Technology has not only changed the way we communicate, it has changed the way we think.
Case in point: that first sentence you just read. I intend to share this post on Facebook. I know that the only the first line will be shown when FB puts it in someone's newsfeed. In order to get someone to click on it, it really has to grab their attention. I am assuming a better way to have started would have simply been to say "Technology has changed the way we think."
In other words, our thinking has been Facebook-ized. Social media throws so much information at us, that we have been trained to react to 15 words or less. If enough stimulus is not provided in those 5-15 words, truth is lost.
I recognize too that even among those who have clicked on this article, most have already bailed and clicked on to something else.
The advent of social media has changed the way we relate to one another. That's because it has changed the way we think. Thus, it is important to consider the propriety of our social media interactions--especially when it comes to relational problems.
What's more, social media gives you the ability to stay one step removed. You have some ability to hide and not face a person. That's why a boy might send a girl a break-up notice via a text message on their phones. He doesn't have to face her. He can communicate without having to deal with the intimacy of a real confrontation & the messy implications of relationship.
You might think that a text break up obviously lacks class. But there are other issues that are similar. For instance, I once received a 20 page email from a congregation member. The content of which was a disagreement over a message I had given. Being as it was over what I percieved to be a minute detail, I didn't give it much concern. I simply figured this person would want to express their view and we could carry on with life as usual.
Little did I know, that family ended up leaving the church. On top of that, they stirred up dissension and ended up causing other families to leave! Our church was already quite small, and the loss of these families ended up being a detrimental blow to its survival. The church continued to limp along for a little while, but it ended up closing some time after.
They say that hindsight has 20/20 vision. And yes, in hindsight, I understand that I should have taken the email a little more seriously. But we cannot escape the fact that an email does not communicate the same way as a face to face conversation does. I had no idea that the beef this family had was of such incredible severity to them (keep in mind I thought--and continue to think--that it was downright trivial).
If this family would have approached me personally, I do not doubt that it would have been handled differently. We could have talked the issue through, and I could have gauged their concern in a much more clear way (body language, tone of voice, vigor of argumentation, etc.). More steps could have been taken to help deal with the situation.
Instead, about a week later I got another email from them telling me they were leaving the church. (yes, they broke up with me via a digital message)
You might say that it was all for the better. It isn't healthy having grunts who are argumentative about trivial matters hanging around anyway. After all, Paul warned Timothy to not have anything to do with such people. But if we are honest, we'll understand that alternative measures could have been taken to provide for each party's sanctification. At the very least, a church's livelihood might not have been sacrificed.
All this is to say, we need to think seriously about the effectiveness of social media when dealing with our interpersonal problems.
For this reason, I am something of a literalist when it comes to what Jesus says in Matthew 18, "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault." (emphasis mine). You will notice that Jesus didn't just say "tell him his fault." He said we are to go to them and then tell them his fault.
I interpret this to mean actually getting off your rump and meeting with that person face to face. Give them a call, set up a time to grab a coffee together, and sit down with them to express your concern.
Admittedly, there may be occasions where a bonna fide head to head might not be possible. Those exceptions should not negate the rule though.
The point is that relationships require work. They require real relational interaction. When there is tension in a relationship, digital media is not the most appropriate avenue to address them.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.