The Selfie That Isn't Selfish

Each of us has a truth - the way we'd like to live, including how we'd like to be cared for if we ever experience a medical crisis - but if we don't tell that truth to others, it won't avail us in our most vulnerable moments.
01/05/2016 01:01 pm ET Updated Jan 04, 2017

The holidays have come and gone; the ball has dropped in Times Square; the New Year has begun. It's a time when many of us have made resolutions to live lives that are healthier, better, fuller, closer to our values - resolutions that are often aided, and sometimes obstructed, by new gadgets and technology.

We are often critical of excessive use of devices, particularly our phones. We have a tendency to look at our phones too much, often ignoring the people right in front of us. We've become addicted to taking selfie after selfie in a seemingly mindless exercise in self-indulgence. But what if we make one of our resolutions to make that selfie meaningful, to connect to those we love to shape and tell our truth?

Each of us has a truth - the way we'd like to live, including how we'd like to be cared for if we ever experience a medical crisis - but if we don't tell that truth to others, it won't avail us in our most vulnerable moments. The very piece of technology that records our every workout, most recent culinary accomplishment and candid smile can also be the method by which we share with our loved ones and healthcare providers our most important health-related wishes, at our moment of deepest frailty and need.

Consider the healthy young cyclist who knows she wants to become an organ donor, or the always optimistic businessman who's seen the power of positive thinking in his life. If the cyclist has a tragic accident before telling her family of her plans, they may be too distraught to make her preferred choices for her. If the businessman falls ill and slips in and out of consciousness, hospital staff would not otherwise know to play the positive thinking tracks on his phone for him, music that could play an integral role in his recovery.

There's a tendency to think of those healthcare wishes, sometimes called emergency, critical and advance care plans, or directives, as something that only the elderly need. The cyclist and businessman would tell you nothing could be further from the truth. We can never know what tomorrow might bring, and so while seniors are of course well-served by creating advance care plans, so, too are the soccer mom down the road and the lawyer up the street, the co-worker who sits across from you and the new father next door.

The New Year is a perfect opportunity to resolve to tell your truth - to make a "selfie" that is the very opposite of selfish: video messages that tell those who care for you what you really want, thus easing their burden at your time of greatest vulnerability.

We can also resolve to help our loved ones tell their truths, encouraging each other to speak our hopes and dreams aloud, recording them and saving them - and updating them. We're told that the truth can set us free - but that only happens if other people know we've said it and where to find it.

At the end of the day, I think we're too hard on the beleaguered selfie, which is ultimately nothing more than an effort to shape our own story and share it with others. If we doubt the selfie's power to communicate, we needn't look farther than our TVs and gossip columns - it's been proven over and over by countless celebrities, from Ellen DeGeneres to Kim Kardashian.

Kardashian literally wrote the book on selfies (called, ironically, Selfish); DeGeneres gathered her A-list friends at the 2014 Oscars and produced a selfie that instantly circumnavigated the world at a rate of a quarter of a million tweets per minute. These images, these technologies, have a power to connect us as nothing has before. DeGeneres and Kardashian have made "being on camera" not just for the celebrity and the athlete. They've normalized the concept for all of us. Now's the time to translate that norm into our own health planning by adding the substance of healthcare messages that give us confidence our voices can be heard if we're in a health emergency and can't communicate.

Take the time to record your wishes regarding advance care planning now; upload your wishes online at MyDirectives.com, so they are always accessible, anywhere, anytime, and your loved ones and health care providers can access your plan easily. Move into 2016 with the peace and confidence that comes with knowing that you've communicated what really matters to you.

Talk about your wishes with your friends, your neighbors and your doctors. We need a societal shift, one that recognizes the power of this kind of planning, this kind of selfie. After all, society only changes when we talk to each other, when we learn from each other and as over time, new norms are established.

There's no better way to start a New Year than knowing that you've spoken your truth. Resolve to give this gift to yourself, and all those you love. Happy New Year!