A few weeks ago I reflected on a impulsive Facebook blast I was guilty of surrounding the rant by Seattle Seahawks DB (and now Super Bowl Champion) Richard Sherman. The morning after the rant I realized my need to keep any ‘teaching moments’ in the appropriate space between father and son (or daughter). Well, something else along these lines occurred to me today when I heard about something a brother priest had said publicly, in the good ‘ol webosphere, that really bothered me.
I offer the following not to present myself as having done anything honorable, Lord knows I have failed in this many times, and, even in the fact that I engaged and entertained negative thoughts about this dear brother, I fell short of what I am called to. However, the exercise made me learn something about how this social media thing has changed (I can only speak for myself) the way I first think to respond to positions I disagree with, and even what my default place of thinking is when faced with the need to offer correction. Its not a good place, friends. Not a good place at all. So I offer this as, perhaps, a help in thinking about what we can become in what I very much perceive as in increasingly poisonous mix of instant, public, and impersonal reaction that is available to us, and which, at least for myself, is very seductive. Forgive me, a sinner.
I should also put on the caveat that I do use the words of Jesus Christ, found in the Gospel of St. Matthew as my foundation of how I should respond. I am an Orthodox Christian, who believes in Jesus Christ as God and Savior. I believe His life and teaching to be the standard of what I, as someone who claims to follow Him, should strive for. So if I offer this as a challenge, it is primarily to Christians, but hopefully is helpful for anyone, or at least will offer a perspective of thinking about our lives together in social media, and how it affects who we are as human beings.
As I mentioned before, I was really bothered by something I read today. I actually do think it warranted correction, or at least challenge, as it was something I felt strongly was not appropriate for a priest, or even a Christian to say, in the public way it was. There is nothing wrong with offering correction. There is nothing wrong with being troubled by something someone says or does, or even needing to call something that is wrong, wrong. But what troubled me today was where my thoughts went. My thoughts did not go first to what Jesus teaches about correction. It went to a strange place, that, to be honest, I don’t think it would have easily gone to, say, seven years ago, before social media. The first thing I thought to announce in a public, impulsive, and impersonal way my counter-opinion. Of course I wasn’t going to call this person out publicly by name, I was going to keep it vague enough to not personally attack but still get my point across. The point: I don’t think like this person. I don’t approve of what he said. Witty tagline. Case closed. Position stated. No real harm….
that fell off the rails quickly.
I didn’t follow through with my silly passive aggressive FB blast. Again, I’m not the hero here, but I did something weird. I prayed and thought for just one minute about what Jesus taught about correction.
“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. “
So I did another weird thing. I just sat down and contacted the person with whom I disagreed. And you know what? I was amazed at how even that simple act chased away all the desires to ‘make my stand’ in so-called ‘social media’. It also chased away the negative thoughts about the person whom I was frustrated with. You know how one disagreement on one issue can quickly devolve into negative personal thoughts about someone, and then you start thinking about how you’re going to really tell that person off, or prove them wrong… well, again, I should just speak for myself. When I do this, it is amazing how just approaching the actual person can stem the tide of that negativity. When faced with a person, assumptions about their motivation and character are challenged. When faced with a person, an actual person, not the personas we like to put forward in our virtual world, it makes us remember to be the real persons we are. Hmmm… there might be something to what Jesus had to say about this. Because the other thing is, it helps you be motivated out of a desire to help the person, even if you need to correct them. Basically, its not about you, or your point anyway.
I heard an excellent talk a while back from a bishop in our area. He suggested that we are moving towards a place culturally where we increasingly form our own realities, our own worlds in which we can live. Social media is part of this in the fact that, at its worst, we can make our own virtual community, with only people we want in it, with only the interests and political/religious, etc. views that we share, and we can add and remove members of this world with relatively little real consequence. In addition, we create an echo chamber of ideas that agree with our own. We are safe here. We can blast our opinions immediately, publicly, and, again, with little real consequence. As we are increasingly ‘connected’ (so-called), it seems the only taboo left is actual confrontation that might make someone uncomfortable or might impose on their (or your) self-contained world/paradise. So what Jesus offers is still radical. It cuts through this haze of pseudo-plurality and makes us actually confront and engage a person – not a ‘group’, not an ‘idea’ – a person, and have an exchange – even a real disagreement, which does not have as its primary function the sustaining of ‘my’ view, ‘my’ world. Its dangerous. But Jesus tends to be that way.
At the end of the day I still took issue with what this person had said. But I was honest with him, not with the entire Facebook world, and that made all the difference. I learned something of his reasoning, motivation, and perspective, which expanded my world much more than an bunch of ‘likes’ for my ‘profound’ point would have done. I have a greater respect for a brother in Christ through our disagreement, and that is a great blessing. So, if I can humbly offer a word of advice. When you get that burning to ‘make a point of correction’ especially in opposition to something someone has said; take a breath. then take another one. If you are a Christian especially, and your issue is with a fellow Christian, consider the instruction of Jesus on correction. But most of all, maybe, just tell the person, the real person, what you think, and ask, and listen. You might be surprised at what happens.