By Jeremy Reynalds, Ph.D.
Founder and CEO
Joy Junction Inc.
Not usually thinking about their effect, we throw around words so casually and sometimes brutally, often from behind the security and anonymity of a computer keyboard.
Even though it isn’t in any way true, many people have apparently taken the old adage to heart, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
From what I’ve seen on Facebook, Christians don’t appear to be much different, never being shy to share their thoughts – often not exactly delivered in a spirit of love- about anyone who doesn’t agree with them.
I asked writer Caryn Skyward, who blogs at http://carynskyward.wordpress.com, what she thought about “Christian” opinion these days. She has strong feelings about the issue.
She quoted Scripture from Matthew 12: 25-37, which reads, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matt 12:35-37
Caryn said in our Internet age, when we are encouraged by easy anonymity to attack those with whom we disagree, we should remember that the Biblical admonition applies to our written words as well as our spoken ones.
Caryn wrote in an email to me, “What’s especially disconcerting are those who call themselves Christian, yet make up a substantial part of online attacks and propaganda. It is disheartening that every time I see a meme vilifying refugee children, or the poor, or yet another photoshopped pic of President Obama with (English occultist) Aleister Crowley on his t-shirt, or depicted in a belittling, mocking manner, it is being shared by a Christian.”
She added, “When did politics become their god? Why are they speaking the words of their political party instead the words of God?”
I’ve noticed that the general nastiness is also rampant on TV and radio. Talk show hosts on both ends of the political spectrum are some of the worst offenders, routinely fanning the flames of incendiary dialogue-or should I say monologue. One I happened to tune into the other day asked his admittedly difficult guest (who repeatedly failed to answer his question), “When are you going to get it in your thick head?”
Really? I know it doesn’t get ratings, but what about courteous dialogue?
But going back to those comments delivered from the anonymity of a computer keyboard. I (and maybe you) have also been the victim of some of that vitriol on a number of occasions.
Some time ago, a woman showing signs of mental health issues left Joy Junction. Despite being evaluated by health professionals, a short while later she committed suicide at a rail crossing in Southwest Albuquerque.
Soon after I made the mistake of browsing the comments section of a local TV station website which had covered the tragic story. I was stunned to see a comment there which said something to the effect of that I was probably glad the woman had committed suicide, because there would be one less homeless person for us to take care of.
This is the same station website which has often featured nasty and hurtful comments about station news personnel. It seems if a viewer doesn’t care for the hairstyle or way a reporter dresses (and heaven help them if they should happen to mispronounce an often hard to say New Mexico name), then they’re going to hear about it. Would these people really behave that way in person?
I asked a reporter from that station one day how she handled the nasty comments. She said you develop a thick skin and get used to it. Maybe necessary, but how sad! You don’t have the right to tell people in public life whatever hurtful, nasty thing is on your mind. Well, you have the legal right but you don’t have an ethical or moral one.
Commentary on social media is not just nasty. It is also often thoughtless. Joy Junction routinely posts pictures on social media to document activities and meals at the shelter, as well as on The Lifeline of Hope, our mobile feeding unit.
I recall posting a picture some months ago of the Lifeline at a stop with a large number of people waiting in line. Some thoughtless soul opined, “I know they could work if they wanted to. They look healthy enough to me.”
Well, here’s the problem. That person didn’t know anything about the people who she was condemning. An apparently healthy body is not an indicator that the person can work. Sometimes the worst illnesses are the silent ones almost impossible to observe.
But it was a recent thread on Facebook that really got to me. It was a stormy Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago in New Mexico, and the weather was that bad there was an emergency alert from the National Weather Service. I was in my home office working and wasn’t paying complete attention to what was being said on the TV, but I did notice that the individual talking seemed to be having a problem speaking.
It wasn’t until browsing Facebook later in the evening that my thoughts returned to what I had heard. There was a comment that turned into a thread basically denouncing the way the man had been speaking. The comments just seemed plain unkind.
These nasty comments were especially meaningful to me. That’s because despite being in public life and speaking regularly on radio and TV, I have suffered from a moderate stammer for years, and any form of speaking (whether in public or not) can be an ongoing battle for me.
Many years ago I remember lying in bed as a child praying that the teacher wouldn’t pick me to speak the following day, and being horribly humiliated when I was unable to do something really simple like just saying my name or reading a verse of poetry. Of course, all my classmates had a field day at my expense.
I can’t help wondering how that weather forecaster felt, can you?
I asked my fiancé Elma Cabug what she thought about this incident and Internet nastiness in general.
She said, “No matter what your belief system, you don’t have the right to put down someone because they don’t say or pronounce something correctly.”
And on the proliferation of often ad hominem attacks that on some days appear to dominate social media pages?
Elma said, “That also applies to how they appear physically. We don’t have the right to be negative about their appearance. No matter what we feel about that person, we should use every incident as an opportunity to encourage someone. We never know how much that person has tried to fit in with those around them. Our positive words could give them a much needed boost to have the encouragement they need to become what they have always wanted to be.”
Elma concluded, “The person we criticize has in so many cases done so much more and come so much farther than the person by whom they are being criticized. Let’s not judge by our own criteria and always remember that when we say negative things about someone, there is also something deep down inside us that wants to be accepted. How would we feel if we were a victim of the same negativity that we dish out?”
So how about you? Will you watch those words-on and off social media-please?