Let me tell you about a time I got in trouble. Naturally, it begins with a time my brother, Kyle, got in trouble.
I don’t remember what he did, but he was in the beginning stages of what has now developed into an immense love for role playing and strategy video games. This was circa 8th grade for me, and thus circa 12th for him. The game of choice was Mass Effect, this intergalactic RPG of biblical proportions. It was a cool game, but it meant that Kyle was playing it every chance he got. This isn’t necessarily intrinsically bad, but it did mean that I was not able to play the Xbox. Thus there was a problem.
Anyway, Kyle got grounded for not cleaning his room or something fairly petty like that (don’t misread my use of petty. Discipline is important in parenting, but what I mean is that he didn’t commit arson or anything like that. This story would probably have an entirely different purpose if that were the case; a purpose somewhere along the lines of “if your brother is an arsonist, run away from home.”). This meant that, much to my jubilation, the Xbox was free once again. And here’s where the mistake was made:
I posted about it on facebook.
Now, posting my joys to facebook wasn’t the problem, the problem was what I said. And I won’t repeat what it was, but know that it was rude and celebrated my brother’s recent fall from Xbox dominance. This was fairly late at night, as I remember it, and I fell into my slumber satisfied with the new opportunities to play Xbox ahead of me.
6 AM the next morning, my father jars me from my sleep and tells me to come downstairs with him. This is never a good sign and almost always meant I was in trouble. However, I’d done the dishes last night, lest I fall to the same state of grounded-ness Kyle had, so I couldn’t see what the trouble might be. And then we went into the study and my father gave me a stern talking to and a lesson in both word choice and capitalizing on a sibling’s misery. So he made me delete the status and post a new one apologizing to Kyle and everyone else who saw the status.
All this to say that my life has been something of a long series of indiscretions and that since then, I’ve been particularly conscious of what I post on social media. Or at least facebook. Once Twitter came into the picture, I had to re-learn from my youth minister at the time.
And I think it’s interesting to see how many have apparently never learned this lesson, or have otherwise opted to outright ignore it.
I’ve reached the stage where I only post to facebook if it’s a link here, or if it’s clean and funny enough to get a good number of likes. But other people don’t have those parameters, and that’s fine, but what’s worrisome is the person who doesn’t have any posting parameters at all. Stream of consciousness is an ugly thing even in classical literature, so I don’t see how it can be any less ugly when it’s used by Joe Somebody in a place where anyone and everyone can see it.
One main difference is that literature doesn’t have a comment box.
This has been an eventful week for that comment box. Coke released a commercial that enraged all the people with very passionate ideals surrounding America the Beautiful and what language it was originally intended to be sung in. The man who fostered my childhood love for dinosaurs and assured me that planes don’t fly because of magic debated the Earth’s history and origin with a man who believes in the same God I do (or at least one very similar to Him). And, though it didn’t sweep across the nation as the others did, my personal timeline was flooded, moreso than usual, with links to blogs and articles about the art of dating, how to be a guy that girls will want to date, and all sorts of commentary on engagement and age and all that.
It’s frankly exhausting just to get through the source material of all of this anyway, but then you add the discussions in the comments and it’s decidedly game over as far as discourse and argumentation is concerned. And does it surprise anyone that argumentation is the natural word to use there? I doubt it. If you have a facebook, chances are that you’ve seen if not partaken in an argument online, and chances are even greater that it has not ended well.
I have a theory on why that is, but to put it in some perspective, another story. And this one has a dirty word, so beware. Not a cuss word, mind you, but a dirty one. And I understand the irony of that in the context of this blog post, but words have power and that power is important. This word’s important to the story which is important to the message. So onward.
In 8th grade (8th grade was a very formative time for my moral compass) my friends and I had built quite a reputation with our vice principal, Mr. Bolin. Now, during lunch, we would have the most outlandish conversations you could ever think of. This was our special time when we could talk openly about anything and not get in trouble for it. It was also time when we could fill a ziploc halfway with air and use it as a miniature blob to launch pieces of gum and lunch rolls across the cafeteria, but that’s another story. What’s important about this time is that any and every conversation was the most interesting thing we’d ever heard.
This was during the time when we all wanted to be movie makers. We were discussing our new plot, a basic carbon copy of The Fantastic Voyage, with once main exception: the crew would exit the body through the rectum rather than the tear duct because it was 8th grade and butts are way funnier and make much better plot points than eyes. So we’re walking through this whole scene as we walk from the lunchroom back into the school, and just as I pass Mr. Bolin, I shout, mimicking the captain of the ship “We’re goin’ rectal!” For those of you bracing for the dirty word, that was it, so you can let out either a sigh of relief or a grimace of dismay and disappointment at my language.
Anyway, as you can imagine, Mr. Bolin pulls me aside and takes me to his office for a stern talking to. Now, as I try to explain the context of my outburst, it becomes clear that he’s having none of it. And that’s for good reason, and here’s where I’ll tie it in to the main point:
When you post something online, chances are you can gauge how it’s going to be received based solely on topic. So when you post about a touchy subject in the form of a status and just share your opinion, it’s like you’re just screaming “We’re going rectal!” to the world, waiting for someone to call you out on it and disagree, starting an argument. And what’s really tragic is that you have an entire context behind that post, you (hopefully) have reasons for holding that opinion, but so rarely is that communicated from the get-go.
That is one step that is incredibly difficult to go back on. If Mr. Bolin had been a producer, even after I’d explained the rest of the plot that led up to that provocative line, he still wouldn’t produce my movie. If you lead with the most volatile material, people are going to be significantly less interested in how you reached your conclusion.
People want to be agreed with and this unfortunately kills the opportunity to learn. We know there will be people online that share our opinions, so we rely on them to comment and back us up. But is that really getting the most out of an opportunity to learn more about others? What are you gaining then? Is the point really just to show your close friends “Hey, I still believe this, and I know you do, too. Like my status!”?
I’ve learned a lot from a lot of people, but one that I’ve learned the most from is my girlfriend’s sister. She’s one of the smartest people I’ve met, and I agree with her about very little. And I think that’s a very beautiful and valuable thing. Because I never get more nervous than when I talk to her about something important, but I learn so much that I wouldn’t otherwise see. And I’ve said things that offend her because I didn’t understand one thing or another about the topic, and what I’ve learned from that is really the meat of what I want to share with you now:
It takes an awful lot of courage to say “I’m sorry, teach me.”
And that’s a tricky thought because there are some things that we don’t feel we need to be taught about. Like yesterday, one of my club brothers was telling me about how he only listens to underground rap instead of Kanye because underground stuff all has a more positive message and Kanye just raps like a gangster. It took everything I had not to quote Yeezy himself and tell him to “shut up ‘fore I embarrass you”.
The thing is that we’re not asking to learn about the subjects, we’re asking to learn about the people who have opinions about the subjects. Isn’t that more interesting anyway?
I can research America the Beautiful, I can do my own research into whether or not evolution is plausible in Creationist context. But those stories only stretch so far.
We should be fostering situations where we can learn about people and their stories, and do so in a safe and respectful way. I think that’s what love looks like online. How incredible would it be if Christians were known for that? What if someone were telling their friends about an argument they had on facebook and ended up saying:
“We started out talking about evolution, but we ended up talking about me.”?
Jesus was known for loving people, and people were receptive to that. The rest followed. Maybe we need to stop worrying about what follows and look at how to just start.