It happens. You are scrolling down your newsfeed and come across that post that just gets under your skin. You know that person must be completely off their meds to say something so ignorant, and you can’t wait to enlighten them so they can again join the world of sane people. And so it begins…
I will freely admit I used to do this. I love to argue. I grew up around attorneys, and loved debating so much that I took the LSAT and was accepted into law school. I decided not to go, but that’s another story. I love to match wits with others and engaged in many debates when I was younger. Debate is second nature to me. But, I’ve since learned to hold my tongue.
Why? Because here is the true nature of my flirtation with social debate – it feeds my love to be right. If I’m honest, I debate others to show how much smarter I think I am. And, though I tell myself that I do it “in humility with love,” I’m also doing it for my own personal glorification. The lies that you tell yourself are often the hardest to see.
Social media is a public forum. You often write, not as two seekers looking for the answers, but as two opponents facing off with lines drawn in the sand, hoping to see how many likes your comments can achieve from your respective sides. And, many times, what may start as the mutual pursuit for answers (if you’re lucky), becomes a keyboard jousting match so your side can cheer the loudest for their champion. Other people pile on and then it’s one big preverbal dog pile of a thousand rabbit trails leading everywhere but the original topic. The most common results are confusion, hurt feelings, and strained relationships. I know there are exceptions. Sometimes truth is found in all the fray, but it is rare and there are better ways to achieve the same result.
Social media also uses one of the worst ways to communicate – writing. Since this very passionate discussion is not in person, we can’t see the non-verbal cues or voice inflections attached to the message. Many studies back this up; writing is not the best way to communicate. Most of our communication is through facial expression, voice inflection, body position, etc. We are embarking on tough topics using the equivalent of smoke signals. No wonder communication gets confused and the CAPSLOCKS come out.
More debates, especially Christian ones, start with someone just setting another straight “because they care about them,” and end with each side capslocking each other to death. While many times the topic is very important to wrestle with, I have also seen the most stupidly trivial debates go on for miles across my screen as I scroll. People also love to twist other’s words. My favorite is the “here’s what you said so I will put it in quotes while I talk about how stupid it is, twist it completely into a former shell of what you meant, and rebut it” technic. Please, if we are friends and you would like us to remain so, don’t ever do this one to me. I will grit my teeth down to the nubs, and I really can’t afford venires right now.
To get really transparent, God has convicted me of my pride in this area. My love of debates is just feeding my ego. If we want to find truth, we need to be open to humbly hearing from opposing viewpoints without letting our ego blind our reason. If we have truth, it will stand any onslaught of debate and we will be stronger for the experience. If we refuse to consider other viewpoints and really listen to the argument, maybe it’s because we are afraid our ideas aren’t really that strong. Maybe the other side has a point we haven’t considered that could change our thinking. The atmosphere of humility needed to explore these questions is lost in public internet debates. It’s not necessarily truth that wins out, just the best argument. In social media, people rarely back down once they make their statement. Pride and public reputation are now on the line. No one wants to look like they were wrong before the masses. The “What will others think?” handicap limits both sides from finding commonality or discovery.
The main reason I won’t debate deeply personal topics on social media forums is my conviction that I feel it is a poor witness to others. As a Christian, I believe it goes against what Jesus prayed for His church. For those of you who believe the Bible, consider John 17:20-21. “I do not pray for these alone (Jesus’ current followers), but also for those who will believe in Me through their word (all modern-day believers), that they all may be one, as You Father are in Me, and I in You; that they may be one in Us. That the world (non-believers) may believe that you sent me.” (Italic comments provided by me.) Jesus wasn’t saying we all had to think alike or that it wasn’t o.k. to question or disagree, but that we need to show a unified picture of love to the world.
The best illustration for this is found in a marriage relationship. The Bible also describes this as being “one.” (Gen. 2:24) There are times I don’t agree with my husband, but we wrestle with our differences privately in an environment of love and mutual respect. No one would like it if we were arguing with each other publicly all the time. That would be a poor representation of marriage. So, if I understand Jesus correctly, when believers show disunity to the world (all of social media), we hurt our witness. Honestly, how excited will someone be to join a church if they see its members bashing each other with scripture over whether we should eat bacon or not? When I grasped this concept, it hit me at the core of my self worship. Basically, my love of debate was showing disunity to the world and causing people to not believe in God. My pride just isn’t worth that.
I realize the other side of why debates are important. I know Jesus spoke the truth without fear – a common rebuttal to my viewpoint. However, He did so in love, face-to-face with that person – not over social media. He had all of the tools of non-verbal communication to utilize so His point was received clearly. I am completely in agreement with this. We do need to freely express ideas so people can get both sides of the story. And, I will gladly engage in public in-person debates with a moderator and rules where an opponent respectfully rephrases my argument to ensure that they have it correct before jumping in with the rebuttal. However, social media does not provide that environment. It’s too limited and unstructured.
Please don’t mistake my viewpoint on social media debates to diminish my understanding of the need to seek truth, ask questions, and challenge status quo. I will never shrink from a respectful exchange of ideas. As thinking people, we must all continue to question or risk being sheeple forever. My first choice is to sit down in person with the other side and wrestle with topics together. However, if I’m limited to social media, I will discuss topics with others privately where rules of mutual respect have been established and no pressure to get the most likes is on the line. I do this not because I am afraid of social debate, I’m afraid of hurting my witness, crushing my friendships, and bringing up that prideful idol within myself.
I realize many people reading this feel differently about social forum debates. That’s o.k. If I had read this argument a few years ago, I would have probably debated myself; so I don’t blame you. You may have different experiences and can see the good in these exchanges. I’m not stating that there aren’t examples of this, but that the majority of my experiences have been negative time-wasting endeavors both in my inner struggles in humility and my outward interactions with others. Also, I worry about how people will perceive God if His followers are constantly fighting in public forums. Therefore, due to personal convictions and a desire for unity, I prefer other ways of communication to wrestle over difficult, deeply personal topics. The best olive branch that I can offer to those who think I’m off my meds is let’s just agree to disagree. The last thing I want to do is start a social media debate over if it’s good to have social media debates. That would be the ultimate backfire in irony!