A lot of us have two voices. There’s the voice that we use in day-to-day life. It changes if we’re catching up with a close friend or introducing ourselves to a stranger, but generally we conform to normal politeness rules; we filter and we reserve our thoughts on some level. And then there’s the voice that we use online.
The tone is different online – the same rules don’t seem to apply. There is intolerance, backbiting, nit-picking, close-mindedness and aggression. It’s as though the anonymity online and lack of face-to-face interaction has given us a new level of forwardness. Personal blogs poured out from a vulnerable place can be dismissed in one tweet. Political and religious views are laughed at. People are shamed on a public platform for having an opinion. In this digital age, we have been given the power of judgment; the ability to sit back and deem something worthy of ‘likes’ or ‘trolling’. And Christians aren’t free from this either. Sometimes our conviction leads us to participate rather than set a new example.
It’s not always like this. There are powerful voices of wisdom online that are being carried much further than they would naturally. There are gracious comments; brave and inspiring examples; uplifting stories. It would be foolish to dismiss the internet as a tool for dialogue. And there is a lot of dialogue. But when we approach what we read without a level of vulnerability or open-mindedness, we lose the ability to be able to learn from others. There are so many online ‘discussions’ that are simply a few people stating their unyielding opinion, until eventually it fizzles out or becomes heated.
Perhaps now more than ever our ‘online voice’ is being tested. There is so much happening around the world that can’t be neatly explained away. There is so much pent-up anger and frustration. We, and this is true of Christians as well, have reached a point where we feel overwhelmed with helplessness. In a lot of cases we feel that the world is moving in a direction that is beyond our control and it’s scary. We so want to have our voice heard and to make a difference, but where do we begin? And so, we take to the internet, using it in an almost therapeutic way to alleviate some of the ‘pressure-cooker’ of emotions that we have bubbling under the surface.
But realistically is there anything more we can do than this? Yes, we need to use the internet where it helps us. We sign petitions, we discuss things with grace and vulnerability, we share things we’re passionate about. We actively choose when it’s best and wise to remain silent, even if it’s hard to do so. We discern when we are projecting an ‘I am always right’ attitude. We discern what our comments could do to the author of an article or blog. But more than this, there are things we can do in our day to day lives that mean that we don’t need to use the internet to vent.
Many of us are asking the question: how can I *insert big history-altering thing here*? How can I change this huge issue that I care about? How can I change what is happening to a whole country? And we get overwhelmed by our lack of control. But a lot of the time we need to start small. When we see hate in the world we need to find more ways of showing kindness. When we see poverty and need we could ask how much more we could realistically give of our prayer, time and finances. If someone we know is more directly affected by world events than we are we could find ways to offer them comfort. Lack of control is a deep and genuine emotion, but we need to be careful not to get stuck in it. The control that we do have is over our own actions, and that is where we need to start.
We need to create a culture of dialogue in our day-to-day lives as well, not just online. We need to learn how to be open about the things that we believe when we are not anonymous or hiding behind a type font. It’s a powerful thing to look someone in the eye and really allow ourselves to share something vulnerable with them – to let our feelings out even if people are watching. We need to be careful that any confrontation online isn’t being fed by an over-politeness or reservation offline. It will only be in finding a continuity between our two voices that we will start to find a way of being heard.
And more than all of these things, the deepest and most effective way to bring about change is also the most simple and child-like. Discussion sometimes changes minds. Love changes lives. Real love. Awkward and time-consuming love. Love of the insignificant. Love that makes sacrifices. Love that hurts. Love that gives from something within yourself. Love that reaches where others won’t go. That’s what the world needs: online and offline.