Not long after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, I left social media. I could not longer take it. I could no longer watch people, especially Christians, in their freedom to express themselves, express rude, disrespectful, base, profane, judging, patronizing or bullying character. My hope was people would retract their claws, make peace with any offended, calm down, and think. For people of faith, my hope was they would trust God. Several months later, I came back on social media. I came back with principles — choices I would make — for using my social media. As it turned out, these choices were bigger than social media alone. They are and still are good for how I want to live my life. I call them “defining choices.” If we are friends on Facebook, you saw these over several weeks of posting. I repeat them here in summary and hope this helps you think through your own choices for social media and life.
#1: choose what is fun, positive, and uplifting
In a world in which many are humorless, negative, and seem to take pleasure in tearing down others, I choose the opposite. I value the incredible freedom we have in our culture to choose what we will do in our public life. This is my choice. I choose fun and playfulness over drudgery or humorlessness. I choose being positive over negative, critical, jaded, or cynical. I choose to strive to inspire and build others up rather than insult, demean, or tear down others. Will I succeed perfectly in living out this or the other six defining choices? No, but I aspire to it and plan on having fun as I do so.
#2: choose to inspire faith, hope, and love
Those words “faith, hope and love” are not random words put together. They are from a great statement in the Bible about love as the greatest of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. All three are important in human life.
Faith inspires us. Faith gets us through tough times. Fatih is “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” as the writer of the book of Hebrews in the Bible put it. Faith is “a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit” as theologian John Calvin put it.
Hope is essential to life. With it we thrive, without it we despair. Hope is the deeper, cognitive, hard-wired reality that gives rise to determination to overcome adversity. Hope is expectation of a better future, whether present circumstances are good or bad.
And love…nothing compares to love. In this list of three - faith, hope and love - love is named as the greatest. Love is eternal. Love matter most. To love and be loved affects and changes a person for the good. You know that is true by the brokenness that is found when a person does not give love or is not shown love. We crave love. There is something in us that desires to express love. It matters most in friendships, families, marriages and even at work, school or play.
I want my life and certainly my social media usage to help inspire others’ faith, hope and love. I want to inspire others to have confidence in what is hoped for and assurance about what is not seen. I choose that. I also choose to inspire the deeper realities of others to have expectation of a better future. I choose to inspire hope. And in a world of hatred and indifference, I especially choose to inspire love to be given and received. It is the greatest of all.
#3: choose to strengthen relationships between family and friends
You’ve seen the stories. You may be living the stories. Family members who can’t stand each other or are abusive or are in such dysfunction they can barely be in the same room. You’ve also seen the stories of broken friendships - the business partnership gone bad, the friend who betrayed confidence, or the friend who walked away for no good reason.
In my life and in my use of social media, I want to make a difference in families and friendships within my reach because there is nothing like healthy, loving, supportive families and friends. So I won’t participate in things that undermine family or friendship relationships. I will promote, post, and like things that support, inspire, encourage, and challenge relationships to be stronger. In the end, the hope is for stronger relationships in marriages, between parents and children, between siblings, throughout extended families, and among friends of all sorts.
#4: choose that which unites over that which divides
Being critical, divisive, uncivil and uncompromising is a cancer that is killing us as a people. So is treating as enemies people who have different ideas, ideologies, theology, ethnicity, race, sexuality, politics and demographics. For that matter, so is the fear mongering, shaming, and name calling of people who have different conclusions about what is best (*cough….presidential election). We are not meant to be separated, segregated, or divided. We are not meant to be, well, like we are. We are not meant to choose sides, dig in, and disconnect.
To be sure, I have my own conclusions about what is best. I have my own views on all of those things listed above. I disagree with others on many issues and they with me. But I also value those who have ideas that are different than mine. I like and appreciate them even if after listening and talking we still disagree on some issues.
So I choose that which unites over that which divides. I choose that in life generally and on social media specifically. I choose to learn from others and celebrate our freedom to have differences. I choose to try to understand and appreciate others even when we disagree, and then look for and concentrate on what we share in common. I choose to realize that if that other person with whom I disagree and I were together on an airplane about to crash, we wouldn’t give a rip about who we voted for in 2016 or the color of our skin or any of these other things. We would go to our death embracing each other. United, not divided. I choose to live that way now.
This defining choice originally was going to be “I choose to avoid politics on my social media and not respond to it on others’ social media.” Previously, I had made the choice to be apolitical on my social media, but was going to be explicit about it by naming this as a defining choice. However, instead of taking myself out of public conversation about this or any difficult matter, I decided to address how I would strive to be if and when I did address them.
Respect is pretty straightforward, although desperately lacking in many public conversations. People matter and I’ll treat them that way.
#5: choose to handle difficult matters with respect, gentleness, and an open mind
By gentleness, I mean the biblical understanding of the word, which some translations call meekness. Biblical gentleness is not weakness, nor is it self-debasing or a belittling of oneself. It is strength with control acting for good purposes. A story illustrating biblical gentleness is told of a guide taking a group of visitors through a factory. One of the things the guide showed them was a giant steam hammer capable of flattening an automobile. The guide then put down a walnut and had the hammer break the shell without hurting the meat of the nut. That is power under perfect control. That is what Jesus was like. That is what followers of Jesus are to be. That is how I seek to be in handling difficult matters. I can blast a person for not sharing my view, respond to rudeness with rudeness of my own, or try to “win” by overwhelming. Or I can choose gentleness. I’ve made my choice.
As for the open mind, here’s the truth that I still don’t like but it is true nonetheless: I might be wrong. Someone else might have something to teach me. And even if at the end of a discussion I still think I’m right, to listen with a desire to learn and understand is good for me and clearly signifies to the other that they matter.
#6: choose to reflect a life of personal humility and gratitude
In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ’humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, swarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seems a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.” I want to be that guy. I want my private and public life to reflect that.
I also want to reflect a life of gratitude. Larger than gratitude for my wife and family or that I live in this country at this moment in human history is another source of gratitude. When I think of my past and present failures, sins, and flaws, it is hard to wrap my mind around the reality that in spite of those things, I am declared in good standing with God. I am forgiven. When I slow down and think that though it is staggering. Out of that knowledge of what has happened to me, I can’t help but be grateful to God who did it through Christ. I want to have that gratitude front and center.
With this choice I am saying I want humility and gratitude to be a conscious thought. This is about reflecting who am I portraying to the world. Is it the real me? And am I self-focused or other-focused? Do I show that I am I aware that life itself is a gift? Am I humble or prideful? Am I grateful or do I act entitled? I want all of that to be constantly on my mind in my use of social media and in my life in general.
#7: choose to make the world a better place
This one is a big statement. Here’s what I mean. In my lifetime, in places within my ability to influence, I want to be an agent of good for this world, including how I use social media.
The first and primary place to work to make the world a better place, the place each of us has the ability to influence most, is in the family. I choose to make the world a better place by paying attention to and continually improving the kind of husband I am to my wife, father I am to my children, father-in-law to my sons-in-law and brother, son, nephew, cousin, etc. I am to my extended family. I want improve this world as I influence, encourage and help my family, including on how I engage them on social media. So I will laugh with but not at my family publicly and privately. I will celebrate with their successes, not revel in failures. I will speak words of support, not demeaning, undermining, disrespectful words. I will show them love.
Beyond the family, I can influence the world through my work as a pastor, involvement in the community, and serving in a few places nationally and globally. Similar words as said with family could be said as I work to influence, encourage, and help those within my reach in these areas.
My platform to improve the world may not be as large as others, but it is mine. From my platform, I can seek to improve or strengthen my family, community, the next generation, the environment, food and hunger issues, responsible consumption, or social well being. I can volunteer with helping organizations, fight for a good cause, be civilly engaged, serve in community agencies, support local business, reduce waste by buying minimally and purging excess, smile and make eye contact with people, plant trees, and encourage others with words or notes. The list could go on forever. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. The point is I choose to think about and act toward the improvement of the world in the places I can influence. That includes the influence I have on social media. And all of that applies to you as well.