Don’t let any foul words come out of your mouth. Only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say. Don’t make the Holy Spirit of God unhappy—you were sealed by him for the day of redemption. Put aside all bitterness, losing your temper, anger, shouting, and slander, along with every other evil. Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ (Ephesians 4:29-32, Common English Bible).
I am concerned. I am concerned with the way we seem to be treating each other. It isn’t so much the way we treat each other in public, though there are some pretty obvious signs that our public interactions in recent times could use some help. Still, our public presence is exponentially better than the way we treat each other in social media.
I have also started taking notice that I am not alone in this concern. Over the weekend my wife and I were watching The Big Bang Theory” at home on DVD. One of the episodes we watched watched was “The Troll Manifestation” from season 8. In this episode Leonard has one of those light-bulb moments when he has an idea for something that could turn out to be big in the world of physics. They write a paper and post it on the internet for comments from other scientists. Most of the comments are good but there is one person who is far from being kind. You can see the scene here.
Raj says, “I am so sick of people being mean on the internet.” To that Howard responds, “I think the anonymity think they can say things they would never say to your face.” Sheldon then says, “Interesting…” and it is.
I started looking around for a more accurate explanation than a fictional television show. I found an article earlier tonight on the website “How Stuff Works – Science” (to read the article, click here) which asked the question, “Is there a psychological reason for people being mean on the Internet?” That got my attention. They pretty much blamed it on the written word not being a total form of communication. We can’t read tone of voice into things. Nor can we see body language, etc. which are all parts of communication. As I read this, I thought they were making apologies for misunderstood people. But, the problem with that is, the article opened by telling the story of British Olympic diver Tom Daily who, during the 2012 London Olympics missed out on bringing home a medal. Most of us might think it sad, but not a terribly big deal. After all, simply making the Olympics is a huge honor.
There were, however, a few of Daly’s countrymen who would not agree. Daly said he got a lot of very hateful email including one person who sent him a message saying, “You let your father down.” Daly’s father had died of brain cancer just a couple of weeks before the Olympics. I cannot think of any way to frame such a statement where one could blame it on the limited form of communications of the written word. This is nothing but a person acting like a jerk.
The article went on to say we are wired that way and that it goes back to the prehistoric fight or flight. While I am not going to quote the whole article, I will include the article saying that our meanness on the internet (and I would presume in other settings too) could be bad from our health. You can read the article and decide for yourself.
It bothers me that not only does this behavior exist on the internet, I see it often from Christians as well. Far too often I have seen Christians attack others because of disagreements on anything from support of particular political candidates to Biblical interpretation even to how to rear a child and whether a parent should use cloth or disposable diapers.
Folks when we are mean on the internet, when we say things that are untrue or we really don’t know to be true, we hurt our credibility and our witness. We lose our integrity (see my post from last week on this subject). We really need to give this Facebook meme some attention and consideration.
In the verses above Paul is telling the Ephesians (and us) to build up community with the things we say. We need to set aside our negative emotions and be kind, compassionate and forgiving as God forgives each of us. To do that is to live out the faith.
I really like the Facebook meme at the top of the page, “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” That is my goal. Will you join me?
Have a blessed day in the Lord and be kind!
Grace and Peace,
Copyright 2016, James “Keith” Broyles, All Rights Reserved