Civil Discourse, Conflict and Social Media

Civil discourse does not mean the lack of confrontation, and social media brings a new avenue it. Quite a few social media stints caught my attention. The most recent was discussion about a book coming out by Pastor Rob Bell. He is not the point of this post, but the discussion did instigate this post.

Social media is public discourse
While some may disagree with this, it is true: Social media is a public face. One reality we are facing is many people do not know how to engage well in public discourse. The quip “Politics will be getting very interesting in the next 20 years because of social media” carries my point well. A good rule of thumb on social media is this: What do I want my public face to look like?

Conflict can bring clarity or collision
You cannot avoid conflict, and that is true within social media as well. Disagreements exist and there are times when public disagreement is proper and times when such is not. At the founding of our country there was vehement debate on our constitution. The book “The Federalist Papers” resulted from the collections of articles from the debate. It is wise to engage in conflict with the goal of clarity. Such is prudent, helpful and benefits all. Engaging in conflict to win or gain one’s own rights is often foolish and brings collision.

Civil discourse can be spirited
Civil discourse focuses on courtesy and politeness regardless of emotion. Civil discourse does not mean one is dull or trite. One can be quite spirited in their discourse and be polite as well. Third person is often used to support objectivity. It lacks poignancy or cheer of first or second person and is quite dry. Given our culture’s tendency towards rash speech, a little dryness may be in order, or we can chose to be polite in our discussions. Be polite. Be gracious. If you cannot, do not engage in public discourse.

The social media variable
The variable that social media brings to civil discourse, especially on conflict, is speed. This is known as trending or going viral. The problem with going viral is people often do not ‘listen’(read) and speak past each other. Discussion quickly turns to raw emotion and a mess ensues. Regarding discourse, often in the form of reposting articles, keep this in mind:

A posted article or a retweet without comment can mean many things from agreement to disagreement, from seriously!? to interesting. A reposting of something with comment also means many things from gained context, topic, or one’s view. If an article goes viral it doesn’t mean people agree with that post. Sometimes it can mean shock, anger, humor, etc. When something goes viral its best to listen more carefully and exercise far more discernment.

Christianity and social media
We should not be afraid of disagreement or conflict. Christianity is damaged more by trying to look and be perfect than being real. Silliness in public discourse comes when civility is dropped. We are family and we will disagree. Part of disagreement is resolution. In the meantime there may be fear as how the conflict will end is unknown. Such fear should not cause us to avoid conflict, even if it goes public. It is part of being authentic.

Remember that the heroes in the Bible were not perfect and their flaws are quite public. We preach about them, discuss them and even debate them. Our lives, just as those in Scripture, are open books. Social media makes this a greater reality. But, acting like there is nothing wrong is just another form of hypocrisy. Grace, wisdom and discernment should govern our public discourse. At the same time we shouldn’t be afraid when our debates become public. It’s part of ‘iron sharpening iron.’ The Gospel moved forward despite the very public mistakes of our heroes in the faith.

The bottom line:
Be civil in public discourse, especially in times of conflict. Remember that social media moves rapidly. In all things we should exercise grace, wisdom and discernment. If you cannot do that, say nothing ‘for even a fool is considered wise when he is silent.’

For Christians, do not be afraid when conflict goes public. The growth and promotion of the Gospel rests in God. We will make mistakes, but those mistakes are covered by the cross. Remember, the same man who shamed the cause of Christ also became the focus of a beautiful story of reconciliation, he gave the first sermon of the Church, was publicly rebuked, and died a hero. His name is Peter.

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