We often lament the all-too-common harsh and critical nature of social media, where people hide behind the safety of their computer screens and say things to and about others which they would never say if face-to-face. We seem to have lost all ability in this day and age to practice the art of civil discourse online, as well as meaningful conversation in-person.
But all hope is certainly not lost! If we were to put into practice the following five principles, I believe we would find a vast improvement in both our online and in-person conversations.
One of the most frustrating and unattractive aspects of sharing on social media is the common practice many people have of posting content publicly (usually a rebuke or reproof) that is actually aimed at only one specific person. This passive-aggressiveness is completely unbiblical and, therefore, inappropriate for us as Christ-followers to partake in.
Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 18 that if you have an issue with someone, you, alone, are to go directly to that person to sort it out. If they refuse to hear you and be reconciled, then you bring one or two additional people with you as you go to that person again. But never do we see precedence for blurting all over the internet the truth we want to spout to one particular person, just hoping that they will see and read what we have written. This is wrong and immature of us, and it needs to stop.
As challenging as it may be sometimes when we are all fired up, we need to, by the power of the Holy Spirit, refrain from posting things online that we wouldn’t say to someone’s face. If it is unkind, harsh, inappropriate, or would be said in anger or haste, it is best to keep quiet. Being critical and unkind is never called for, even if the other person is legitimately in the wrong. We are to always be sure to speak the truth in love.
In an era of social media debates that quickly turn personal, we have forgotten how to be patient with those with whom we disagree. Rest assured that if you, in haste and frustration, resort to calling people names on social media, you have lost the argument. We do ourselves and our witness – not to mention the other people! – a great disservice when we do not practice patience in our dealings with others.
Be real and authentic.
I’m sure we can all say we have grown a bit tired of others’ highlight reels. It’s become increasingly frustrating and empty to see the pictures others post to Instagram and Facebook knowing that -cleverly!- just outside the frame of the seemingly perfect shot there is a pile of laundry, a sink-full of dirty dishes, or us in our PJs and makeup-less face.
Being fake and coming across as just a little too perfect keep us from being able to connect deeply with others. This is leading to the kind of lack of community and feelings of isolation and loneliness which I hear women lament of all the time. It’s time we did ourselves and others a favor and begin presenting our real and authentic self to those with whom we interact.
In all this (important!) talk about being kind and patient, it’s important for us to also not forget the importance of being bold. It’s easy for us to be bold when hiding behind a computer screen, but far more challenging when face-to-face with someone with whom we disagree. But while it is imperative that we speak the truth in love, it is important that we do so boldly and unwaveringly.
Finally, we must practice humility, seeking to extend grace and empathy to others. We are imperfect people, we struggle and sin every single day, and are no better than those with whom we are taking issue. We need to keep this in mind and speak from a posture of humility to both those online and those with whom we interact in person.
In spite of all the enjoyable and helpful features of the internet, the advent of social media has nevertheless brought with it some rather unsavory drama and harsh criticism. But, with the Lord there is always hope! By the power of His Spirit, in His strength, we can live out the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, and all the rest!- with everyone we meet, both online and off.