Simply put, self-differentiation is the ability to tell where I stop and another person starts. This isn’t about the physical space one occupies. It is about so much more than that…emotions, psychological well being, etc. What we call boundaries are the attempt to establish and maintain individuation or differentiation from others.
Social me-dia is antithetical to this. It is about networking and connection and in its purest form it is a powerful tool that can bring people together, communicate about important and beloved things across the world in an instant. As with anything the problem isn’t with the me-dium itself but in how we use and and how mature and established we are in our own identity. Social me-dia does more than communicate information. Social me-dia does the work of spiritual transformation as well. It is one more tool that shapes our souls for the good or for the bad. It shapes our thoughts and our handle on our emotions.
Too often we see where people, especially young people but really people of all ages, have difficulty drawing hard lines between themselves and others. We see people bullied who go on to commit suicide. It is a horrible thing. It is a devastating thing. We need to teach our young people the appropriate use of social media, boundaries and a firm sense of who they are as an individual and as a member of a community/society and how to live well within those roles.
If we leave society to be formed by default, sitting in front of a screen, we will end up with a society and culture that cannot tell themselves apart…that don’t know how to establish and maintain healthy boundaries, that are emotionally immature…unable to untangle their emotions from those around them…even people they never met who are thousands of miles away. I believe this is a part of our mid-life crisis in Churches of Christ as we live in a world that is rapidly changing and as always we are tempted to go with the flow…some of that is good and some of that isn’t. It all depends upon our maturity to put these things in the right perspective and handle them with maturity…to know how much is too much and what is a healthy use of technology and when it crosses a line in my time, my development, my spiritual formation, etc.
Self-differentiation is not learned passively. It must be taught. It must be trained. It must be modeled. If we are willing to do that, I believe we will develop a generation of leaders who will be ready to walk alongside God in some amazing faith adventures. If we don’t, get ready for the ride because it is going to be bumpy!