Standing in line at the grocery store (A line that wasn’t moving, why do I always pick the slowest lines!) I was perusing the magazine covers on display. The cover of Time caught my attention; Why We’re Losing the Internet to the Culture of Hate. The line began to move, leaving me no time to read the magazine, but that cover stuck with me.
As a preacher and and a pastor, I’m interested in how people interact. It’s kind of my line of work. We live in a time where there are many layers of interaction. Once upon a time, it was just face to face, then through voice on the telephone, and now we have a multitude of social media options through which to interact. I don’t think that is a bad thing. Social media, by and large, is a good relational tool. Connection, even online, is a good thing.
But… I admit there are people I see face to face on a regular basis that I wish I had never seen their Facebook page or stumbled onto their Twitter feed. I’ve seen folks that know one another interacting with one another on social media in ways that I know they would not interact in person. If we treat folks we know personally a certain way, imagine how some treat people they don’t know. A Pew Research Center survey found that 70% of people 18 to 24 had been harassed online.
Light exposes things. Our time on social media is mostly spent in the darkness. Often, we don’t like what the light shows us. There is a certain anonymity to the keyboard, even when interacting with people we know, that is dangerous. We feel some sort of freedom to give into the worst of who we might be. It’s easy to release our worst fears and anxieties on people we don’t know or can’t see face to face. It’s so easy to condemn another from our keyboard isn’t it?
We start to get comfortable. We believe this type of behavior is acceptable human interaction. It carries over. The fear, violence, aggression, and anxiety creeps its way into our daily living. It fractures communities. We forget how to treat people because suddenly everyone we meet becomes a target for our anger and frustration. I’ve noticed that shift in the last few years. We are beginning down a slippery slope of not knowing how to properly engage in person with others, especially those who might hold different views than we do. It’s like we’ve unlearned what many of us learned in kindergarten.
Can we stop it? Not will we stop, but can we? Are we too far gone? I hope not. I hope we can stop using the internet to question and bash the worth of one another. Jesus had a huge problem with those who thought others were unworthy of God’s love. There is something about seeing another face to face, about hearing their experiences, that holds us accountable. I think that’s why Jesus spent so much of his time with people. It made it easier to know their worth to God and God’s love for them.
Start with yourself. Maybe you need to step away from the keyboard for just a bit. Interact with people for real. Get to know them. Get to know their story, their experiences. You are better than this. I am better than this. We are all better than this.