When I was in my teens there was a game we would often play at our youth club. The leader would ask a question and give two potential answers. The answers would be represented by two opposite sides of the room and we had to choose which we would run to as our way of selecting our choice. The game often involved running, jostling, a few elbows and some scorn for those on the other side of the room.
Has anyone noticed how social media seems to rouse a similar scenario? Someone shouts their thoughts on one side of the room – some people run quickly to join them while others identify on the other side and shout their opposition. It can often get nasty – sometimes very nasty and it often does so very quickly. Disagreement is not necessarily the problem. We can be deeply enriched by diverse thoughts and opinions whatever side of the room people are standing. The problem isn’t disagreement – the problem is being disagreeable. It seems to me that social media has a way of smoking out the disagreeable in us all and no one wins once our disagreeable nature goes on parade.
For some, online engagement has become an almost parallel universe where people behave in a way they would never dream of doing so in the real world. For example we wouldn’t consider walking into a restaurant packed with strangers, stand up on a table and shout a controversial opinion to the feasting diners. We usually accept that people have a wide range of opinions on a wide range of topics and would therefore show care to choose the right context for an appropriate discussion – especially when we suspect it may be controversial. We usually decide that good contexts requires our friendships to be bigger than the particular issue being discussed. Whilst we may not stand on a table and shout out our thoughts to a restaurant filled with strangers, we may share them whilst dining with friends at our table. Around our table we care about the friendships and are unlikely to let a difference of opinion divide us. We learn to disagree without being disagreeable.
It would be easy to think that logging into our social media accounts is one such appropriate context. After all, our online friends or followers have been part of a process of choosing to connect with us and we may assume they are therefore metaphorically sitting at our dinner table – but many are not. Many may be in the same restaurant but not necessarily seated at your table. This is because the things you say on social media are fairly public and get heard and shared by lots of people so as you climb onto the table to make your controversial point, it’s important to be aware you are about to smoke out a wide range of disagreeableness from the room as they scramble to climb onto their table in response.
We’ve all seen this scenario unfold time after time, and I think it’s becoming more common place. I wonder if the lack of ‘in-person’ social interaction during the covid lockdown has caused a wide range of opinions, anxieties, conspiracy theories and personally held views to lack such a ‘table with friends’ and find the alternative of ‘shouting from a table top’ to be considered the only ‘release valve’ at their disposal. As a result there have been too many lovely, well intentioned people painting themselves as disagreeable. So how do we send our disagreeable nature to bed and prevent it from being woken? I suggest before we post a status update or tweet, or make a comment on someone else’s post, we ask ourselves the following questions….
Is what I am about to post beneficial?
Whilst freedom of speech is a right we both celebrate and seek to protect, having responsibility for how we use that right is something that wisdom seeks to mould in us. In the book of James we are reminded of the power of the tongue
the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. James 3:5 (NLT)
We know there is power in the audible expression of our words but there is power in their written expression as well. A loose word here, a thoughtless post there can all lead to a destructive forest fire. If in doubt leave it out!
Is this more appropriate to share with a close friend or therapist?
Some of us are internal processors and others are external. External processors need to express their thoughts in order to both ‘get them out’ and ‘work them out’. There is power in sharing and we are meant to be in relationships that facilitate safe places to express ourselves – but not while standing on the table in a restaurant. Would it be more beneficial to pick up the phone to a friend or arrange a coffee date? If your thoughts are complex or you notice patterns of thinking going back years then maybe a well reputed therapist or counsellor may be more appropriate.
Am I ‘seasoning’ my conversations?
Good food is seasoned food. That simple application of salt can bring all the flavours alive and it doesn’t require much to permeate the entire meal. The bible talks about seasoning our conversations
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person Colossians 4:6 (ESV)
Do our posts, comments, replies, tweets taste bitter? Do they reveal our pain, insecurity or cynicism? Can I encourage you to add grace – let the grace of God be applied to your posts and let it permeate every word and reaction. Our words can bring pain or healing as reflected in this simple proverb
Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing Proverbs 12:18
If we can’t apply the salt then let’s not serve the meal.
Disagree but don’t be Disagreeable
The book of Proverbs describes ‘Wisdom’ as calling for our attention. Let’s respond to that call – let us be wise in our engagement with others on social media. You may not be able to convince everyone to adopt your perspective or thoughts but you can win every time by disagreeing without being disagreeable.
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