There is a train wreck happening all across social media. It’s painful to watch; impossible to look away.
People are disgusted by each other. They write negative condescending posts denouncing one thing or another and then angry comments roll out in equally dismissive tones. I have seen it on a variety of issues and from a variety of perspectives.
And I know one who is very happy.
I can see him now in his hot little den rubbing his hands together and gathering his friends for their morning meeting, the steam of their twisted celebratory misery rising off their backs.
“Well, boys,” he crows. “Job well done. Keep up the good work.”
He cackles a little and shakes his crusty wings shriveled from disuse.
How could this have gotten so bad? And how can we fix it?
HYPOCRISY + EMPATHY
Hypocrisy is the human condition. You can quote me on that. I’m a hypocrite. You’re a hypocrite. We’re all hypocrites.
In doing research for this post, I came across this article about how it can actually be *harder* to empathize with someone if you have endured similar hardships.
I have felt that before! For example, I have thought to myself, “If I was able to fast today, why are you having such trouble? Are you just making excuses?” But it was a thought — a thought I rejected.
Now we are tempted to post every witty thought, to entangle ourselves in every digital conversation. Social media presents temptation after temptation for our overbearing egos.
Empathy is the only solution. We humans are terrible about putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes, but this is the time to practice.
Read every post or comment from a friend with empathy. Put yourself in his or her shoes. Try to imagine what could have driven them to write such a thing–and don’t pretend you’ve never been tempted to speak in just such a way.
On social media, no response is needed 99% of the time. We don’t always have to choose a side. Sometimes it’s powerful to remember that.
GET OFF THE REACTION ROLLERCOASTER
One of the biggest problems with social media posts is that they are often reactionary. We see something a friend posted, and it makes us angry. Instead of responding to the friend calmly, privately, we create a new post shouting back. Someone who was never privy to the first conversation feels that negative reaction and pushes back with a comment or a post of their own.
It’s a bitter cycle.
Let’s examine this in real life…
When I am IRL and I approach a group of friends and one of them is yelling, the first thing I say is “Whoa, whoa! Anna, what happened? Why are you so upset?” I’m asking for context. She can then say, “So-and-so just said to me X, and I am so upset about it!!”
Then, I offer comfort. Whether I agree or disagree, if I love her, I comfort her: “Oh, Anna, I’m so sorry. How could she say something like that to you? That must have been so hurtful. Tell me more.”
Can you imagine if instead when I saw Anna upset and shouting I went up and yelled at her some more (writing an angry comment)? Or I go and punch some random third party without a second thought (writing an angry reactionary post)? I would never do that in real life. NEVER.
Yet, this is normal life on social media.
Instead, let’s first ask for context and acknowledge the person’s feelings and opinions. Finally, if it seems appropriate at that point (and it might not always be), we can redirect with our opinion.
AVOID FIGHT OR FLIGHT
I have seen so many posts/comments that are the equivalent of flipping the bird. So many posts that read, in short, “up yours.”
When you make that kind of post, it puts everyone who reads it into fight or flight. Either they will speak up in equally angry tones or they will unfriend or unfollow you for self-protection.
Sure, the people who strongly agree with you will applaud you. But the people who disagree with you, even a little bit, or the people who can see the other side’s perspective, feel deeply insulted.
Whatever happened to speaking the truth in love? (Ephesians 4:15)
Just to be clear: love isn’t a feeling. Saying you love someone while shredding them with your post or comment isn’t loving them. You must actually act with love, seasoning your words.
Remember that Christ (and St. John the Baptist before him) didn’t shout in the face of everyday sinners. He didn’t stomp His feet and tell the Samaritan Woman or Zacchaeus the Tax Collector that they offended His sensibilities. He built a relationship; He started a conversation. And by the end of it, they were converted to His side and wearing WWJD t-shirts, spreading the gospel news.
If you want to emulate Christ, skip the insults and the shoving–PLEASE.
You can’t push someone into agreeing with you. It’s never happened. You can always catch more flies with honey… You can fish more men (and women) with love.
In February 2016, Pope Francis infamously suggested we build bridges not walls. While you might have a different opinion politically, this rule is non-negotiable in Christian social life. If you are building walls between you and the other members of the Body of Christ by word or deed, you are sowing division.
When a close friend with different political opinions recently tagged me in a post, I had to decide… was he baiting me or was he trying to find neutral ground, to find something we could agree on? I chose to believe the latter. I responded as though he was reaching out an olive branch.
This had incredibly positive ramifications. When we saw each other face to face next there was nothing but vulnerable affection–where there could have been tension.
I got into a political argument with one of my fellow servants… and SHE reached out to me to smooth things over and move us past that tense moment. Though she was older and wiser and out of respect I should have been asking for forgiveness with a metanoia… with love, she got us back to neutral… and it took so little effort.
Remember that behind every post and comment is a real living, breathing, sinful, weak, proud human being made in the image of Christ.
Remember that behind this blog post there is the weakest of them all.
The saints have always been examples I use to teach my children our Coptic values. I created a program to help Sunday school servants teach the saints effectively. Learn more.