Yesterday, our local school district, Frederick County Public Schools, fired one of its public relations employees, Katie Nash, for playfully interacting with students via Twitter. The gist of the story is that, when a student tweeted at the district pleading for a snow day "tamarrow," Katie replied for FCPS, telling the student that a day with no school would hinder his learning of spelling. The local Twitter universe thought it was hilarious. The powers-that-be did not. A week later she was canned. If you are a local, you'll know what I'm talking about. If you aren't, you can read about the story here:
Forget the fact that Twitter is 144 characters of dumb, or that social media is meant to be, well, social. And forget the fact that Katie's new job offers will probably come flying in faster than an FCPS Direct Deposit paycheck. What I think we can learn from this exchange is simple: Do not take yourself too seriously.
Taking ourselves too seriously seems to be at an all-time high these days. The world is overrun with political correctness, daily outcries of great personal offense, and chicken-little fear-mongering about everything from the terminal effects of dryer sheets to the injustices of the NCAA Football Playoff System. Education may be one of the worst offenders, with my favorite example being how teachers are now required to call their students "friends" in order to establish a warm educational atmosphere. Friends? What teacher is "friends" with a second-grader? It's not even the right definition of the word, which you think would be one of the things we would want our children to learn.
People who take themselves too seriously are hard to take. Every conversation is heavy, every offense taken is enormous, every social issue is the end of civilization as we know it. Being in the presence of people who take themselves too seriously weighs on you, like a burden you didn't even know existed until it lands on your back just as you are leaving for lunch. You want to get in the car, roll down the windows, turn up some Springsteen, and enjoy the sunshine, but instead, you have a bag of sand in the trunk and can't get out of the parking lot.
Social media has made it possible for the all-too-serious to drag an entire population of followers down with them. Thank goodness for the 'unfollow' button, cat videos, and memes featuring minions.
Organizations and their leaders who take themselves too seriously might be worse. That's why we like GEICO and Farmers more than New York Life and Prudential. It's why we like Southwest more than Delta, or Bill more than Hillary.
The irony is that coming across as too serious actually produces the opposite reaction an organization wishes to create. In an attempt to control the spin and cast themselves as professional, they look boorish or petty. Even if FCPS wanted to change the style and voice of their Twitter persona, they could not possibly have handled the situation any worse than they did. It's like Public Relations 101 in reverse--instead of using social media to create good PR and humanize an enormous bureaucracy, they made themselves look like the IRS with Darth Vader at the helm.
Of course, I'm not saying that we should never be serious--either as individuals or as organizations. There are many things that demand it. We want our products to be safe, our military to be watchful, and our politicians to be committed to the common good. One thing I take very seriously is Jesus and the Gospel. But this, above all, should be proclaimed with great joy. Someone once told me to "Take the gospel seriously, but don't take yourself seriously." I've tried to abide by that mantra in my years as youth pastor, which is why we teach with earnestness and laugh with abandon. I believe that eternity is at stake, and that students hearts are tilled by laughter and playfulness so that the Gospel lands gently.
So, if you are one of the too-serious, or if your organization is too serious, lighten up. Crack a smile. Appreciate a good joke. You'll be better off, and so will everyone else. Remember this guy?
As for Ms. Nash herself, I think there are two possible outcomes. One, she is seen dancing in the streets, having been emancipated from the Death Star, and gets a spot on Dancing with the Stars. Two, she is discovered to have masterminded the whole sequence of events--knowing that her tweet would make her look clever while getting her fired by uptight and unaware pawns--leading to multiple job offers at companies that appreciate genius and have fun with their true "friends."
I guess the rest of us will have to find our Twitter laughs somewhere else tamarrow.