When Bold is Not Beautiful (How to Play Nice Online)

There is something about anonymity that makes people bolder.

Have you ever seen the gritty secrets posted on one of those completely anonymous “spill your guts” forums? The darkest things can come to light when no one can trace them back to you.

I’m sure we’ve all seen those passive-aggressive statuses or tweets.

Even when not anonymous, an interface like the internet can remove the fear of confrontation that many of us have. Suddenly we’re not yelling into a person’s face, we’re just using ALL CAPS for emphasis. We’re not being snarky in someone’s living room, we’re just using *sarcastic font* to show how idiotic his blog post was.

Bold is not necessarily beautiful. 

Even if we’re pretty nice folks online, the ease and speed with which we communicate online can make us careless. The blinking cursor means we can’t see the hurt flicker across her face, or the way he just folded his arms. It’s hard to know when we’ve gone too far into the tender territory of her heart.

In the three years that I’ve been blogging, most of the reactions have been positive, but some have cut deep. In those moments, as I scroll down through barbed text or well-meaning platitudes, it’s a hard choice to breathe deep and remember grace. Grace for them and grace for me–because I’m not guiltless either.

I’m sure that wiser people could add to this list, but here are a few things that Jesus has brought to mind as I’ve wrestled with how to do community in this age of simultaneous connection and technological distance.

#1–Assume the best

My mom was right about this–most offenses will be erased before they even start if I begin by believing the other person meant well. Seriously, this works! I’ve been employed in customer service positions at a bank, a hotel, a restaurant, an ice cream shop and now at a university, and nothing diffuses stress in the other guy more quickly than feeling like you get them. When you give them the benefit of the doubt, you extend grace.

Remember, no one is the villain of their own story. 

Did the person sound impatient? Assume that they are feeling pressure from someone else, or at least that they are frustrated with the situation and not with you.

Did their post come across dogmatic or abrasive? Assume that they have a good reason–a back story–for feeling so passionately about the subject.

Did they sound as if they intended to hurt you? They probably didn’t. Even if they did, this should evoke pity in us for the wounds they almost certainly have. Hurting people hurt people.

#2–Sleep on it

You know how the internet is designed for instant communication? Yeah, that. 
Because even the best-intentioned among us can be careless, give yourself a buffer. The more emotion you feel about what you are about to write, the longer the time should be before you post. (I once wrote and re-wrote and prayed over a particular response for weeks.)

Words, once released verbally into the atmosphere or digitally into the blogosphere, are no longer yours. You can’t snatch them back, and they can be twisted and misunderstood and widely spread. 
Save yourself some pain: pause, hit “save”, and come back later. 

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, because human anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. -James 1:19-20

#3–If possible, be personal

Ok, you slept on it several days but still feel like you should say something. Keep in mind that sometimes the internet just doesn’t cut it, and we have to go old-school. 

In one of my Communication classes in college, I learned that over eighty-five percent of communication is non-verbal. 

Over eighty-five percent! Some researchers even put the number as high as 93%. That means that even the most perfectly worded email has only a 7-15% chance of communicating the fullness of your true heart. 
Many of our online friends are also real-life friends (think Facebook, Instagram…), and there’s no real reason why we can’t set our laptops aside and grab coffee or have a Skype date to repair a misunderstanding. 
What if we’ve never met and probably never will? Even then, be as personal as possible. Send a private message instead of a public comment. And in your tone, aim for conversation, rather than accusation. 
If the goal is authentic relationships and not just blog traffic, let’s be relational.

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