Our Own Potemkin Village

In April of 2015 President Dieter F Uchtdorf of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints gave a talk about being genuine in what you do. At the beginning of this talk he told the story of Grigory Potemkin and about what came to be known as the Potemkin Village. He tells the story as follows:

“In the late 18th century, Catherine the Great of Russia announced she would tour the southern part of her empire, accompanied by several foreign ambassadors. The governor of the area, Grigory Potemkin, desperately wanted to impress these visitors. And so he went to remarkable lengths to showcase the country’s accomplishments.

For part of the journey, Catherine floated down the Dnieper River, proudly pointing out to the ambassadors the thriving hamlets along the shore, filled with industrious and happy townspeople. There was only one problem: it was all for show. It is said that Potemkin had assembled pasteboard facades of shops and homes. He had even positioned busy-looking peasants to create the impression of a prosperous economy. Once the party disappeared around the bend of the river, Potemkin’s men packed up the fake village and rushed it downstream in preparation for Catherine’s next pass.

Although modern historians have questioned the truthfulness of this story, the term “Potemkin village” has entered the world’s vocabulary. It now refers to any attempt to make others believe we are better than we really are.”

This story fascinated me and made me reflect on how I could relate that to my own life. How was I attempting to make others believe that I am better than I really am? Was I being honest in what I was showing off to people? It was an interesting thought and made me think about perspective and what people thought of me and also what I thought about other people.

In today’s world there are a lot of ways for people to express themselves and share what is going on in their “lives.” Today I want to talk about one of those many ways and about something I am completely obsessed with which is Instagram.

Instagram is a social media platform and content creation tool based on photographs with a normally short and concise caption. It started as something that people would use to showcase their personal lives; photos of themselves, their families, their friends, etc. Those with entrepreneurial insight saw a huge advantage for their business in Instagram and started taking amazing photos and creating separate accounts for themselves and their business. These photos are amazing and of insanely high quality and get posted online every second of every day. Although there are probably books written on Instagram strategy for business and that is something I am incredibly interested in that isn’t what I would like to talk about today. I want to talk about how our personal Instagram accounts can be our own personal Potemkin Village and share my personal experience with Instagram that I have on a daily basis.

My whole life I have been obsessed with the idea of going to the beach or the lake and the whole carefree lifestyle that seems to follow those that are pro surfers, wakeboarders and the like. Because of that interest I am following a lot of people on Instagram that constantly post amazing photos of them having the time of their lives on the beach or at the lake. Specifically I have come across a couple of Instagram accounts recently of a couple of different couples that are from Arizona but got married and moved to Hawaii. Hawaii is an amazing place and these people post the most amazing photos of them at the beach, in the ocean surfing, on amazing hikes and just living in what seems the most incredible paradise. Their lives seem so amazing, happy and carefree. Obviously these Instagram accounts have the thousands of followers that they do because they represent the life that thousands, probably millions of people want to have. I know that every day when I am sitting at my work desk in Lindon, Utah working a boring job and scroll through Instagram I get insanely jealous of the life that they get to live and sometimes it really bums me out.

This feeling of jealousy was starting to bother me and I remembered the story of the Potemkin Village and how Grigory Potemkin had created a fake scene of success and prosperity for Catherine the Great of Russia to impress her. The fact is that if Catherine could see past this fake life that Potemkin had created she wouldn’t have been as impressed. With Instagram and social media in general it is important to remember that just because someone posts amazing photos every day of incredible things doesn’t mean that their life doesn’t have the same challenges and difficulties as yours. Every time I see these Instagram accounts based in Hawaii I have the sudden desire to move there immediately but I need to remember that life, even in Hawaii, isn’t always a party at the beach. There are still difficulties and real life still happens there like it does here in Utah or wherever you are.

I know that looking through my own Instagram I only post photos when I feel I look the best or am doing something really cool. Based on my personal Instagram you would probably think I live a life that is a lot more fun than it really is. It is because I don’t post photos of my 12 hour work/school days that end in frustration over math homework and a boring job. That isn’t what Instagram is for and I am not saying we should showcase the boring parts of our lives but we just need to remember that Instagram isn’t real life, it is just sometimes our personal attempts at a Potemkin Village.