a something typed up on Twitter and ready to send out to the world when I thought better of it and deleted it. Nothing mean or ugly, but perhaps a little too sarcastic. I want to make sure that I am careful with what I say and do, not because I am being duplicitous, but because I am representing Christ.

    Thanks for the reminder to be genuine in our online interactions as well as in person.


  • Jeff
    Posted at 07:03h, 02 February Reply

    Honestly, I’ve gotten better about this as I’ve gotten older. My problem is wanting to call people out in my comment below their post when it is similar to what you are talking about. However, recently I’ve taken this approach. It’s not my calling in life to teach people a lesson, so it’s best to keep my comments to myself because most people aren’t willing to except criticism and I will be viewed as the Facebook nazi.

    • JK Riki
      Posted at 09:42h, 02 February Reply

      I totally agree, great point. It’s amazing when you realize that’s not part of your calling, isn’t it? It’s been a recent discovery for me, and though it’s MADDENINGLY DIFFICULT sometimes, I appreciate the clear direction I’ve been given of “This is not yours to do.” 🙂

  • Regina Sentell
    Posted at 08:15h, 02 February Reply

    Courageous, rare, raw honesty. So refreshing.

  • Matt Ham
    Posted at 08:21h, 02 February Reply

    Jon –
    Thank you for writing with authenticity and truth here. This is a need-to-be-said concept that is often overlooked in the digital space. Uncovering and revealing our motives is challenging, but necessary and refreshing.
    I’m writing this one down and will filter my exchanges with a deeper understanding of my motives.

  • Jeremy
    Posted at 09:18h, 02 February Reply

    This is such a difficult thing to get a grip on. Almost everything we say or do is about image-shaping. Even your article here is image-shaping. You’re still coming off as a hero for being able to rise above the hero-ness.

    As an entrepreneur, even helpful thoughts like this still affect book/product sales. Where’s the line? I certainly don’t really want to reveal my true thoughts about people – that would be inappropriate.

    • JK Riki
      Posted at 09:46h, 02 February Reply

      You’re right, it is a really tricky line to walk. Sometimes that line is blurred, but sometimes it’s a little more clear and we just don’t want to admit it, which is I think the point of this post. To know your motivation, and be absolutely sure you’ve given it thought instead of the self-delusion of thinking you’re being heroic and actually being selfish. It’s so, so easy to convince ourselves of that, because we ourselves want to see the best in us! 🙂

      Personally I think the best thing we can do is make it a conscious effort to herald others. When we do it because we want them to truly succeed, it takes away the need to wonder if we’re doing it for the right reasons. It’s very hard to want nothing in return but to see another person successful and happy, but when we can do that it makes general life a very nice place to be.

      Cheer loud!

  • Terri Werning
    Posted at 09:33h, 02 February Reply

    This is so true and timely. I’ve been asking myself why I post anything at all on the internet. I will start questioning my own motives. Sometimes they are a bit gross.

  • JK Riki
    Posted at 09:40h, 02 February Reply

    To be fair, you might also be truly happy for him and doing it to selflessly help boost his presence online. I mean, I get it, you DO need to know your motivations for these sorts of things. However to assume it’s always selfish reasons is, I think, a mistake. I’ve done both, certainly, but the older I get the more I’m simply a cheering section for others. I truly want them to do well, my own ego or pride or benefit be darned.

    And honestly, when I do it for those reasons it feels SO much nicer and my life has a lot more joy. 🙂

  • Jerry Stumpf
    Posted at 10:55h, 02 February Reply

    Hey Jon,

    Good thoughts. I especially was taken with : “We create a character instead of living with character. ”

    Thank you sir.

    — Jerry

  • Jeff
    Posted at 12:49h, 02 February Reply

    I am guilty of this more often than I care to admit. Thanks for saying what we were all thinking, Jon.

  • Dwayne
    Posted at 16:43h, 02 February Reply

    Great word, Jon! I got nailed with this same issue while reading the Bible recently. (Ever read something in the Bible and think, “Ouch! – that will leave a mark!!!”?) I was in 1 Corinthians 1. Paul said he didn’t come to them with “wisdom of words.” I thought to myself, “That’s how I approach my social media platforms. I try to impress people with the ‘wisdom of my words’.” Makes me think a little more about what I’m sharing and my motive for sharing. Thanks for the post!

  • Pam
    Posted at 17:26h, 02 February Reply

    Funny you mention this. I actually remember this particular post of yours and I was quite annoyed that you were in fact getting things that I am currently unable to get! I want to read that book before anyone else too! I appreciate your honesty. I actually wrote a rap style lyric/spoken word poem on the trappings of social media and how it helps to perpetuate our myth.
    Let me know if you would like to read it. You could then post a pic of you reading it before anyone else ever has and tag me in it. I would be so honored and then we could both enjoy a little of that guilty pleasure.. Me to have you reading my piece and you being the first EVER! Just throwing that out there, in honesty.
    Thanks and God Bless,
    @text_theMessage on twitter
    @SummahLuvah on IG

  • Susan (Between Naps on the Porch)
    Posted at 18:06h, 02 February Reply

    Funny. This post reminds me of the old Dudley Moore/Daryl Hannah movie, Crazy People, where Dudley Moore’s character (an ad executive) decides to start writing “honest” ads saying what people really think and want to see in advertising. If you’ve never seen the movie, I think you’ll like it. It’s a bit of chick flick but very funny and does make you think.

  • Steve
    Posted at 21:55h, 02 February Reply

    So, Are you saying I should no longer fill my Twitter feed with “my best friend @JonAcuff told me…” when I am actually just retweeting your blog link?

    Thanks for the reminder that most of what we see on the Internet is heavily edited and we need to check ourselves before we wreck ourselves!

  • Ben
    Posted at 22:51h, 02 February Reply

    I struggle between being the ‘serious guy’ who wants to be a professional, and the ‘fun guy’ who leads youth groups. Sometimes I’m not sure how to find that balance and I find myself too serious, or to relaxed in the wrong situation. A perfect example is simply in the dress. For example shorts and a t-shirt is OK in the youth group, but does that make me not enough of a leader?

  • Allegra
    Posted at 08:19h, 03 February Reply

    Thanks for posting this! I’ve been thinking about the same thing and wrote a little something along the same lines but went in a slightly different direction.

  • Micah Bales
    Posted at 08:25h, 03 February Reply

    The “humble brag” is endemic on social media. It must “work” on some level, or we wouldn’t see it so much.

    But I think it probably does deform the souls of those who practice it. (Which is almost all of us, at some point or another.)

  • anitha
    Posted at 09:50h, 03 February Reply

    good stuff Jon! Thanks for the reminder to always keep our hearts in check.

  • Becky Hammond
    Posted at 18:13h, 03 February Reply

    What a great admonition, to take a beat to question our motives, especially when what people see in those snippets are often all they know of us. Thank you for that!

  • Dionna
    Posted at 19:20h, 04 February Reply

    Yes! We need to reexamine our hearts and our purpose constantly. It’s far too easy to get ‘me-focused.’

  • Sharon
    Posted at 11:55h, 09 February Reply

    Truth. It is often quite painful to be on the viewing end of people bragging on social media. When a person”s social stream is more often this than anything else… I find myself unsubscribing.

  • Mark
    Posted at 10:37h, 10 February Reply

    So you write an entire blog post not sending a tweet about being friends with Don Miller?


    You still get the satisfaction of the humble brag, with much more space than 140 characters, and you get the satisfaction of everyone saying how “honest” you are for not sending that tweet but instead writing a whole blog post.

    That, Mr. Acuff, is social media dominance and takes the humble brag to the next level.

    Well done!

  • anj
    Posted at 17:33h, 11 February Reply

    This is exactly where I get stuck and often end up doing nothing. If I examine my motives for posting/sharing anything in the public sphere, there seems to always be at least a hint of self involved (if I’m being honest). Something as simple as posting a cute picture of my kids is still a reflection on me. Am I bragging? Would I just as quickly post a video clip of our hectic mornings getting out the door with the kids fighting and me loosing my cool (assuming I ever had it)?

    Examining our motives is a good practice, but if we take it too far, it can also lead to paralysis. I know… I’ve lived on that island.

    Maybe the balance is whether “the sharing” will bring joy or bless someone else. If we truly think it might, and we have peace that what we’re sharing is authentic and from the heart, then I say hit that button.

    Just as my kids are a reflection of me… may we, along with the flowers of the field… simply, beautifully reflect our Creator’s glory.

    • Mark Curtis
      Posted at 20:08h, 16 February Reply

      My memory seems to slip me some but I believe it might’ve been in the ’50s that a mathematician theorized that altruism does not exist. That there are always selfish motives.

      An example would be a man bringing roses to his wife on this past valentine’s day. He does it because he knows she’ll love them. They make her happy. But, in return, he feels happiness because he made her smile.

      Whether you agree with this theory or not, I think that the main thing with posting is value. If there is some value as to what it is that you’re posting, then realize that no matter what your selfish motive may be, you’re still serving a greater cause.

      For the example, it’d be about how the man brought joy to his relationship as a whole. That was the value.

      For posting your kids photos, it may be sharing with friends and family what is going on in your life as we all can be guilty from time to time of not keeping in touch with one another.

      If it’s a general posting such as to a blog, and there’s beauty or humor in the photo, why not share it with the world? Too much beauty is often overlooked today and we all need a good laugh from time to time.

      So, I guess my point is. Beyond yourself, whatever selfish motives you may feel guilty of, if you can look at the post and see true value in it, just share 🙂

      • anj
        Posted at 08:55h, 21 February Reply

        Thanks Mark… I needed that encouragement!

        Now, the next step is breaking free from the temptation to assess the value of a post solely by the number of likes, shares, or comments. If even one person found it valuable, or if you spent the time crafting it with God… it was worth it!

        I love the idea of using ‘value’ as a barometer – that’s going to help me a lot. Thanks again to you, Jon, and the others who commented for helping me think through this topic. 🙂

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