The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. –Proverbs 12:18
Embarrassed. That’s what I am.
Yesterday, I was reading several blogs and posts about the problems in Baltimore. Of course, the focus of most mainstream media was on the fires, damaged property and looting. Many of the posts chose to focus on that part of the events, too.
Now keep in mind that most of the blogs I peruse are written by Christian bloggers. The majority of my Facebook and twitter friends and followers are Christian, too. Unfortunately, a relative handful of trouble-makers managed not only to divert attention away from the Nepal and the Mideast, but they also dragged many of us into less-than-Christian stances on the matter in Baltimore.
The most upsetting was a site posting various Christian blogs. There I found some of the most venomous attacks on the Baltimore rioters. References to heritage and generalizations of inner-city or lower-income people as criminals and godless loafers resonated throughout the site. The opinion of some of these posts, mostly written in the morning, was that all the protesters rioted; or that no one in Baltimore had respect for the law, their city or themselves. Some of these Christian bloggers literally said these people are hopelessly doomed to hell and should be forgotten.
Fortunately, the other side of the story started to filter through the early onslaught. There was the story of Islamic Church leaders walking the streets along with Christian pastors, community leaders and others to calm down unruly crowds. There was a video of an irate protester complaining to a police officer and met with affirmation and promises to try harder. Pictures of residents cleaning up the streets hit social media. And of course, there was the mother who pulled her son out of a riot situation.
So I posted a comment on my personal Facebook page thanking all of those people for showing us the true Baltimore will and hope. I got some nice comments back. But then I read the post again today and realized that I called the rioters “moronic imbeciles”, too.
It’s hard to be Christian sometimes. Mom’s voice in my head telling me “We are all God’s children” followed by Matthew’s “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matt 7:12) and then Thumper pawing the ground and telling me, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say nuthin’” all rode through my mind.
The Bible is full of quotes and warnings about speaking too soon (James 1:10), foolishly (Proverbs 18:10) or condescendingly (Ecc 5:7). Matthew 12:36 warns us that in the end, “people will give account for every careless word they speak,”
Social media is made for quick and timely responses. But sometimes we are so filled with the need to be heard, we don’t properly assess what we are saying. A blog should be easy. I read, re-read, usually have to condense, re-read again etcetera. You can assume my words here are well-thought-out.
But Facebook and Twitter and all the other “instant” thoughts can be dangerous. This is especially true if what we are replying to is either untrue or twisted to reflect a hidden agenda. As Proverbs 26:4 says, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.”
We assume that what we see in the media is the whole story. Of course, this is probably not true since it fits into a 30 or 60-second window or a 160-character tweet. But that doesn’t stop some of us from responding before we investigate. With a presidential election coming up next year, it is hard to believe anything coming from the political sites. I take that back. Apparently it is very easy for some to believe these posts judging from the amount of people reflexively “liking” or sharing them.
Sometimes we make snap judgments based on appearance or delivery. There is a popular Facebook post circulating about a dad who took his children to the Boston marathon. It was a fun family trip and certainly worth a day or two missed from school. But apparently the dad felt they should have been “excused” days off. When the principal wrote a very polite letter explaining why the days would be considered “unexcused absences”, Dad decided to post that letter on Facebook along with a letter he wrote back stating how educational his children’s adventure was.
For some reason, thousands of people think Dad is a hero for taking his kids to the marathon and for writing the letter back to the principal. I’m alright with that. I have taken my own kids out of school for family events at times.
But putting the letters on social media was an attempt to embarrass the principal and pressure the school district to change the rules for his children. What kind of lesson is that really? Should his children really not have to follow the rules? Is the Facebook community supposed to decide? Is it right to put the principal’s name out there for simply doing his job?
Whatever your take is on that, my point is that taking a few minutes to think about the situation or statement often leads to a more reserved and responsible response.
And yet I called the aggravated kids in Baltimore “moronic imbeciles”.
Hopefully you’re not looking for an answer on how to deal with this here on my blog. This is kind of my own therapy session today. All I can come up with is: let’s try hard to be fair and careful with words. As James says, “be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for a man’s anger does not bring the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:19-20) Is it easy? James goes on to say that “no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil; full of poison.” (James 3:20)
Count to ten? Bite our tongues? Say a prayer before speaking? Whatever helps us. Fortunately, our God is a forgiving God. When I slip up, I’m still okay with Him. But I pray to better control the poison of my tongue and keyboard. I hope a lot of others do, too.