Social media, sports talk radio, and news outlets have been mostly filled with polarized perspectives of the NFL, the national anthem, the flag of the United States of America, respect, honor, equality, and our military. Articles and posts about hurricane relief needs, the volatility of North Korea, and satirical pieces about the happenings of the weekend are intermittently dispersed among the rest of the noise. That’s really what a majority of it is right now. Noise. Arguments and debates over surface emotions. You might occasionally find someone who wants to have an actual discussion about the deeper issues, but those discussions are lost in the noise.
If you happened to find this post through all the noise, allow me to pose several questions to you before you take to social media with your own opinion (any more than you already have).
What is in Your Heart?
I get it. You’ve been offended. You feel hurt, slighted, angry, or down right pissed off. No matter where the pain or anger came from, it is very real, and the pain that others are experiencing is very real too. What is in your heart? This is not a simple question to just brush aside, and I’m not asking for the Sunday school answer. The core of what we hold to can be hidden under the pain and frustration of current affairs.
Some might find it easy to get to the core of their heart because their very identity is being attacked. I read a Facebook post from a woman who had to defend her little brother from a police pat down on their way home because he was racially profiled. A veteran on the radio was offended at the display by NFL players this past weekend because he felt it was an attack on what he fought to defend. In both cases, identity was under attack and it pierced at the core of their hearts.
So, what is in your heart, at the very core? It might be a little more difficult to uncover, but I encourage you to dig deep. I think it would also be a good idea to unplug from consumer information. Put the phone down. Close the web browser. Turn off the TV and radio. Those things will only serve to hide what you are looking for.
What is in Their Heart?
This is hard. Empathy is not something that comes naturally to many people. You might understand someone’s feelings but not share them. It’s even possible to share someone’s feelings without truly understanding them. Empathy does not mean you have to agree with a person’s position that might oppose your own, but it does mean you can’t act like their feelings are in any way less genuine.
Maybe your grandmother told you to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes before you judge them. That’s all fine and good, but it only gives you an idea of how their feet feel. And at the end, choose to not judge them. Empathy does not judge, and judgement does not allow you to see the deeper issues below the surface that you disagree with.
What is the Goal of Your Response?
Are you trying to raise awareness? Are you trying to prove a point? Do you have a solution to a problem? If you’ve figured out what you are trying to say, run it through those first two questions again. Does what I have to say really speak from what is in my heart? Will saying what I have to say build up or tear down what is in their heart?
Another adage that I’m sure we all know has to do with the discipline of silence. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. I think it would go a long way to put a lot of those “mamma told me” adages into practice. God gave you one mouth and two ears, so you should listen twice as much as you speak. How many times have you seen a response to a post that was twice as long as the original post? Maybe you’ve done that yourself. I know I have. I’m pretty sure I even did it today.
Here are several rules that I am going to try to implement for myself when I respond to anything on social media. If the answer is yes to any of these, then it’s better that I keep it to myself:
- Is it self-serving?
- Will it hurt a relationship?
- Is it a knee-jerk reaction?
- Is it rude or offensive?
- Will it start an argument?
- Is it phrased in a negative way?
- Would it be better left for a face-to-face conversation?
Is Your Goal Realistic?
There is nothing wrong with debate and I have no problem with trying to convince someone to agree with you. I’m in the wrong business if I think evangelism should be discouraged. The chances of changing someone’s mind on social media are slim. If that is your goal, you are more likely to either (a) add to the echo chamber of your particular camp, or (b) start an argument with someone who has the potential to cause even more division.
We did not get to this point overnight. In some regards, the problem has been festering for centuries. It would be naive to think that we will come to a solution to any of the issues easily. We have to start somewhere. A forest fire can start with a single spark. Every journey starts with a single step. The words that we use can make a difference. How we use them decides the kind of difference they make.