Under-Post and Over Deliver: Rabbinic Wisdom for Social Media

By: Sarah Mack

Secrets are lies. Sharing is caring. Privacy is theft.

—Dave Eggers, The Circle

Say little and do much.

–Pirke Avot 1:15

There is no denying that social media has great potential to activate, inspire and mobilize us to transform the world.  We have all seen firsthand how online communities can build circles of warmth and consolation at a time of loss and celebrate collective joy in happy times.

In fact, it is hard to avoid. For many of us, our presence on Facebook and Twitter is connected to our livelihoods and a certain level of sharing is even mandatory. Where, however, do we draw the line?

In his social critique “The Circle,” Dave Eggers eloquently and adeptly questions the limits of social media.  He weaves a story of a company where radical transparency rules and “all that happens must be known.”  Needless to say, his moralistic narrative ends in a totalitarian nightmare that forces the reader to ask the question: When is too much sharing not helpful to anyone at all?

Who would think that our ancient rabbis had wisdom about social media? Alas, R. Shammai taught in Pirke Avot, “Say little and do much.” (Pirke Avot 1:15) A later rabbi explains, “What does this mean? It teaches that the righteous say little and do much, whereas the wicked say much and do not even a little.” The text goes on to give an example where Abraham promised his guests a morsel of bread but delivered a grand barbecue. (Avot d’Rabbi Natan 13:3)

The rabbis realized the essential human potential for boasting and pretension. They knew that words alone can be deceptive and superficial without action. They also knew that it is simply better to do some things than to talk about them.

Taking this wisdom to heart, let us remember that we can see and be seen by those who truly love us no matter what we broadcast publicly. Like Abraham, may we have the courage to under-announce and over deliver-kindness and compassion.

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