The same thoughts flash through my mind every time I see things that anger me or cause others to argue on the internet. I haven’t voiced or articulated these thoughts, even to myself; I’m scared I’ll contradict myself and am aware of the irony. But I’ve decided to write this as a reminder to myself when those situations come up. If you want to use it, too, that’s totally cool, but I’m not going to claim I know the correct way to handle it. These are just things I’ve learned are good guidelines for me and the way I personally want to interact with people through my computer screen.
You do not have to have an opinion on everything. It is a great idea to do your research and figure out what you think about a topic. But if you resonate with pieces of both sides? That’s okay. Don’t be afraid of letting things exist together. You don’t have to choose a side if none completely line up with your own heart about something. More often than not, both sides have genuine merits to them. It’s not you versus me; it’s us, together, trying to figure it all out. Having this mindset makes it hard to see anyone as an enemy.
Or, if you’ve done your research and still don’t really know what to think much at all? That’s okay, too. I have not been able to forget this tweet:
“I’ve never done that, had that same experience or studied that for years. I better not critique that.” – Said no one on the Internet ever.
— Jon Acuff (@JonAcuff) July 18, 2015
There are a few topics that we simply cannot understand, no matter how much research we do, because we’ve never lived it. We can read all we want about it, but we still won’t truly know what it’s like to experience it; we can have opinions, but we cannot speak into it with understanding, because we can’t know what it’s like. Sometimes it’s just too big to grasp. That’s okay. You are a human being with limitations, and there’s no shame to be had in that.
You don’t have to have an opinion just to add to a conversation, especially if choosing a side brings more hurt to more people, people you’re not even sure are wrong. Most of the time, we just need to listen. And to show love to everyone who speaks, no matter what they’re saying.
Correction has it’s place, and it has places it should not go. Someone is being pretty irrational and using circular reasoning and contradicting himself, and you’re annoyed. But you take a breath, and ask yourself why. “Because someone is being rude and not making sense!” you answer quickly. The follow-up question you get to ask is:
Do rude, non-sensical people heed to someone who points out that they’re being those things?
I’ve never seen someone change their heart because someone else debated with them on the internet. I’ve definitely been challenged and had thoughts introduced to me through something someone has written on the internet, but it has always been something they shared independently, from their own experience, in their own internet space, left for me to find on my own. It has never been in response to me or someone else on a Facebook post or in a comment section.
Correction is necessary for everyone, but here’s the thing– we do not have grounds to correct someone we have no relationship with. If I were to vocalize that I believe something cruel or irrational, my closest friends would talk to me about it– privately, in person, with love for me and with hearts that seek understanding of where I’m coming from. It would be a conversation. Even if we ended up disagreeing, I’d still listen to them, because I know they aren’t just seeking to nitpick or start an argument; they care about their friend.
But if you don’t know me and I come to tell you you’re wrong, what reason do you have to listen to me with an open mind? You know nothing about me that qualifies me to advise you in thinking or living; it wouldn’t make sense. We might not even share the same moral compass. My points could be valid to me and still not matter to you, because your values are different from mine.
It is so tempting to join in and to correct people who have struck a nerve. But correction is meant to be found in the context of the safety of relationship. Which I’m inclined to believe doesn’t include calling someone out in a comment.
We have to remember– humans cannot change other humans. Our goal is never to change people; it is to love people, right where they are, like our Father loves us. Only God can change a heart. And He leads us to repentance with what? With loving kindness.
“Wisdom is proved right by all her children” (Luke 7:35). Time is such an interesting friend; it will tell us how true our thoughts really are. As time passes, we will see how things actually play out, what lasts, and if our ideas come from love or from fear.
We need to have the humility to say, “I believe this with all my heart– and I could still be wrong.” It’s okay to be in that spot; it means we’re teachable, with a healthy view of ourselves. We can be wholly firm in what we believe even as we remain accepting of our fallibility. We might end up being right. But we can be loving, if we’re right or wrong. And seeking to understand the motivations behind any opinion, even if we’ll probably never agree? What a beautiful way to love.
Not attending an argument isn’t the same as not using your voice. I have experienced things that have been more difficult because of teachings that weren’t true, written or spoken by people who had no personal experience or were biased. When it comes to those things, I will speak. I will speak about certain sensitive topics because those things were made more difficult for me by people who spoke spoke falsehoods. I point out the patterns that I recognize, the ones I know deep in my soul to be harmful. I passionately, intimately believe in what I speak into.
But when I see something I don’t agree with, that does not make it on par with the things I advocate for in my life. There are a lot of things I don’t agree with, but my involvement in a conversation about them most likely is not necessary; I don’t have to “speak up,” because I’m not doing it for any purpose aside from adding my two cents. Honestly, that isn’t speaking up as much as it is asserting myself.
There is no reason for me to argue about something that I’m not actively working toward being a voice for in actual life. We show we care when we act, when we do something about it. If I have a voice, I better be using it for something that matters and I better be using it well, stewarding it as a gift that I don’t deserve.
Let your positivity outweigh their negativity. My favorite thing to do when I see something online that frustrates me, that doesn’t seem right, that makes me want to respond back with my own opinion? Independently share some kind of positivity instead.
I don’t have to respond to the particular person and I don’t have to address the specific subject. It doesn’t even matter if that person sees or hears what I share. It’s not about being right– it’s about being a source of love. Love is always the right thing.
The good things we share with the world can outweigh the negativity others are putting out. If you see someone spreading words to shame others? Spread different words to tell others of their worthiness. While that person is being a voice for shame, now there is another voice. And it speaks of love and of grace.
As I said earlier, I’ve never been changed by someone calling me out on the internet. But I have been changed, sometimes radically, by things people have shared in their own spaces simply to express their heart or experience. That’s where I believe the real power of having a voice on the internet lies.
The unkind voices are loud. But when there are more kind voices, they ring louder. And they echo for a long time to those that need to hear them.
“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.”
-1 Corinthians 8:1-3
I’m sure this list of guidelines and reminders is not complete or comprehensive. If we’ve learned one thing these past few minutes, it’s that I’m a flawed human being just doing my best to figure things out. We all are.
I guess I’m just writing in hopes that we remember we get to do this as a family.