Something to think about...
"What did you say that for?" Its a simple question, and not very eloquent, but it is rather thought-provoking. We have asked this question of others and of ourselves, usually after we felt regret for something hurtful, harmful or inappropriate that we said. These days, politicians, sports figures and hollywood stars have to guard their words, their responses and their opinions often expressed through electronic forms of communication. On a weekly basis, the popular and famous among us post or Tweet comments that offend someone or are deemed by the "politically-correct police" as intolerant, bigoted or racist. The Internet is soon filled with comments, opinions and demands for apologies. Their apologies sound forced and mimic a seemingly predictable pattern. They rarely address the motives behind what was said. One can imagine a friend or agent of these people asking them after the dust settles, "What did you say that for?"
For believers, it is a question we should strive to never have to ask ourselves. Instead, in all of our communication, we should ask a different question, "Why am I saying what I am about to say?" Asking this question before we communicate allows us to evaluate our motives and potentially avoid saying something we will regret - something harmful, hurtful or inappropriate. It also helps us to intentionally communicate with healthy, godly motives. We sometimes excuse our inappropriate communication through statements like, "I'm sorry, I wasn't thinking" or "I really didn't mean what I said." But these are less than legitimate excuses. What we say, we say for a reason and it often reveals our hearts. Consider what God says about our hearts:
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? 'I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds'" (Jeremiah 17:9-10).
"But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander" (Matthew 15:18-19).
Ouch. If this is the state of our hearts, we should be thankful that God has made us new through faith in Jesus. But we must remain on guard - while our hearts have been renewed, we are still capable of spewing selfish, ungodly communication - as opposed to godly communication summarized in the table below. This applies not only to what we say in face-to-face conversations, but also to our electronic communication. In the last segment of this series on social media and the use of electronic forms of communication, we used the basic interrogatives who, what and when to consider some of the less than Christ-like ways we use these mediums of communication. In this segment, we will consider the following three: where, how and why. These questions get to the heart of our motives.
Communication that is Christlike: Just the opposite:
Truth Falsehoods, rumors, gossip, exaggeration
Truth in love Selfish motives, desired outcomes, attempt to make myself feel better
Building others up Slander, malice, vengeance, pharisaism
Selflessness/humility Emotional immodesty, self-promotion, narcissism, complaining
God-honoring, worthy of respect Dishonoring to God, celebrity worship, coarse jesting, foolishness
Electronic forms of communication are mobile. I can remember purposely keeping a few dimes with me to use a pay phone when I was in high school in case I had to contact my parents in an emergency or if my plans changed. Now, I can call anyone at anytime from nearly anywhere. I have been walking in a field in eastern Berks County, hiking on the Appalachian Trail, sitting on the Delaware shoreline and leaning on my bicycle in Mt Gretna while talking to my wife, my kids and some of you using a mobile phone. The devices which we use to email, text, talk or post go with us in our pockets, purses and cars. They are truly amazing devices and their mobility and accessibility allow us to communicate without limitations. But mobility creates some potential problems. There is now the possibility of negatively affecting our relationships and interactions with people. Probably all of us have experienced an interruption of a conversation, meal, meeting or even prayer when someone's mobile device started beeping, ringing or vibrating. Let's admit it: this can be very annoying and sometimes offensive. The biblical virtues of kindness and consideration need to be employed when using our electronic devices.
Another potentially negative outcome of the mobility and accessibility of our electronic communication devices is diminished times and places of peace and quiet. At times, we can't escape the alerts from our smart-phones, tablets and computers demanding that we respond to phone calls, breaking news, urgent email messages and money-saving electronic coupons. But how much of this do we bring on ourselves by choosing to carry these devices with us at all times? Seasons of peace and rest without distraction are critical to our overall health and wellbeing. Sleeping with your mobile phone on your night stand so you can respond to text messages from a friend in the middle of the night is not helpful. Choose to shut them off, put them away or ignore them when a potential emergency doesn't exist. Think about where you are and how it is impacting you and others before you use your mobile communication device.
As Christians, we are charged with doing everything for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Additionally, we are commanded to love each other. These ideas are summed up by Jesus in response to the question posed to him concerning the greatest command. Jesus answered, "The most important is, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these" (Mark 12:29-31). So, we need to ask ourselves this question: Do we use electronic forms of communication for the glory of God and the good of others?
Here are only a few ways of evaluating how you use these communication mediums:
- Are you aware of the addictive nature of social media? Are you wasting time that could be used for something better?
- Have you considered the Christian virtues of humility, modesty and meekness? Or does your use of social media and electronic forms of communication reveal a selfish, even narcissistic tendency?
- What about 1 Corinthians 13? Are you guilty of using a powerful resource without love? Use 1 Corinthians 13 as a criteria for evaluating your communication in all of its forms.
- Have you ever given thought to emotional immodesty? This is perhaps one of the most significant problems with these forms of communication. People "undress" themselves emotionally and in a context where emotions cannot be processed, responded to or soothed.
- Think about Pharisaism? Jesus told his disciples, "When you pray, don't be like the hypocrites..." Spiritual boasting is prevalent among Christian users of social media. Facebook, Twitter, blogs and websites become platforms on which to be excessively public about spirituality and the inner life. But spirituality is to be marked by humility and love, thinking about the good of others and not promoting ourselves.
- Physical immodesty is also problematic, and don't believe that Christians are immune to this inappropriate way of using electronic forms of communication. Sexting, exchanging revealing photos and arranging sexually immoral interactions are actions taken by many with often destructive results in families, marriages, workplaces and churches.
- Celebrity worship is prevalent in our society, including Christian celebrity worship. Social media is a breeding ground for this less than Christ-like fascination. Are you allowing yourself to be drawn into the worship of man through these means?
- Temptation to unfaithfulness. Sadly, some married people have used social media sites like Facebook to connect with people with whom they have pursued emotional or sexual affairs. These sites make it easier to give in to the temptation of marital unfaithfulness.
- Similarly, the prospect of associating with bad company can come as a result of people spending time on social media websites. I have counseled people who regretted getting to know people through these means and the destructive results of their interactions.
There are many more categories that can be explored when evaluating how we use social media in our lives. Don't be afraid to ask the sometimes difficult questions. Seek advice from people you love and respect and whom you know love and respect you; people who will speak truth in love. What we can't do is blindly engage in these forms of communication without first considering how God wants us to use them. In the final segment, we will consider positive ways of using these forms of communication.
This is perhaps the most important question we can ask in relationship to our communication. William Fore, a Yale scholar and Methodist minister proposed a meaningful and relevant definition of communication in an article several years ago:
"Communication is the process in which relationships are established, maintained, modified, or terminated through the increase or reduction of meaning."
This is a helpful definition. Communication is about relationship, whether it is the relationship between two atoms or between two human beings. Relationship is central in the process of communication. That being the case, we must recognize that while social media and electronic forms of communication can be good and useful tools, they can also become mere platforms, bullhorns without relationship. Digital media cheapens relationship and diminishes meaningful interaction between people. I am aware that a growing number of young people, who have never been without these forms of communication, would disagree with my previous statement. They will argue that texting, Tweeting, emailing and instant-messaging are simply other ways of communicating. They would argue that these forms of communication can be just as meaningful as face-to-face interaction. Many young people develop what they believe to be intimate relationships without having ever met in person - only having communicated electronically. Much research is currently being done to evaluate the results of these kinds of relationships. But in my opinion, there is a glaring reason why so many people communicate in these ways: it is easy. It is easier to send a text message to break up with one's girlfriend than to do so in a personal way. It is easier to send an email to tell someone how angry or disappointed you are with them than it is to make time to talk with them in person. It is easier to call from your phone and use the few minutes you have before a class to tell your parents you are living with your boyfriend at college. It is easier to post your opinion about the President or Congress on your Facebook page or make a comment on Twitter than it is to arrange a time to have a meaningful and productive discussion with friends or family about the issues. Our devices and all the ways we can communicate with them simply make it easier and we like easy.
Please don't think that I am against making life more manageable or that I am arguing that we should shun modern devices and live like the pre-Industrial Revolution population. What I am challenging myself and you with is to live wisely; to make wise and thoughtful decisions about how we use modern technology. This idea is as ancient as scripture itself. In reality, it is older than that - it is eternal. The wisdom of God has existed with him and in him forever and it is available to us today. Why we use forms of electronic communication must be guided by wisdom. It begins with another simple question: Why am I doing this? Consider the value of the difficult but satisfying work of avoiding ease in communication and choose to interact with people in meaningful, personal and present ways. God is our example in this. He created us and walked in the garden of Eden with the first man and woman. He didn't send text alerts about the dangers of the forbidden fruit. He redeemed us by coming to earth in the form of a man, living among us, talking with us. He didn't compile a five minute YouTube video summarizing how much he loves us and his plan of salvation. He lives in us through the Holy Spirit, constantly speaking to our spirits about who he is and who we are. He doesn't send us electronic newsletters outlining the 10 simple steps to spiritual growth. Why do we tend to take the easy path to relationships when God took the most difficult path?
This is some of what I have been thinking about lately, and I pray that you will think about these things as well, open to what the Spirit of God wants to communicate to you.