After observing various heated interactions on social media today, I’m reminded of how important it is to fairly and graciously interact with those we disagree with, both in private and public. Tonight I’m thinking more of the public side of this. Public temper tantrums, thoughtless accusations, and the spitting out of unfair, sweeping generalities against others is not helpful when it comes to engaging different ideas. Quite honestly, it is embarrassing for others to observe, though they will probably never tell you. Facebook and Twitter reveals all kinds of stuff about us…good, bad, and ugly.
Here’s what I know: We can ALL fall into the trap of ugly interactions on social media if we are not humble, mindful and careful.
Jesus said: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. There is nothing worse than being on the receiving end of unfair critique and judgment. You have experienced it. So have I. So, why would be do the same to others? Especially in public for others to see?
By nature (that is, our sin nature), we hate it when people disagree with us on anything. I like to be right. So do you. So, when we encounter a person whose ideas we don’t align with, we can easily make quick and unfair judgments. We make quick and unfair judgments about not only their ideas and convictions (that we may or may not completely or accurately understand), but we make quick and unfair judgments about the person who holds them…their heart, their mind, their motives. This can often lead to unjust grudge holding and hard heartedness toward them. This is not good. Not loving. Not Christ-like.
Again, we can ALL fall into the trap of ugly interactions on social media if we are not humble, mindful and careful.
When it comes to interacting with others on social media, self-control, love and grace must be practiced and extended continually. We are dependent on the Holy Spirit in this. To guide us. To empower us. We must work then, by the Spirit, to engage others’ ideas in an intellectually honest and fair manner, even when we disagree. Giving people the benefit of the doubt is often needed also, as social media is hardly the best platform for fully and accurately expressing and engaging ideas in a deep, meaningful way.
So, when interacting with others on social media, specifically those for whom we disagree, may we remember these ten things (among many others you could add):
1. Check your motives before you respond to anything on social media. Ask God for a heart marked by grace, love and self-control.
2. Always seek to understand before seeking to be understood.
3. Until you fully understand a person’s position and can critique it fairly, hold off on your critique.
4. Take time to understand others’ positions and ideas in their entirety, not selectively.
Example: When critiquing an article someone posts on Facebook, be sure you have read and thoughtfully engaged the positions/ideas in the article in their entirety. Don't read the title (and maybe the first few paragraphs), assume you know what the author thinks, and then blast the article. This is irresponsible, unfair, and unloving.
5. Work hard to NOT misrepresent others’ views…especially in public.
6. Never attribute an opinion or conviction to someone that they themselves do not own.
7. Assume the best and not the worst about others (especially if they are your brothers and sisters in Christ. Trust that the same Holy Spirit Who is working in you is working in them too.)
8. Remember that others are reading what you write. You are making an impression, for good or bad.
9. Recognize that your tone matters and speaks volumes about your heart, even through your writing on Facebook and Twitter.
10. Remember that you don’t know it all. You are flawed and often wrong. You are in process just like everyone else.
May we seek to be men and women who engage others on social media with Christ-like patience, love and grace, even we disagree with them.
May we ask God for wisdom in this, knowing that our words can bring healing or pain, hope or despair, life or death to all who hear them.
As an action step in all of this, here are some verses to memorize and meditate on. Let us ask God to impress these truths on our hearts and may they work to guide our hearts and minds as we interact with others on social media:
James 1:19 - Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.
Ephesians 4:29 - Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
Matthew 15:18 - But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.
Proverbs 12:18 - There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
Proverbs 15:1 - A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Colossians 4:6 - Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.