Civility as Gospel Witness
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Have you ever noticed that we tend to treat people differently based on whether or not they’re in a car?
I’m serious. I do it too.
Think about it. Let’s say you’re walking along an aisle in the grocery store, and someone comes up behind you and slides past you on the left...maybe a bit too close for your liking. You might politely say, “excuse me,” or simply slide your shopping cart out of the way. Or maybe, in silent protest, you just stand there a bit in their way. You probably don’t throw your hands in the air, pull out your pocket air horn, all while letting the bird fly.
Why? Because there is a real flesh-and-blood human in front of us. Most people don’t accost someone in that way face-to-face.
But change the scenario to a freeway where that left lane is coming to an end, and that guy isn’t going to get caught behind you!...Well, then everything changes! The speed picks up, the car horn is primed, and that hand gesture is locked and loaded.
But What changed?
It’s often not the issue of safety that we get so worked up about...because if it were, we wouldn't speed up ourselves. We wouldn’t make that driver work even harder to cut us off. The only thing that changed is the barrier the car provides between the human-to-human contact. In this situation, my mind is able to say, “I’m not going against another flesh-and-blood human who is worthy of dignity.” Instead, our minds treat that car (and the person inside) as an inanimate object. The cars between us are acting as a barrier.
And the person inside? I forget about them. They become part of the car. I can be more aggressive with them in the car than I would be face-to-face in a store...or so I think.
When barriers are put in place between our human-to-human contact, it changes the way we interact with one another. When we’re at a sporting event, surrounded by a crowd, we all yell and scream for a sports team. We don’t do this one-on-one. The screaming and yelling of the sporting event is compensated for by the barrier of the event.
But, let's change the scenario. Now, consider the highway is Facebook and the Car/barrier is a keyboard…
Online interaction is a barrier between real, human-to-human interaction. It is human interaction to a point: Flesh and blood humans are typing words to one another, but our ability to communicate and perceived communication is greatly hindered.
When God created mankind, He gave us the ability to communicate in a multitude of ways. We communicate in two primary ways: Verbally and physically. But within these two categories, there are still several more ways in which we communicate.
Verbally: With words, or with sounds.
Physically: Body language, posture, facial expressions, etc.
When we are behind a keyboard, whether it is a computer or a phone, we lose the majority of communication options. We are reduced purely to written words. Now, humans can communicate quite well and quite clearly with written words alone, but we’ve gotten away from that skill in modern society.
The ability to accurately and understandably express oneself with written words is a waning skill.
With all the advances in technology, one thing that was left behind is a good Bible-informed understanding of human communication.
Most people do not spend the required time and effort to learn how to effectively and passionately communicate through writing. But with the onset of things like the iphone, and social media like Facebook, the average person is now communicating largely through writing.
And while writing is good and necessary, it is only one form of human communication. And also, it is a form of communication that requires lots of effort to be properly understood.
Think of how God communicates in the Bible:
He reveals His Word.
He is relational.
And because we bear His image and likeness, we communicate in the same ways.
Social Media Limits Our Humanity.
That might sound a bit strange, but what I mean is this: Facebook, and other online platforms, limit us to mainly one form of communication: Short, written words.
It is a real art to communicate through words AND be understood. It is even more of an art to write BRIEFLY and be understood.
It is so easy to misunderstand people online because our abilities to communicate are so limited. What we write as a status or a comment may be entirely misunderstood because of the way we've stated it, or because it lacked another form of communication, such as body language.
Just think of how something like sarcasm can utterly change the meaning of a statement. But sarcasm, and the like, is usually not well communicated through something like social media.
Something else to consider is the barrier that Facebook puts between me and another person. Not only is my communication limited, but it is keeping me from a real, face-to-face encounter. When I’m responding to a comment on a facebook post, I’m probably not thinking of the person who said it and their feelings. Often, I’m not even trying to determine what they might have meant. For most people, commenting and sharing on facebook is typically nothing more than a chance to express their unrestricted feelings.
Like that driver trying to cut you off at the last minute, my commenting on facebook is usually not directed at an actual flesh-and-blood human; it's just said in response to another comment without much thought.
When humans are face-to-face, and all barriers are removed, we communicate differently.
What we Say Online Matters.
So, we ought to understand that what we say online matters. Even though there are barriers in place, we are still flesh-and-blood human beings worthy of dignity and respect. We ought to have it in our minds that social media restricts our ability to communicate, and, if I’m going to say something, I need to work hard to make sure I’m properly understood. Because once its typed it and posted it, it’s out of my control.
It is not enough to simply write what I feel and send it out into cyberspace. I owe it to God and to others to communicate clearly, and to the best of my ability with all the respect and dignity due the other person. We are accountable to God for what we say verbally, physically, and virtually...and how we say it.
-We also need to be honest: Everything we feel is not worthy of being said or typed.
Proverbs 18:2 - “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding but only in expressing his opinion.”
What we say online matters. It matters to Jesus and it matters to others. Jesus said it clearly, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Christian, are people sensing your devotion and commitment to the Lord by how you are communicating online? Let’s not let facebook and other social media rob us of our humanity. Let’s redeem these online places by stewarding them according to God’s revealed Word.