With every post we read, our souls are assaulted with the first temptation over and over.
“Don’t be quick to take up someone else’s offendedness,” a wise elder told me over 40 years ago, long before the internet existed. I had become emotionally embroiled in a matter that had more back story and moving parts than were disclosed.
His advice seems particularly relevant to our current social media “outrage” culture, which is fueled by our ability to publicize perceived offenses to the world with a click of a keyboard rather than one person at a time, face to face.
The corollary to that is that each day we have the ability to see and hear about dozens of offensive situations and issues that demand a reaction from us: Like? Care? Sad? Angry? And there is the empty comment box, calling to us for an opinion, a hot take, a wise word, a show of solidarity, a judgment, a condemnation, a clever or condescending retort to the ignorant, a triumphant final word.
The internet gives us an omniscience and a platform that were previously available only to God. And with every post we read, our souls are assaulted with the first temptation over and over: Click and type, for you will be like God, knowing good from evil.
The seduction is subtle for both the offended and the defenders of the offended. One may take offense (easily) and the other may join in (easily). Both are a spiritual sicknesses.
The Scripture and the Desert Fathers warn us of the love of glory and praise (likes?), quarrels, contention, and turmoil. These are symptoms of pride, ego, and enslavement to the “passions.” Enslavement to the passions results in a lack of discernment and the inability to set spiritual and emotional boundaries in relationships.
It is wisdom to know whether we are taking up a righteous cause and defending the weak, or whether we are getting drawn into another person’s dysfunctional, passion-driven outrage over their perception of being slighted, insulted, marginalized, persecuted, or attacked. Then, even if we have discerned correctly, we must decide whether our response is wise, ego-less, helpful, and necessary.
How do we begin to extricate ourselves from our addiction to being “like God”?
Here are some things to ask yourself before taking up someone else’s offendedness online (some of them overlap):
- Do I know enough?
I can’t tell how many times I’ve gotten private messages saying, “So, this is the rest of the story,” after I’ve responded to a post. “The first one to plead his case seems right, until his neighbor examines him.” (Proverbs 18:17)
- What do I have to gain by responding to this?
A deep dive into your ego is the beginning of wisdom.
- What difference will MY response make? Is it necessary?
Especially on social media, where every additional comment is usually just “piling on” or “me too.”
- Does this publicly involve me in a way that I MUST declare a position or opinion for the world to see?
- What is compelling me to respond to this? Why do I feel obligated to express my opinion?
- What is happening in my soul at this moment? Do I feel peace or a disturbance?
Personally, I (try to) never hit “SEND” in a state of disturbance.
- What is the worst thing that will happen if I do not respond now, or ever? And, “What is the best thing that will happen if I post this response, that other responses have not already accomplished?”
If we can be honest with ourselves, perhaps these will help us take a step back from playing God and a step forward to being more godly in our social media presence.