Maybe it is the subtle anonymity of social media...
Maybe it is because we don’t observe the damage our words cause...
Or maybe social media is just the perfect platform for the worst version of ourselves to be displayed...
But the responses expressed on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, I’ve never heard people say face to face with other humans.
The name, or clever “screen name," and even picture of the giver of the comment are there. Each post is attributed to someone. But it is typed from the safety of the keyboard where one can simply leave the poison and walk away. No fear of consequences.
Maybe it even feels brave to express one's deepest disagreements in the strongest possible terms. But it isn’t. It is cowardly. And cruel. And rude. And destructive.
It is also lazy and usually logically inaccurate.
BEFORE you or I write an opinion or retort, this is what we must remember:
- Everyone thinks differently.
- People who think differently are not automatically dumber, less informed, or less worthy of life and breath.
- Someone of opposite opinion has as much a right to express it to their friends as you and I do to ours.
- It is possible to disagree with a stance without attacking the human being who has taken it.
- An attacking response does NOTHING to change someone’s mind, it only causes pain.
And maybe that is the greater point here. Why do we WANT to hurt each other? I have been wondering this for some time, but it has been magnified to me in a recent case.
How NOT To Disagree
Jeremiah Thomas is just 16 and has cancer. A big, bad, aggressive type of cancer that invaded and attacked his body with vengeance. According to doctors he shouldn’t have survived as long as he has. But he is taking every moment he has left to speak for what he cares passionately about.
That makes sense. If someone told me I had weeks or months to live, I would drop all the peripheral and concentrate of what matters most to me. For Jeremiah, that is life. Specifically, protecting babies in the womb.
Jeremiah is taking the days he has left to speak for life. Barring a miracle, which is being prayed for, it is only a matter of time. But while he has breath for words, he speaks his heart. Who can blame him?
I’ll tell you who. Those who disagree.
I’m not surprised that there are strong disagreements to what he posts. Abortion is divisive, because there is no middle ground. Few will say they like it, but you either want to allow it or you do not. Those are the two choices. I have participated in the abortion debate for decades, and have heard passionate arguments from both sides.
But I have never, NEVER, heard things like what has been written on his wall in response to his posts. People are attacking Jeremiah himself with the same vehemence and malignancy as the cancer that attacks his body.
Let me give you a few, horrific examples from Instagram and Twitter:
- “Cancer is giving your mom a late term abortion. lmao (laughing my ass off).”
- "Jeremiah, “You aren’t dead yet? God do your job!”
- “See u in hell ugly.
- “He’s an absolute piece of s*** whose getting exactly what he deserves.”
- "His bone cancer is “natural selection doing its job.”
- “Thank god this cancer is terminal. Don’t want someone so oppressive, sexist, and backwards thinking walking around, living, breathing my air.”
I ask you: is there any justification for this?
I am not claiming that only one side of the political spectrum owns the vitriol. Right and Left have equally participated.
But this case blatantly displays all that is wrong with social media. Can you imagine ANY human being walking up to a 16-year-old, fresh-faced kid, in his wheelchair, with the tumor his body can no longer contain covered by a towel, his head bald from the chemotherapy, looking into his brown eyes, and saying “Don’t worry Jeremiah, 'this is just natural selection doing it’s job'. Cheer up. 'Your mom is just having a late term abortion.'”
The blatant cruelty of these retorts and the extremity of these examples show how much we have devolved. We are no longer the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” Jeremiah is not free to share his opinion without death wishes, and disagree-ers aren’t brave enough to express an opposite opinion with dignity.
HOW To Disagree
Here are my suggestions. Hope they help someone, somewhere, change what they type next time.
Imagine Jesus Next To You
Picture Jesus, and then type. If He read what you wrote, would you be embarrassed or stand behind your words?
If you don’t believe in Jesus, imagine Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., or some other person who faced fierce opposition with dignity and resolve.
Now for those of you who think, “Jesus got really mad at the money changers and caused a big scene!” Yes. That is true. But He did that ONCE compared to the numerous other examples of lovingly responding to opposition. And He had a LOT of opposition.
So Christians, we need to use the same ratio of righteous indignation to loving disagreement.
Read the next angry comment you type and consider the words of Martin Luther King Jr. who said, "We as a society have not learned to disagree without being violently disagreeable.” How would he respond to reading words like, "'Jeremiah, 'You aren’t dead yet? God do your job!'”
Use EMPATHY Before Responding
Empathy is not sympathy. You DO NOT have to agree to empathize. You do need emotional maturity, though.
Empathy is realizing the emotional status of someone else and having the ability to put yourself in their shoes.
If you were in Jeremiah’s shoes (or in reality, in his wheelchair), would you spend your last days speaking up for what you believe in? How would you feel if someone wished you dead for those beliefs?
Empathy does not mean you support what he says. But you can give him room to say it because you identify with his motivation.
Try Some Politeness
Being polite -- having manners -- knowing how to behave
These are basic components of civilization. They may currently be out of style, but that is to our detriment. These disciplines allow us to see beyond ourselves and create atmospheres where debate can occur without developing into a brawl.
The google dictionary defines polite as: having or showing behavior that is respectful and considerate of other people.
The synonyms of polite are even more informative: well mannered, civil, courteous, mannerly, respectful, deferential, well behaved, gentlemanly, ladylike, genteel, gracious.
Let us all read this list BEFORE rattling off a disagreement.
Count To Ten
Use this old, but wise, advise. While you are counting to ten, S L O W L Y, realize this is a PERSON you are writing to.
You may hate what that person thinks, but he or she has a heart, feelings, and people who love them. Would you want your mother reading that people wish you dead?
Your words will cause pain. Do you still want to write the worst possible thing you can think of?
If you must, write out what you feel is bursting to be said. Write what feels perfectly cruel and will put that person in his or her place. Enjoy the moment of self-satisfaction.
Then DELETE it. That way it gets out of you but never causes the ripples of pain that occur if you pressed enter instead.
CALL FOR CIVILITY
Please join me. Let’s stand for kindness, politeness, and civility when we disagree.
If you vehemently believe what someone says is wrong, ask a question or write a point to consider.
Speak up for what you believe without attacking the human being on the other end of the opposite opinion.
Be brave enough to disagree.
Be human enough to disagree kindly.