Sunday, January 31, 2016

How to Get Along on the Internet

Today, in Mass, our pastor reminded everyone that part of our job as Christians is to be a prophet to the people. Being a prophet isn't about predicting the future. It's about helping people find their way to God, which means helping them learn to love one another, too.

The Internet of Things

You can learn a lot about life on the internet of things. You can find blogs to teach you nearly anything you want to know. Yet in spite of this so few people seem to get along. So few people seem to be learning how to show their love to one another online just as they would offline.

Two things happened yesterday to drive home this lesson to me. The first was that an atheist friend of mine posted a message thread in which self-proclaimed Christians were wishing gruesome deaths to an atheist they were engaged in conversation with online. It would be easy to think this is an isolated incident, to hope that people haven't forgotten Christ's words that 
“You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, 'Do not murder' and whoever murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment." - Matthew 5:21-22
But I've seen the evidence. I've seen Christians forgetting that Christ is with them every time they type a message to someone else. I've been one.

Assuming Good Intentions

Three weeks ago, I made a serious blunder. I accused a fellow Christian of doing something harmful because I judged his intentions to be harmful based on his behavior. Behavior is something we are called to judge, but when we judge intentions we step into the realm of playing God. Once he'd explained his intentions to me, I could clearly see my error and apologized. 

The next day, though, I repeated the error with someone else. I accused them of being lazy because they asked me to do something they could easily have done themselves. After we'd discussed things and I understood her reasoning, what she'd asked me to do made sense and I knew I was the one in error.

Yesterday, I got accused of doing something out of malicious intent. Fortunately, that person brought to my attention the behavior that I'd done and so we were able to discuss it and reach an understanding. However, the point was driven home. Instead of assuming bad intentions, I need to deal with people by assuming that they have good intentions even if their behavior results in something that hurts me or someone else.

Asking Questions

When my friend brought to my attention the hurt I'd caused someone else with my words, I was really confused. I didn't know what I'd done. I decided, though, that it was important to find out. I didn't want the wound to settle in and fester.

Because I was asking questions, she could see that I was genuinely interested in solving the problem and she was able to help me figure out what happened. Asking questions helps to clarify what the issue is so you can address the real problem.

Seeking Understanding

One of the things I am learning is that even if I don't agree with someone else's opinion, that doesn't mean they can't help me grow as long as I respect them enough to listen to what they have to say. I can try to understand why they hold the perspective they do, rather than insisting they accept mine.

It's a fact of life that our experience only gives us a limited perspective on life. In trying to understand someone else's perspective, we can expand our own and grow as a person. However, if we don't try to understand the other person's point of view, if we close ourselves off to what they might have to offer, we miss out on seeing some of the true beauty that life has to offer.

Learn from Criticism

When my friend brought to my attention what my words had done, I had the opportunity to ignore her or even reject her criticism as invalid. Because I love her and value her being in my life, though, I was motivated to find out what I'd done to hurt her so I could remedy the situation.

If we love one another, we don't want to hurt others. Most people won't come straight out to tell us how we've hurt them. Instead, they will take it with them to the grave. It takes a lot of courage to confront someone who has hurt you because you can never be sure they will care and you might end up feeling rejected on top of being hurt.

But she loved me enough to let me know what I'd done, and as a result I was able to learn from her and grow as a person. I was able to see how I could improve in the way I react and respond to the things other people do. She showed me how the addition of a few words can turn a valid comment into an attack and block the ability of the other person to receive the comment with open arms.

Choose the Most Charitable Response

As Christians, we aren't called to tolerate bad behavior. We are called to bring it to the attention of our neighbor and to help them understand why it's wrong. However, it's important to keep in mind that the key to fraternal correction is love.

If you're driven to speak up and correct someone else, and you've already been through all of these steps, remember to speak your peace with love. Sometimes the most charitable response you can give is to say nothing because you're too upset or angry to be gentle or kind when delivering the message. Better to say nothing than to do damage to the other person with your words. 

Wait until you can keep love in your heart while speaking.

The Test of Love

If you have doubts about what you are about to say being charitable, crack open the Bible and read through 1 Corinthians 13: 1-13. Substitute your name for the word "Love" and see if it still fits. If not, choose to pass by until you can answer, "yes."


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