Why it's time to ditch the 'surface check'

The surface check...Sadly I think this is something we all now do. So what does it mean?

A surface check is when we see a person's social media account – Facebook, Instagram or Twitter – and make a quick judgment that they're doing fine. We saw that they visited an excellent pub. They have taken the children to the park. They had a lively chat about a show they just watched on TV. So as a family member or friend we are happy to accept that they are doing great, and we don't dig any deeper. We feel our duty is done if we tick that 'like' button.

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Sadly 'the surface check' is why so many people feel alone. Social media is enabling people to live a lie, or possibly just plod along with a fake smile on their face. So while social media is considered by most as a great gift of connection – and I completely agree that it can be just that – it can also be a tool to drive people into more isolation and sadness.

If you stop for a moment, can you remember thinking 'Oh, X is fine' just because you saw them post a picture of themselves looking happy? I hold my hands up and admit I do this often. I am so glad Jesus doesn't use this modern way of checking up on me.

What can we do about this? The first thing to remember is people's social media platforms are the same as a brief chat in the street with a neighbour, or comparable to a yearly Christmas card one sends out to an old friend. You wouldn't start listing all the issues you have or struggles you are facing. Most of us just conform to society's expectation and say things are OK. With this in mind, if you now revisited a friend's Facebook page and reread their last post, and viewed it as just that, polite chitchat and nothing more, would you react very differently?

Perhaps we should do as Jesus does and ignore social media entirely as an indicator of how someone is. Maybe if we REALLY want to find out how they are, we should pick up the phone or start a private direct message chat – or, wait for it – even arrange to meet someone face to face for a coffee.

One thing I have learnt through supporting so many people through the work I do is that people crave one-to-one connection. They are desperate to have their voice be heard and their story understood. If we all agreed to stop doing surface checks, I think we would grow deeper friendships and discover that many people are treading water fearing that they are about to drown, while never allowing their social media smile to fall from their face.

Zoe Clark-Coates is International CEO and founder of the Mariposa Trust, which supports those who have lost a baby in pregnancy or infancy. Follow her on Twitter @clarkcoates.

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