5 Truths to Help You Not Lose Your Soul or Your Mind on Social Media

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Social media is my home and my workplace.

As with many people, I live a good portion of my waking moments here, engaging, writing, responding—virtually existing. As fruitful as it can be, there’s a toll this all takes though, a price we are all paying that most of the time we are oblivious to. We usually just absorb the negativity and the vitriol and we allow it to become part of our normal operating system. If we’re not careful, over time it can rob us of our basic humanity and it can fundamentally alter us in a way that isn’t pretty. 

Today, I wanted to share a few thoughts to help you navigate life out here, and not lose your soul or your mind in the process.

1. Love the trolls, don’t feed them.

The great beauty of social media is that it gives everyone an equal voice, allowing people who have felt or been silenced to be heard. This also means that we are all provided with our own potential bully pulpits, and from time to time we all use them simply to express our anger and our outrage at those in our path, whether those things are merited or not. We all take our turns playing the ticked-off contrarian looking for a fight. We are all capable of being reduced to trolling for a negative response and little else. Spend enough time in the virtual world and you will invariably be the target of someone else’s prior hurt and past experiences and lazy stereotypes. Their agendas will not be pure, their methods not admirable, and their goal not conversation but the cheap high of throwing shade in front of a crowd. Try to determine when people are seeking understanding and when they are looking for the attention of a hateful response—and refuse to give them the latter, for your health and for theirs. Don’t feed the trolls.

2. Remember who you are.

We are all viewing people from the small, selective window of what they choose to reveal on social media. This means we are all evaluating others with incomplete information, always engaging them without really knowing them but feeling as though we do. Remember that people are doing this with you too. They will use a limited body of work by which to categorize and summarize you, believing that this is accurate and speaking from this deficit. The key to not losing your soul on the Internet is in remembering that someone else’s perception of you is not your reality. Just because someone places a label on you, doesn’t mean you have to wear it. You are the only one who knows your truth, so never let those who know less about you, define you. You know who you are. They don’t.

3. Time is always on your side.

The greatest mistake most people make on social media is allowing the manufactured urgency of Twitter feuds and comment sections to pull them into believing that they must respond immediately. We so readily unleash words simply because they pop into our minds, without considering whether they are helpful or warranted or necessary. In the middle of the frenetic crossfire of passionate opinions and strong stances that we find ourselves immersed in every day, it almost never occurs to us that we can simply pause. Yet there is almost never an occasion where waiting is not the better option; when slowing down doesn’t let wisdom and dignity catch up with us and offer us a better response—which sometimes is no response. It’s okay to wait. It’s okay to be silent. There’s goodness there.

4. Social media communication is inferior communication.

I spend a great deal of my life here in the virtual world and love so much about it. Yet although it has allowed me to reach millions of people and to cross paths with more disparate perspectives than would ever be possible otherwise, I know its limitations. I understand that it is not the ideal. Social media conflict often looks like a conversation, but in the end it can only be at best a series of public monologues. It is the separate ping-ponging of perspectives which does have value, but because it doesn’t allow realtime interaction, facial expression recognition, and because it is often done surrounded by an interjecting chorus of ill-informed onlookers, it is always going to be terribly flawed. Even at its best it will always be inferior to sitting across from someone, seeing their face, listening to them, hearing their story. We obviously can’t have this with everyone we interact with on social media, but the more we are able to, the more we will build true, bridge-building relationships with those who believe differently than we do.

5. Know when to apologize—and when not to.

Words are wild animals. Despite our best intentions and without much warning, they will damage people. Despite our sincere, laborious efforts to choose our words wisely, they will sometimes be the wrong ones, or they will be received in a manner in which we didn’t at all intend. People will be hurt. The same words that to some are laced with compassion will to others feel like bitter attack. When those words do damage we need the compassion to know when our choices have been irresponsible and to own those choices and to seek reconciliation with those who are hurt. Other times though, we will need to accept that our most carefully crafted truth will really make people angry and that this is okay. Often, especially when we are speaking into injustice, the turbulence that our words bring is necessary and quite good. Unrest can be beautifully redemptive. Sometimes to defend the underdog you have to risk really ticking off the big dog. Check your heart regularly for pure motives for sure, but never be bullied into silence simply because people get angry.

Hopefully these things will help you as speak and engage and live life out here in social media with a bit more compassion, integrity, and humanity. You and I will surely fail miserably at some point today. Do your best, but give yourself a break when you fail and keep going. We’re all trying to figure out who to do this.

Hold on to your soul.

 

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19 thoughts on “5 Truths to Help You Not Lose Your Soul or Your Mind on Social Media

  1. How appropriate – especially in this election year when everyone seems to be so thin skinned and feeling the need to convince you how wrong you are. I recently took a few days off of facebook just because friends had gotten so out of hand and posting and reading was just not fun anymore. Facebook and social media give people the anonymity of saying things to you they would never say to your face. They can type and then walk away. I really am at the point where I wish I could just shut everything down and go back to phone calls and emails with real friends

  2. So beautifully stated. Personal I am finding that I don’t reply to many and I stay off my soap box. It is not my place to c or rent my brothers, but to let them be and send unconditional Love. When I do post, I ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit and honestly, I’m posting less and less. Have a wonderful day all.

  3. The sad reality of today’s world is that we have traded face to face meetings with social media. It is so easy for some to objectify individuals or groups when they don’t see them or know them. We have all but lost our sense of physical community and belonging because of our individualistic American lifestyle. Charles Moore states in the book “Called to Community: The Life Jesus Wants for His People”, “In a culture of connectivity, where we have countless people to text and tweet, millions are under the illusion that a networked life is a rich, meaningful life. We know how to text, but we don’t know how to commune.” I think this lifestyle breeds trolling and all manner of negativity. We know full well how to exchange information, but do not know how to have civil discourse. We are “virtually” alone.

  4. Excellent!! You addressed the “high light reel” we see of a lot of people, the knee jerk reaction comments, and if one sits back and waits long enough people usually reveal their true colors on their own. Take the high road. Let God work, he always shows up. Social media can play with ones depression and anxiety for sure. Social media and psychological warfare go hand in hand. 🙂 Bless you John and your family. Hugs to you!!

  5. Thank you, Pastor John. I actually really needed this, this morning. I’m not perfect (especially at loving trolls) but your post encourages me to try harder. 🙂

  6. Thanks for the reality check. With the current crisis in churches with regards to LGBTQ acceptance and long time divisions in churches over doctrine, the role of the Bible, assurance of salvation and a whole range of other issues which leave pew sitters vulnerable to despair, spiritual abuse and the risk of walking away from the faith, we can continue to participate in discussion but we can as well, aspire to do it with humility , with empathy understanding that all Christians whether fundamentalist, orthodox, progressive or otherwise are our brothers and sisters. If I truly love as Jesus did then I will try each day to soften my heart and my words. And work towards making peace with all people. You don’t make a bridge from one side of the great divide. A bridge starts at both sides and moves to wards the middle. Good words JP

  7. I must say I can’t resist a bid to hold onto my soul, but for once I don’t need help in this case! I find FB to be a very positive experience for me that I use to affirm myself and others. You might say it’s my ministry at the moment; such as it is! I do find a daily audience here to express my beliefs, thoughts, Bernie and so more more. I get support also in support groups online for various Recoveies. May your soul be well as you shape social media to be what you need it to be for you~

    • DZ… I like your idea about shaping social media so it is constructive and inspiring. After all, social media is here to stay.

      My concern about social media is the time-stealing nature of it. It makes people feel like they are ‘doing’ something, when in fact, they are doing nothing.

    • I’m an ordained non denominational minister and I’m disabled and don’t have any way to visit people. Therefore, I use social media to reach out to others. I use Facebook and other sites to help others. I do my best to be an online friend to those who other wise might be alone. I offer non judgements, hope, an opportunity for people to speak freely without having to leave their home. Most importantly , compassion.I don’t claim to have the answers to their problems, but I sometimes offer advice, and share what has worked for me. I say that I use social media as my ministry. Some people misuse social media, like everything else. Social media isn’t a bad thing. I find it to be useful as a tool in reaching out to others, but , when it is used as a weapon to bully others that’s another story.

      • And thank you for your work and compassion… In your lack you meet the needs of others. Good going!

        • Thank you so much. I am so pleased that the Social Media exists, so that the Lord could use me to help others and that they won’t feel as alone and loved.

      • I agree Anonymous And Thank you Rev. HeidiAnne Sekreta, people such as yourself are needed and appreciated.

  8. I had always been under the impression, which later turned out to be false, that most Americans feel about the same way about most issues and each other. The anonymity of social media and the ability of people to outright say what they REALLY think and feel, without fear of getting punched in the nose, was a real eye opener for me. The big thing I learned is that people are vastly different from each other—and basically speaking—people are a real mess. One thing I had never thought possible in my wildest dreams is that so extremely many—but not all—people are such two-bit bastards. Their capacity for socially sanctioning other people or just downright spitting on them knows no end—and the fact that many of them claim to be Christians is even more eye opening.

    One reason I go to socially media is because even from my earliest childhood years, I was a thinking person—but I lived in a family of nonthinking people where I perceived that it was not safe to broadcast what you think about issues. As I grew older, it became even more apparent that I was living in a small, southern town where a small handful of “Uppercrust Elite” individuals and their wives (like the women in the movie “The Help” ) had a choke hold on the town and everyone in it—much like the company town and “company store” concept in the coal-mining areas of Southern Appalachia. It was the kind of town where a kid could say something positive about a black person like Malcolm X at school, walk home after school, and learn that his dad had just been mysteriously fired from his job. However, this was not a purely racial thing—a vast array of “wrong thoughts and statements” on other issues could just as easily get you into trouble with the local white elite. So, for the first 18 years of my life, I learned how to be like a wallflower at the dance: shy, retiring, depressed, say as little as possible, never let anyone know how you really feel or what you really think.

    Sometimes, I think people in New York, Wisconsin, or California do not have a real appreciation for what it was like to live Down South in the first 125 years after the American Civil War. Sure, it was very difficult for African-Americans, and I do not wish to take anything away from their profound suffering, but it was also difficult for white people like my parents and me, who the local white elite in fancy mansions defined as “white trash.” I was of white trash descent, and it was hard in my southern town. In what sense was it hard? For the first 18 years of my life, I slowly awakened to the reality that being white trash in the American South was like living behind the Iron Curtain from 1945-1983. I lived in Tennessee—but it often felt like Bulgaria.

    Social media allowed me an opportunity to do something that I had never really had an opportunity to do as a child. That was to tell other people what I really and truly thought and felt about various things. I am not as civil about it as I could be sometimes—as many of you kinder people here know. However, you did not grow up in Bulgaria. I did—and it does something to you—and one of those things is that it makes you angry at the injustices you see all around you and the people who are creating the injustices—because Bulgaria was not a truly loving and just place. The place I call Bulgaria was Gallatin, Tennessee, in the 1950s and 1960s. Here is the URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gallatin,_Tennessee

    • Charles, you have been a friend to me on this blog. You may be a little rough around the edges but I can tell you care and your ideas are intelligent and insightful. I totally relate to you desire to find a place to connect with others about the things which weigh on your heart. Social media helped me connect with other LGBTQ Christians some who I now call my friends. Without them I would be all alone dealing with this. So I appreciate blogs like this which provide affirmation to us when often we are met with disapproval and silence.

      • He does provide grace. I’ve splayed my soul and mind on social media. But He gave me a compassionate friend to dress my wounds. He is a good, good Father.

  9. I find social media helpful in many ways, especially as a forum for sharing my art. In the past my sketchbooks sat in the closet gathering dust and now I can invite people across the world to see what I do. It’s been great. In balance, I have also found it helpful to take regular extended fasts away from the Internet – something I started doing after reading ‘The Shallows’ by Nicholas Carr. I often remind myself that when I read Facebook too much I come away exhausted, anxious and upset; when I read a real book, I come away usually feeling uplifted, thoughtful and more fully human (even if the story might be sad or dealing with difficult concepts).

  10. Pingback: How to Debate on Social Media and Not Lose Your Soul - ecclezzia.com

  11. I thoroughly enjoy reading your blog, and typically agree with you on most points. But I think that #4 could have been written a little differently. Without intending to, it seems to hover into the category of unintentional technology shaming. I’ll explain.

    You state: “…because it doesn’t allow realtime interaction, facial expression recognition, and because it is often done surrounded by an interjecting chorus of ill-informed onlookers, it is always going to be terribly flawed. Even at its best it will always be inferior to sitting across from someone, seeing their face, listening to them, hearing their story.”

    I’m an autistic woman, and for many in my community, social media is definitely not an inferior form of communication; it is a preferred and even superior medium of communication when compared to the traditional face to face communication you describe.

    Many of us, including myself, struggle with understanding body language/facial recognition cues in conversation. Many of us, including myself, also struggle with processing information in real time (some information we process rapidly; others are delayed). Making eye contact and regulating tone of voice, choice of vocabulary, and bodily movements in a face to face conversation while also filtering out stimuli in the environment requires a great deal of effort and can be tiring.

    Social media eliminates those barriers for us. And many in our community who are nonspeaking and type to communicate have found their voice with it.

    I agree that it has its limits and its imperfections, but perhaps it would be more accurate/inclusive to consider it an inferior medium of conversation for neurotypical individuals rather than as a general statement of inferiority. I often have a much greater understanding of what someone is sharing when I view it on social media than when I converse face to face.

    Thank you. 🙂

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