April 24, 2020

Borrowed Trouble: The Art of Getting Bitten by Dogs

I don’t have to tell you that social media has become a potentially ugly place. There are many issues which divide us, and emotions run hot far too much of the time. Now I have to admit that I have been guilty of this as well. Many are the times when I have posted some article, typically political in nature, which had lit the fires of anger within me.  But I have wised up and cut back on such posts.

I had to, for my own sanity.
Image by GemmaRay23 from Pixabay 

Once upon a time, Facebook (my primary social media app) was a fun place to go online. You had a wall where you could post pieces of flair (yes that was a long time ago), you could share funny pictures, and you could update your friends on what was going on in your life. Now to be fair, you can still do most of these things (I think the flair app is no more, alas), but Facebook took a turn for the worse when they introduced an integrated News Feed.

We all know what it has turned into today. Everywhere you turn, there’s a negative or inflammatory article, an angry rant, or everyone’s favorite, some fake news. I have friends on both sides of the political aisle, and I can assure you that both sides are equally guilty of all the bad things.

Angry, profanity-ridden rants? Both sides.
Negative, divisive opinion pieces? Both sides.
Fake news? Both sides.
Unnecessarily hostile attitudes? Let me assure you, this too is coming from both sides.

Not to sound cliché, but it all comes down to human nature. Humanity is prone to sin. Anger in particular is a difficult sin to deal with, because at its core, anger itself is not a sin at all. Anger is a useful emotion when it alerts you that something is not right in a certain situation, but it transforms into a sin when it becomes a guiding force in your actions: when you are no longer in control of your anger, and it takes control of you. What we see on social media is anger run amok, being discharged without fear of consequence. After all, this is Murica, and we have freedom of speech, right?

Let’s try to remember that just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should do it. One of the biggest factors that I see coming into play over and over again (and one of which I must admit I have been guilty), is when people become angry over trouble which is not theirs or over which they have little influence. The Bible speaks to this very problem…

Like a man who seizes a wild dog by the ears, so is anyone who walks by and meddles in someone else’s argument.
~Proverbs 26:17 (VOICE)

Now there are some who will say that many of these big problems affect everyone, and we all should play a part in addressing them: climate change, human rights, immigration, politics, and everyone’s current favorite, COVID-19 are just a few of the topics creating a virtual maelstrom in cyberspace. To be fair, these things do have far-reaching effects, and the decisions made concerning them will certainly affect great numbers of people.

Where we go wrong is with the choosing up of teams. What should happen is the free exchange of ideas which might be possible solutions, analysis and discussion of the options, and action taken based on the most likely outcomes of each possible scenario. Instead, social media has become a world of red vs. blue, regardless of which solutions might be more effective. We chime in with our opinions, certain that we are in the right, and become angry if someone disagrees.

Let’s be honest. You know that placing an opinion out there via social media is going to draw feedback. That’s why we do it, actually. We like it when people agree with us, and we post things which vent our frustrations about a certain topic, hoping for responses which validate our opinions. The problem is, not everyone is going to agree with you.

Now personally, I enjoy a good debate. But let me be clear: a debate is when people are presenting arguments for or against certain possible solutions in hopes of finding the most beneficial course of action. Many times it means finding compromises where everyone gets something that they want, if not all of what they want. But compromise is not a team sport, and our public discourse has degraded into a gladiatorial arena where only the loudest and angriest appear to survive. We’ve adopted a Superbowl attitude towards life, where the winner takes all, and the loser is “on the wrong side of history.”

What we tend to see is this: someone posts an opinion online; someone comments with a differing opinion; anger erupts. How do we avoid the anger?

One way is to do what I have begun to do, and that’s just walk away. Keep scrolling. Sometimes making that comment which you really thought was a reasonable bit of wisdom is going to be met with unexpected anger, venom, and vitriol. And if we’re honest, sometimes we are the ones guilty of typing the first angry or borderline disrespectful response. Either way, by making our comment, we’ve essentially walked up to a wild dog and yanked on its ears.

Don’t be surprised when that dog bites.

Ultimately, there is exactly one human being over which you have control, and that’s yourself. Don’t make the mistake of trying to change everyone’s mind to agree with your own opinions on certain topics. Worse yet, don’t think that your solution is the only possible solution. When you see that post that rubs you the wrong way, you might be better off - everyone might be better off - if you just leave it alone.

This is a lesson I have learned the hard way. As I mentioned before, I like debates. I have found a handful of people online with whom I can engage in actual exchanges of ideas. I’ve changed some minds a time or two, and I’ve had mine changed sometimes as well. But finding those folks who are willing to banter without giving in to anger has not been easy. I’ve been unfriended several times as the result of offering my opinion when it apparently was not welcomed - and to be clear, I make every effort to be congenial and conversational rather than confrontational when it comes to debating the economy, politics, immigration, or whatever the topic may be. Sometimes, no matter how nicely you try to approach it, that dog is going to turn around and bite you.

To put a fine point on it: I’ve learned that sometimes it’s better to just keep my mouth shut.

Ironically, this very article I’m writing will probably evoke some very strong reactions, whether in agreement or in opposition. Many who agree will probably be of the mind that “It’s my wall and I can post my opinions here and if you don’t like it just keep scrolling.” As for myself, I welcome differing opinions, so long as they are presented respectfully.

And trolls don’t bother me.

My closing bit of advice to anyone who has read this far is this: don’t borrow trouble. If you see something online that makes you angry, take a deep breath, count to ten, and ask yourself if responding to it will actually accomplish anything positive for the other person. Don’t let making yourself feel good, smart, or powerful be a determining factor. In other words, practice the golden rule…

Treat others as you want them to treat you.
~Luke 6:31 (TLB)

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