Remember these simple principles when scrolling through your social media feed.
Social media, while a great tool in connecting us with people around the world, can also lead us down a dark path of gossip, slander and a judgmental mindset. Our emotions can easily be “let loose,” and the anonymity of the Internet can shield us from the natural repercussions of uncharitable words.
St. Francis de Sales, while he lived in the 16th century, wrote a profound spiritual work entitled Introduction to the Devout Life that contains a wealth of wisdom that can still be applied today, in the 21st century.
For example, he writes, “Do not pronounce a man to be a drunkard although you may have seen him drunk, or an adulterer, because you know he has sinned; a single act does not stamp him for ever … Noah was drunk once, and Lot, moreover, was guilty of incest, yet neither man could be spoken of as habitually given to such sins; neither would you call Saint Paul a man of blood or a blasphemer, because he had blasphemed and shed blood before he became a Christian … what assurance have we that he who yesterday was a sinner is the same today?”
The temptation of social media is to see a news story or a friend’s post and immediately jump to conclusions, forming a negative view of that person with a single post. We all make mistakes and sometimes what we post will paint a negative picture of who we are. However, we can’t be make a judgment based on what we see on social media.
In fact, St. Francis would go so far as to try and make an excuse for the person, seeing them in the best possible light.
When you hear evil of any one, cast any doubt you fairly can upon the accusation; or if that is impossible, make any available excuse for the culprit; and where even that may not be, be yet pitiful and compassionate, and remind those with whom you are speaking that such as stand upright do so solely through God’s Grace. Do your best kindly to check the scandal-bearer, and if you know anything favorable to the person criticized, take pains to mention it.
It does us no good to point the finger at someone else, when we have made no effort to correct the faults in our own lives. We cannot see into the heart of another person, but we can see inside our own heart.
In our posts and comments on social media, St. Francis de Sales has some more specific suggestions.
Let your words be kindly, frank, sincere, straightforward, simple and true; avoid all artifice, duplicity and pretense, remembering that, although it is not always well to publish abroad everything that may be true, yet it is never allowable to oppose the truth. Make it your rule never knowingly to say what is not strictly true, either accusing or excusing, always remembering that God is the God of Truth.
Furthermore, he suggests, “when it is necessary to contradict anybody, or to assert one’s own opinion, it should be done gently and considerately, without irritation or vehemence. Indeed, we gain nothing by sharpness or petulance.”
Last of all, we should stress the quality of our online conversations, rather than quantity.
The silence, so much commended by wise men of old, does not refer so much to a literal use of few words, as to not using many useless words. On this score, we must look less to the quantity than the quality, and, as it seems to me, our aim should be to avoid both extremes.
As you embark on using social media, keep these guidelines in mind and you will do well to bring the light of Christ to others.