It happened again.
I was pulled into the middle of a dispute between two friends—Sort of.
They didn’t exactly ask me to be in the middle of it. They didn’t exactly seek out my advice.
But because of where this conflict happened, it included me.
This clash didn’t take place in a monitored face to face intervention or in a quiet office with a third party there to moderate.
It took place right smack dab in the middle of a social media channel.
Literally for all the world to see.
It’s generated lots of back and forth. Lots of comments. Lots of people weighing in and posturing and advising and admonishing and scolding and soothing.
I’ve seen variations of this kind of interaction all across the interwebs. I’ve witnessed friends from a church in a different city have an all-out theological throw down, right there on Facebook. I’ve seen people who I know used to esteem and love each other have highly politicized and polarizing typing wars. I’ve seen moms shred their kids in the online space. I’ve seen wives throw their husbands under the digital bus. I’ve seen people publicly shame the opposite gender, either directly, or in a roundabout way by posting negative jokes about women or men as stereotypical people groups.
I’m not claiming perfection in any way on this topic. Not at all.
We’ve got to grow up. We’ve just got to.
All of us.
Lead by Example
We’ve got generations coming up after us who are watching us. They’re looking for how we manage conflict, how we process challenges, how we interact with people and discuss and dialog.
We’re sometimes critical that our kids are too tied into texting on their phones instead of communicating face-to-face or by at least having a spoken conversation on those phones of theirs. But I’ve gotta tell you…they’re not engaging this way in some exotic generational spin on how to conduct relationships.
I’m seeing plenty of moms and aunts and grandmas and business women and ministry leaders snipping and passive aggressively typing and setting an example for processing by publishing publicly.
If we want our kids to be strong relational communicators, then… guess what?
We’ve got to model it.
And model it well. In real life. And off the Facebook.
Maybe you’re like me and you’ve gotten caught up in a social media war. Maybe social media is where you’ve been going to deal with conflict. Maybe you’ve experienced someone texting as a substitute for real conversation.
Or maybe it’s your preferred mode.
Whatever your experience, here are a few ways we can keep the communication bar set high, for ourselves, for others, for our kids.
1. Think before you post.
Seriously. If you’re unhappy with that grumpy neighbor of yours or you’re ticked at your kid’s teacher, it can feel like a nice little relief valve to go for a short digital rant. But that momentary reprieve can have unintended reach. That neighbor might get wind and move from grumpy to aggressive. That teacher just might have a friend in your friend circle…and might find your post forwarded to her.
2. Social media, no matter how tight you think your group is, is not private.
It’s not. It’s public. And even if you delete something, people can screenshot it before it happens. I’m preaching to my kids, I’m preaching to myself ALL THE TIME: social media is not private, email is not private, texts are not private. So if there’s something you want to keep private, those platforms are not the place.
3. Cultural sensitivity is heightened.
Whether you agree with an increased political correctness and sensitivity or not, there are many, many people out there who are increasingly on the watch for posts that get too close to the line. Yes, as an American, you do have freedom of speech. But as a person of faith, you also have a greater freedom to walk in maturity when it comes to your digital mouth. Honor the ‘weaker’ brother…or sister, as the case may be. And this…you might just have some things to learn as well. Our politics and posturing mean nothing if they aren’t predicated by compassion for people.
4. Grownups, don’t take friendship conflicts public.
It’s time to grow up. For real. If you have a friend, an enemy, or a frenemy you’re struggling with, pick up the phone and schedule a coffee. Don’t passively aggressively air the laundry. No one benefits. And it solves absolutely nothing. When you post instead of privately discuss, you’ve given away important minutes of your life for an effort that will only yield negativity.
5. Grownups, don’t process via social media things that should be processed with a trusted counselor.
I’m all for vulnerability, transparency, realness. I’ve seen powerful posts that have opened up issues in important, engaging ways. But the line is very thin here and takes a lot of wisdom. It’s fake to dump your heart on a public platform, polluting the water with negativity, griping, angst, and all the rest. That’s attention seeking and it’s not the provenance of the mature. Let’s make real progress. Let’s use our transparency as a means to help others, to empower and encourage. Let’s use our vulnerability wisely, finding healing with mature, trusted mentors, rather than a quick fix of a social media population sending us a bevy of teary-eyed emojis. Let’s be real, for real, with real people, in real communication.
6. Actively talk with your kids about strategies and elements of healthy communication, how to disagree with compassion and honor, how to make peace, how to reach out for help in proactive ways.
And if these are issues with which you struggle, it’s awesome to talk about that, too. Check out this great book for strengthening your communication skills and imparting that to your kids: How to Have That Difficult Conversation, by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend.
The online community can be amazing and encouraging. It’s all about how we populate it, what we speak into it, how we utilize it. Our kids need our input when it comes to understanding what community is and how it functions. They need our voice when it comes to developing strong communication. And heavens, they need our example when it comes to how to conduct ourselves in our online friendships. Let’s set a healthy example and leave the ranting and processing and politicizing for our most trusted face-to-face friendships.