Letting Words Go Unanswered

On-line discussions can be difficult. Sometimes they are wonderful and worth the effort, and other times they are withering and not worth the time it takes to form the words on the keyboard. Blog comments, Facebook posts, Twitter feeds and more can be deep wells of encouragement as well as deep pits of discouragement.

People sometimes lift others up with the greatest of ease, their words floating by and carrying you aloft in their kindness and plainly good intentions. People sometimes try to force upon you their demands you conform to their thoughts, their rules, their practices, or be labeled as unworthy of their esteem.

You can decide whether to breathe in the one and let the other die of its own lack of oxygen. Remember, silence is a time-honored tool for healthy conversation:

The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint,
    and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.

Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent,
    and discerning if they hold their tongues.
(Proverbs 17:27-28.)

As Jacqueline Winspear said:

Sometimes it’s best to let words die of their own accord rather than fight them. (In This Grave Hour.)

This does not mean rejecting the other person, but it does mean not allowing the other person to set the rules. Not every demand on social media requires you to respond. After all, when you engage there is no reason to fight their fire with fire of your own. Rather:

A gentle answer turns away wrath,
    but a harsh word stirs up anger. …

A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict,
    but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.
(Proverbs 15:1, 18.)

Patience does not require endless engagement while the other person continues their disputatious ways, though. You don’t have to stay in those conversations forever.

But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. (Titus 3:9.)

If the conversation is a foolish argument, quarrel or controversy, you have permission to drop out of it. There is nothing about Twitter, Facebook or the rest of social media that says you have to stay. You have the freedom to leave a bad conversation behind and let it go.

Does that mean you should leave all social media behind? Not at all. There is much that can be good in connecting with people. As Paul said:

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11.)

Do this with people you see face to face and with people you see on line. Encouragement and building one another up is a great way to use the Internet. Go and do likewise. (Luke 10:37.)

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15 Responses to Letting Words Go Unanswered

  1. Sam Powell says:

    So good, Tim. Thank you. Words build up or destroy, even on social media.

  2. Kathy Heisleman says:

    Wow this is great! Thanks again for your wise words.

  3. Jeannie Prinsen says:

    I appreciate this, Tim. You’re right, we don’t HAVE to continue to engage in unfruitful conversations. It’s important to use social media in a way that builds rather than tears down — and that also means using it in ways that build ourselves up, too, in a positive way. Sometimes when I’m on Twitter I have thoughts like “Oh, I really *shouldn’t* mute so-and-so even though their comments annoy or upset me; I *should* be willing to hear all views.” But there’s really no “should” there: I can choose to mute, or block, or unfollow, or turn off retweets if I want. There’s no virtue in being riled up all the time.

    • Tim says:

      I’ve learned the benefit of muting conversations on Twitter. Other topics the person tweets on still come through but the annoying conversation has gone away.

    • Laura Droege says:

      I’ve felt that way, too, Jeannie. I feel obligated to read views from people who aren’t of my race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, etc. because “I don’t know what it’s like to be __________.” But if the other person is constantly belittling toward other groups or trying to silence me because “you’ve had it easy!”, then it’s really hard. It puts me on the defensive. It makes the difficult conversations about those topics impossible to have because the other person refuses to allow me to speak. This was a problem a few weeks ago, and I was left devastated, crying, doubting my voice and whether I had any right to speak at all. (Which was when I got off Twitter.)

      Now that I’m back, I’m going to exercise the mute button and streamline my timeline more carefully.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        But if the other person is constantly belittling toward other groups or trying to silence me because “you’ve had it easy!”, then it’s really hard.

        i.e. If the other person is being a real Jerk…

        (And there’s something about Social Media that turns people into monstrous “Net Drunks” when they’re anonymous behind a handle and safely out of fist range. “Instant A-hole; just add Broadband.”)

        • Laura Droege says:

          It may be less about the person being an actual jerk and more about the person having been deeply hurt by many people in other groups. But even trying to remember that they may be speaking from a place of deep pain doesn’t make it easier to hear their words. So unless I’m willing and able to “go there” and empathize/sympathize/comfort/whatever, (and I’m not sure I CAN do that, really), it’s better to mute than allow resentment to fester inside my heart.

  4. Laura Droege says:

    I really like that Jacqueline Winspear quote!

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