Updated: Jun 17
We live in a noisy world with people and their ideas screaming at us from every direction. In this world of constant sound, the ability to formulate an original thought is about as difficult as inhabiting Elon Musk's future space city on Mars - not impossible, but almost.
Every opinion has their champions and every champion has their weapon of choice, a tool used to strike down the other clutter vying for your attention to make their voices heard. In today's age of vocal gladiators, social media has reigned supreme as the primary conduit of battle and it won't be changing anytime soon.
Scrolling through Facebook, watching Instagram stories, or consuming the endless list of trending videos on YouTube, you would be hard pressed not to be influenced by someone, whether in agreement or not. Even if we are intentional about ignoring the chatter, our subconscious absorbs an incredible amount of information of which we are never really aware. So, to be completely unaffected by this noise, you would have to unplug and live in a cave without any interaction with the outside world. Since most of us are not in that situation - not that we haven't thought about it - we need to find a way to balance when to speak our piece and when to hold our peace.
Not every verbal war is created equal and deserves our reaction. We have to be wise when dealing with the interwebs. In exchanging ideas with online "experts", there are a few types of people that will attempt to draw you into an argument and there are a few strategies on how to handle them. Listed below are some of those individuals you'll meet in the ether and advice for your interactions to maintain a stance of strength and dignity.
1. #SJW - Social Justice Warriors. These people turn anything into a cause that deserves they're most intense statements of perceived righteousness. They don't really care about free speech as much as they care about their own freedom to spit fire at their enemies. They believe they are standing up for the disenfranchised and they care greatly about the intersectionality of people groups. They have drunk the leftist Cool-Aid and spend their time screaming at others with their "woke" hashtags. Many of them believe they have an expertise on subjects beyond what their experience or education provide and because they "feel" they are right, than apparently, they must be.
Advice: Ask yourself the question, is my engagement worth the effort? The Bible talks about not casting your pearls before swine. I am not calling SJW pigs - especially since many of them are vegan in an attempt to fight for animal rights - but the principle remains true. Do not give your wisdom to someone that is going to sully it like trash. More often than not, when someone says something with which you disagree, you tweet back because you are upset with their obvious lunacy. The minute you respond from a place of superiority and offense, you have engaged with someone who also thinks they are superior and will likely be offended that you disagreed with them. If at all possible - which it always is - do not fall into this trap and stay away. You debating them online only fuels their self-importance and gives rise to their need to fight all the more.
2. #SJT - Social Justice Theologians. These are like SJW with one important difference. Instead of spewing their superiority from a foundation of man's opinion, they do it from their interpretations of God's truth. These people like to attack public figures such as @laurendaigle or @joelosteen for giving diplomatic answers to trapping questions. They love throwing stones at religious public figures who do not use their publicity to take strong biblical stances. They also love to start Facebook debates that may sound something like, "Let's have a friendly discussion - What is your view of predestination?" The problem lies in the fact that they don't really want to have a "discussion" - they want to assert their ideologies. I've never witnessed one of these posts where the person posting truly wants to have an exchange of thought more than simply proselytizing the world they think is below them.
Advice: If you are a non-confrontational person, ignore it. You will find much more spiritual revelation by reading the Bible for yourself and letting the Holy Spirit interpret it for you. If you are a confrontational person, private message the SJT and offer to take them to coffee. If they are serious about open philosophical dialogue, than you have won a good sparring partner. If they are not, than you know they are only hiding behind a veil of strength and you have just punctured it. Don't give them another ounce of energy - they are only pretending to be important.
3. #government - the political pundits. These guys are interesting. They typically fall into two realms, the embittered cranks or the meme-obsessed comedians. While there can be some overlap between the two camps of expression, you'll find most of the content you see online is blasting the political parties and their heroes or making fun of them. Like the SJT, they already have their concrete presuppositions. If you try to take a sledge hammer to their ideas, you will be met with severe opposition. In today's polarized climate, most self-proclaimed pundits have firm opinions and getting them to waver from them is as productive as bottling the air.
Advice: Unlike SJW and SJT, they don't care about debating normally. They usually like to post something confrontational to get a reaction and then they move on - unless we are talking about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who likes to engage with people online to show the world how smart she is (*note sarcastic tone). If you actually want to get entangled in the endless feud of virtual disagreement via politics, my suggestion is that you first check your heart. Ask yourself, "Why do I want to engage in something that will only insight my rage and the rage of the person I'm debating?" Most of the time, you will find it much easier to debate the people in your inner circle who tend to agree with you anyways. If you do not have nerves of steel and you do not have all your facts together, stay away and go email your senator instead. That will always produce more fruit in the long run.
Final thoughts . . .
The general rule by which I personally live is not to debate online "experts". I am not against debating, and in fact, I actually enjoy it. I love the interplay of intellectual thought between parties that have reasoned deeply and done their research to support why they believe what they believe. I have spent hours with friends and families discussing hot button issues like religion and politics with a confident voice and a listening ear. I love to learn and grow and see situations from different perspectives. These discussions are valuable. Doing it online, however, rarely breeds anything of worth and should be avoided at all cost unless you are ready to handle the trolls with their naive ideas and tactless speech.
There are those moments in life as well - even if you don't enjoy debating - that you need to speak up (usually in person). Confronting people with truth is not always easy, but it is sometimes necessary. Confronting people with mercy and compassion is also necessary though. By all means, never confront unless you are absolutely confident that you know what you are talking about and are emotionally ready to be rejected.
When to stay silent and when to speak is probably the greatest challenge we face in our culture today. If you have mastered this dichotomy and all of its nuances, than please let me know so that I too can learn how to live a life of peace without bearing the symptoms of foot-in-mouth disorder. Jesus knew when to stand against the tide and when to walk away and even his life resulted in crucifixion.
Truth is not something people naturally want and you have to be ready to die to your reputation, your belongings, and your own will if you are going to fight for it. If that is who you are, I commend you greatly and pray for your continual peace. If not, than leave the fight to someone else and keep living your life guided by the moral fortitude of those truths so that your life can continue to shine, whether you are a person of many words or not.