My earliest introduction to the importance of the words I chose came from my mother who told me things that her mother had told her. They were quaint little sayings whose importance would take years for me to understand. “If you can’t say something good, don’t say anything at all.” “Bad company corrupts good manners.” Both came to mind this week when I saw research that said the social network can have a profound effect on my emotions.[i]
In an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, researchers told how the positive and negative content of the posts we read on Facebook will push our emotional responses in a positive or negative direction. In this large study some subjects had the content mix of the posts they read altered so that they were either more positive or more negative posts.[ii]
As we might expect when the content was mostly positive, the individuals in the study responded more positively, and when it was negative, they responded negatively. There are all kinds of lessons for in this study. The first I see is that as Christians were are responsible for the words we choose and things we write in social media. We ought to choose those words for the benefit of others. As Paul said, “no one should seek his own good first, but the good of others.”(1Cor.10:24)
So when we post on Facebook and other social media sites, we should pick those words carefully and aim them to encourage others. In the past year I have watched several of my friends post things that were not only negative, but at times somewhat destructive in nature. I do not respond to them in comments, but send them private direct messages. I do that because as the study showed, the comments that follow a significantly negative post can become a free for all.
I know that some will say that if we only post positive things that social media will start to resemble a scene from the Disney movie Pollyanna. And, I agree that there are times when life is difficult and I feel inclined to unload my angst into those 140 character tweets and Facebook statuses. But, then I remember the words of my dear Grandmother Holcomb who considered the over sharing and gossip of her time and said, “We all take baths, but not in public.”
Maybe the best lessons from all of this come to us from scripture. As Jesus said in Matthew 18:15, when we have disputes with our brothers and sisters, we should go to them in private. Of all things I can say, Facebook is not private!
Then, as we struggle with the difficulties of life and feel the need to comment, we should choose our words carefully so that those who read will be “stimulated to love and good deeds” (Hebrews10:24) and not nasty replies and tweets in the comment sections. As Paul said in Ephesians 4:29 “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but that which is good to the need of the moment, that it will give grace to those who hear.” As my brother used to say, “If the person who is going to hear (or read) these words would not consider it a gift, maybe you should not say it.”
The Psalmist said it well. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)
I urge you friends to pick your words carefully for the benefit of others.
[i] Cornell University. "Emotional contagion sweeps Facebook, finds new study." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 June 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140613142533.htm>.