It used to be we’d occasionally say mean things to each other’s faces.
That was (and still is) awkward. But, the beauty of that is you must deal with the fallout of your words. You get to watch those words land in the hearts of the person you targeted, and you must deal with the internal and external fallout of your decision to dispense those words.
For most of us, the tension of watching our mean words land face-to-face has been enough for us to self-correct and learn appropriate boundaries. There will always be people who aren’t self-aware and don’t realize that they’re the mean ones, but that face-to-face interaction has served us well.
We teach our kids this, don’t we?
I’ve told my kids a thousand times, “Don’t say that. It’s mean.”
We try to help them navigate how to use their words, not to hide their emotions, but to appropriately share them. It’s not appropriate to yell, “You’re fat!” when we’re grocery shopping, especially when you’re talking about your dad. That might hurt his feelings.
While social media has offered us more ways to connect and communicate, it’s also proving to have a potentially adverse effect on our lives. There’s a threshold of social media use that, when it’s broken, starts to harm our self-perception. Studies have revealed that over-engagement on social media leads to higher levels of dissatisfaction in our own lives.
Social media can hurt your marriage, too. About fifteen percent of married couples that use social media confess that it is a significant source of tension for the couple. Twenty-five percent of couples that both use Facebook have shown to have a conflict at least once a week surrounding the use of the platform.
With all the potential struggles involved in navigating social media, I still believe it’s a viable platform to connect and communicate with the appropriate guidelines.
Let me share with you a few simple ideas that can help us do better…
Just Because It’s True, Doesn’t Mean You Need To Say It
It’s too easy to say something mean through our social media platform. Since we’re (often unknowingly) broken up into tribes of people who share like-minded opinions, we find our meanness affirmed and validated. That doesn’t mean that it’s something you should do.
I understand that most people aren’t outright making the stuff up they post, but when did “keeping it real” become a license for being mean?
Two times in the first chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus is described as coming to us “full of grace and truth.” (Reference: John 1:14 & John 1:17) Truth without grace is mean. Grace, without truth, is meaningless. Truth and grace, together, lead us to meaning.
Let me make a few suggestions to provide a filter for what you might say on social media:
IS THIS HELPFUL? Will this help people, or will this hurt people? Yes, the truth CAN hurt, but that doesn’t mean that you need to share that truth. If the potential is more significant for it to hurt people, with no redemptive purpose other than making a point, it might be best to leave that thought floating around in your brain.
AM I TRYING TO MAKE A POINT? In life, you can often make a point, or you can make a difference. You cannot often make both. If you find yourself regularly trying to make a point, the chances are high that you’re not really making a difference. While our culture loves polarizing opinions, they’re not really making things better.
WOULD I SAY THIS TO THEIR FACE? There are moments where we get bad service experiences and have challenging encounters. Do you need to share those experiences online? Would you say it to their face? In front of your mother? And their mother? And your kids? If not, it’s probably better to shelf that response.
IS THIS LOVING? Love wants the best for others. There are moments to share painful truth. It’s quite redemptive, actually. Those people who can share truth in love help us to navigate life in a better way. We need to value those friends. If this doesn’t want the best FOR THEM, then it’s probably best not to say it!
Practice Putting Your Phone Away
The greatest gifts you can give someone are your ATTENTION and your PRESENCE. Too often we try to substitute attention with affection and presence with presents. While affection and presents have their place in life, the most significant and most valuable resource we possess is our time.
If you’re a parent, your kids need your time. I’ve often said, whoever gives your kids the most time will win. If that’s YouTube, then YouTube will win. If that’s Paw Patrol, then Paw Patrol will win. If that’s a friend’s parents, then their family culture will win. If it’s a boyfriend or girlfriend, then they will win.
The practice of putting away our phones is a simple, practical way to create margin for our attention.
Here are a few times to put your phones away:
During Family Meals. When your family sits down to share a meal, put the phones away. Create margin for conversations and stories.
An Hour Before Bedtime. When your kids are getting ready for bed, it’s hectic, and they need a lot of attention. It’s the end of the day, and you’re tired. So are they. But… It’s these moments that their little hearts are often the most open. Put your phones away and pour life into them.
When You’re On A Date. I understand that you’re concerned about your kids. Give the babysitter the name of the place you’re eating at and their phone number. Put the phones away and talk. If you find a lull in the conversation, enjoy the pure pleasure of being with the one you love.
During Special Events. I get that you want to get pictures at the recital and Christmas program. Invite a friend to take them for you. Put the phone down and focus. Enjoy the moment.
Sometimes the best practice for social media is practicing being away. We weren’t designed to be accessible all day, every day. The principle of the Sabbath shows us that we are to withdraw from others and disconnect regularly. This should be a regular part of our rhythm.
Ask Questions. Don’t Hold On To Them.
One of the most consistent findings that social researchers share when studying social media and relationships is that social media interactions invite us to perceive things about the ones we love that might not be true.
“Why is that woman always liking my husband’s posts?”
“Who is that guy who commented that my wife looked good in that picture?”
“Why did my husband like that post?”
“Was she referencing me when she posted about the person who was annoying her?”
If you pay attention you’ll notice this, our first instinct is to accuse. We draw a connection based on the data that we have and then make an accusation. These accusations may be well-founded, or they may be totally ridiculous.
Instead of making accusations, ask the question.
An unaddressed question often creates an inner narrative. The accusations, though never shared, become an internal dialogue, and it will create tension. The tension of unasked questions has the potential to compound with even more questions that will inevitably arise later.
As these unaddressed tensions arise within our hearts, they easily turn into bitterness. Bitterness will choke out the life of your relationships.
“Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.” Hebrews 12:15
Let’s Do Better
Instead of doing life thumbs-to-thumbs, let’s focus on the life that’s happening face-to-face.
Let’s make sure that everything we say aligns with, “So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11
Sure, there needs to be hard conversations. Yes, you can hold to opinions that might not be popular or could be polarizing. Instead of a firm grasp, let’s hold to them loosely.
We can do better. So… Let’s do it!
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What’s one thing you need to change to do social media more responsibly?