The Proverbs have much to teach us about how to use our tongues, as well as how to use our fingers as we type strongly-held opinions in a super-charged political climate. While Facebook can be a good place to air out ideas and to expose yourself to different views, there are at least 15 things the Proverbs can teach us about how to interact well on social media.
Ted Cruz had just spoken at the Republican National Convention, and I noticed a post on Facebook regarding the former presidential candidate’s speech. The post affirmed Cruz for not endorsing Donald Trump, but then went on to say that Cruz was still an “odious little (expletive).” After unfollowing this person, I immediately began to think that a blog on how to post on Facebook was in order.
My objection to this person’s comment has nothing to do with my personal feelings about Ted Cruz. Instead, it’s about the crude, juvenile, thoughtless and hostile nature of his remark. I don’t know whether this person is a believer or not, but a Christian should never under any circumstance engage in political discussions (or any other discussion, for that matter) in this way.
The Proverbs have much to teach us about how to use our tongues, as well as how to use our fingers as we type strongly-held opinions in a super-charged political climate. While Facebook can be a good place to air out ideas and to expose yourself to different views, there are at least 15 things the Proverbs can teach us about how to interact well on social media:
- Use few words. “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” (10:19, also 13:3; 17:27, 21:23). Keep your posts short. The more you write, the more likely you’re going to say something unbalanced or downright foolish.
- Never insult others. “Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.” (11:12). When you are tempted to make some insulting comment like the guy who wrote about Ted Cruz, that’s when you know you’re in a bad place. Find something else to do for a while.
- Ignore it when others insult you. “The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult.” (12:16, also 19:11). You might commit yourself to being considerate and respectful in your Facebook dialogues, but that doesn’t mean others will do the same. So, when you feel insulted, just put it aside and act like it didn’t happen. (Easier said than done, I know.)
- Avoid rash words. “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (12:18, also 29:20). Rash words are offered impulsively and quickly, without consideration of how they might be misunderstood or whom they might offend. Wait before you hit the send button.
- Check your facts. “A faithful witness does not lie, but a false witness breathes out lies.” (14:5, also 19:9). Be careful about throwing out facts and figures that are inaccurate or misleading. And just because you happen to include a link to some academic study doesn’t mean you’re telling the truth.
- Be prepared to terminate the discussion. “Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge.” (14:7, also 18:2, 29:9). There are times when it will dawn on you that the person you are interacting with is not really interested in gaining knowledge, but only in spewing his/her opinion. You are his/her audience. In that case, better find something better to do with your time.
- Be slow to anger. “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.” (14:29, also 15:18, 16:32, 29:11). There is a time for righteous anger, for sure, but there is a big difference between righteous anger and a hasty temper.
- Answer softly. “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (15:1). This is how it almost always works — someone writes something you don’t like, so you respond in a curt or dismissive tone. Now there is coldness in the exchange, and the relationship is soured. Ensuing words are bitter and terse. Now you don’t even want to be in the same room with the person. All of this can be avoided with a simple soft answer.
- Highly esteem the apt answer. “To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!” (15:23, also 25:11). There is a difference between a post that has a lot of accurate information, and a post that qualifies as an “apt answer” or a “word fitly spoken” (25:11). Only experience and the wisdom of God’s Spirit can help you know the difference.
- Sleep on it. “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.” (15:28). You don’t have to send a rebuttal the moment you read someone’s objectionable post. Let a few hours pass. Maybe even sleep on it. Then reread your answer to see if that’s what you really want to say.
- Watch your tone. “The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.” (16:21, also 16:24). What will convince people of your viewpoint, or at least what will get them to listen, is not so much your brilliant, irrefutable debating skills, but a posture of kindness, gentleness and overall sweetness.
- You might be wrong. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (16:25, also 21:2). Just because you’re convinced of your position, doesn’t mean you’re right. In all of your pontificating, keep in mind that you might be wrong.
- Don’t start a fight.“A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating.” (18:6, also 20:3). Some wear their Facebook battles as a badge of honor, reassuring themselves that all the people they have offended are simply the price one has to pay for standing for the truth. Proverbs says this person is a fool.
- “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” (18:13). Are you listening to what your opponent is saying, or just planning your answer while you hastily rush through his/her post? Don’t answer before you hear.
- Be willing to learn. “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.”(19:20, also 12:15, 13:10, 18; 15:12). Could it be that you might learn something in a Facebook exchange, rather than being the fount of all knowledge? Be willing to admit you’re wrong if you stand corrected. You will only be better equipped for future discussions.
Bob O’Bannon is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is Pastor of New Life PCA in Yorktown, Ind. This article appeared on his blog and is used with permission.