Are you under the influence, above the influence, or are you the influence? What does it all even mean?

We’ll let you come to your own conclusions on that first one, but as to the other two, they actually have more in common than you might think. And they aren’t either-or.

Being above the influence can mean different things to different people, but one of our favorite definitions is this: having the knowledge and skills to filter through all the different messages around you to decide which should be taken to heart and which can be tossed aside, so that you can be your best self.

And once you’re above the influence, you’re naturally in a position to be an influence, a really positive one.

Developing those skills and knowledge takes time and practice. You can start by considering a few key points about the media messages we receive – and send – on the daily. And keep in mind that “the media” includes social media like Tumblr, Facebook and Instagram. So we can’t just point a finger at “them” for putting “bad” messages out there. We ALL play a part. But once you know how the game works, you have more power to break free from the usual set of rules.

#1: Media messages are “constructed.”
Whether we realize it or not, we’re often following an unwritten set of rules in the language and imagery we use. We get caught in a cycle of perpetuating messages that don’t always reflect our true selves. #hashtag amiright? [See what we did there? We don’t really talk like that, we don’t say “hashtag” in normal conversation (except for sometimes when we’re being ironic). But this is the Internet, so we slipped into using Internet-speak, ‘cuz #messagesareconstructed. Ooops, we did it again.]

#2: Media messages shape our perception more than real-world experience.
Sure, the media lets us catch a glimpse at things waaaaaaaay beyond ourselves, but it really is but a glimpse. If we weren’t actually there, and it didn’t actually happen to us, we only know what we’re shown or told, right? And sometimes we’re shown and told things over and over again, to the point that we believe it, even if experience tells us otherwise.

Example: Twitter, plus all the whispers during homeroom on Monday morning, make it sound like everyone partied over the weekend, right? But you didn’t. And neither did your friends. And actually, neither did 70-80% of your classmates. But no one is talking about not partying, so you didn’t get that message. So even though it doesn’t actually reflect reality, it feels more accurate to believe that everyone was partying except you.

#3 Media messages reflect a point of view.
Messages convey, subtly and not-so-subtly, opinions about everything from gender roles to the virtues of hard work. Here’s an example from a TV commercial. They’re selling insurance, but there is also a definite point of view being expressed about pageant contestants. We’re not 100% sure how we feel about pageants themselves, but this commercial is probably only “sorta” funny if you happen to compete in them.

Let’s Get REAL

So here’s our #RealnessChallenge. We challenge you to share and create more messages that aren’t working off the usual script. Let’s keep reminding ourselves – and others – that it’s OK to challenge popular opinion and the status quo. Let’s share more original points of view, and help others understand our real-world experiences.

Yes. You are the influence.