If you're on any type of social media and have an opinion about anything, you've probably experienced this. You type, 'Wendys fries are so much better than McDonald's' as a status update. You walk away from your computer and return to find World War III has broken out on your wall, with friends declaring their allegiances.
'I have a cousin who works for McDonalds! How dare you judge them and everything my family stands for?' On your Facebook timeline you find links to video testimonies of customers who witnessed Wendy's employees not filling Frosty cups all the way appear and people have messaged you articles that prove all fast food is evil and you should just embrace a gluten-free, vegan existence.
Maybe you can give this a shrug, chalk it up to people being different and walk away from the drama.
My reaction is to systematically refute every statement made. I'm ready to lose sleep drafting witty phrases that cut my opposition to the core and assert my intelligence and superiority.
I have lost hours of my life to this. Do I enjoy it? You bet. Is it making me truly happy, healthy, or holy? Not so much. I've begun many animated discussions online, but I've never had someone tell me, 'wow. Your snarky reply really changed my mind and heart. You are so right and I am so wrong!' I do get un-friended and un-followed though.
Does this mean we shouldn't state our opinions on the internet and stick to cute cat memes? Or should we log off completely?
We receive that answer from Pope Benedict XVI who, in his message on the 45th World Communication day, invited Christians,
'confidently and with an informed and responsible creativity, to join the network of relationships which the digital era has made possible . . . In this field too we are called to proclaim our faith that Christ is God, the Saviour of humanity and of history, the one in whom all things find their fulfillment.'
This doesn't mean we have to 'like' every status about Jesus or make the Holy Family our avatar. Pope Benedict XVI challenged us to adopt a 'Christian way of being present in the digital world: this takes the form of communication which is honest and open, responsible, and respectful of others.'
Our online communication can make Christ present to our friends and family in ways that were previously not possible.
What does this look like? After chewing on the words of Pope Benedict XVI and some other media and spiritual gurus, I like to ask myself the following before I post anything:
1. Is this true, good and beautiful?
Obviously, posting a status about french fries isn't what most would call 'beautiful.' However, my words are an extension of myself, and for some, it will be the only thing they will know about me. While my words won't always be about Christ, I want to be sure that they are true, good, and beautiful.
This is especially true when speaking about controversial topics. We can proclaim the truth, but it must be done with charity – not by belittling or insulting those we disagree with.
2. What does this say about me?
Pope Benedict XVI challenged us to give a witness to 'choices, preferences, and judgments that are fully consistent with the Gospel, even when it is not spoken of specifically.'
There is no separation from who we are online and who we are in person. Therefore, we should be sure that our online presence is who we want to be. There is no 'real life' or 'online.' Behind every account, handle and avatar is a person who deserves respect, even if we disagree with them.
3. Can I walk away from having the last word?
Can I walk away from a sarcastic comment that won't help anything but my ego? Can I walk away from a conversation that's rapidly taking over my life and going nowhere? Can I bear to be mis-understood by total strangers?
It's easy to approach an online discussion with the attitude that if I just TALK LOUDLY ENOUGH MY POINT WILL BE MADE, yet we know that this does not change hearts. When we know a conversation is going nowhere, it can turn into an idol to showcase our own intelligence. We must know when to walk away.
'The Lord God has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them' (Isaiah 50:4) The words of the prophet Isaiah are on a post-it note under my monitor. Pray for a well-trained tongue and prudence at the keyboard.