Spiritual disciplines require training. Training requires resistance. I believe spiritual disciplines take discipline because they don’t come naturally to us. If they did it wouldn’t take discipline to do them. This is why I believe using social media as a Christian can be a spiritual discipline. It comes with natural barriers to productive and effective conversation. The medium itself is built in a way that makes the accurate transfer of interpersonal communication and meaning more challenging than face-to-face interaction. It takes an unnatural effort and approach to make this work.
In Monte Python and the Holy Grail Lancelot encounters the Black Knight. They have a sword fight that results with the Black Knight on the ground with no arms or legs, still begging for a fight. As gruesome as that sounds, social media conversations (or battles) don’t end like that. They start like that. You don’t have everything you need to engage well from the beginning. When you enter into a conversation with only 20% of what you need to have a healthy dialog you are hobbled from the start and the likelihood of a positive outcome is diminished.
What are the missing components needed for healthy dialog and positive outcomes?
Non-verbals: Facial expressions and gesticulations carry meaning. Posture carries meaning. Are you standing up rigid or relaxed sitting back? Are your hands balled up into fists or are they relaxed at your sides? Is your face scrunched up and red with anger or is your face relaxed and at peace? Emojis don’t cut it! There is no substitute for face-to-face interaction and so we have to discipline ourselves to listen and learn a lot harder because we have less to go on.
Tone of voice: Are they yelling or whispering? Laughing or shouting? Hypertext is tone deaf. The closest thing we have is CAPS LOCK and no reasonable person likes that! Text has no tone and so we lose even more definition in trying to communicate (send and receive/understand) meaning in the “conversation.”
Personal relationship: Social media puts us into connection and contact with people we don’t know having conversations on difficult topics with no relational context with the other person. It is easier to give the benefit of the doubt or extend an olive branch to people you know and people you see regularly. It is easier to be harsh with people you assume you will never actually meet.
This leaves us communicating in an environment where people don’t know you, can’t year you or see you and all they get are words devoid of human context to decipher and assign meaning to. No wonder so many of our conversations turn into train wrecks!
But this is not all. There are even more problems that I will discuss in the next post and then a few more posts to talk about what we can do about it to engage in healthier conversations!
The use of social media (blog posts and subsequent discussions) was managed well by Jay Guin and Dr. Patrick Mead. Though Jay Guin in now deceased, his blog is still online with the comments. He had a way of managing questions, comments and respectful arguments (he was a lawyer) with a light hand. I’m sure he had never met many of the people who commented on his blog but everyone was treated respectfully even when he disagreed with them.
The old blog of Dr. Patrick Mead may still be online. It contained answers to many questions that were asked of Patrick anonymously. These questions weren’t easy and Patrick did not just give one-word or “offical” cofC answers to them. However, Patrick has always said that his ability to go into another career on a moment’s notice allowed him to give answers that other ministers might not have been allowed to offer.
These are just two examples to prove that it can be done. You still represent Christianity even when you are dealing with someone who you have never met.