I was tempted. Very, very tempted. The book image popped up on my screen again as I scrolled through social media and I wanted so desperately to tell everyone what I thought about it. Share my side of the story and get people to understand how hurt I was about it all.
Then there was the post someone shared about a new movie. Or the political post. Or the workout post that proclaimed a way of training that I didn’t think was healthy. Social media gives us incredible access to people, their opinions, and their dreams. And while God has certainly created me to have a heart for justice, feeling all the big emotions in big ways, and the ability to share my heart through the written word, sometimes it’s best to practice the fine art of holding your tongue.
We’re trying to teach this lesson to our 5-year-old, helping her listen to her tone of voice, and make sure what she says is kind, honest, and necessary. We remind her that just because she CAN say something doesn’t mean that she should.
It’s a lesson I could use more often than I’d care to admit.
Our words, wherever we share them, are important. They carry weight and can do as much harm as good. And, on the internet, everything we say is out there for anyone to see, at any time.
When I worked as the Assistant Vice President of Marketing at a local bank I used to run a small focus group of Millennials – a combination of high school and college students who would meet to learn about banking, why it was important, and to give us feedback about products and services as we tried to make sure we were connecting with the next generation of banking customers. One of the lessons we shared was about social media, particularly the way their social media accounts would directly impact their future opportunities. I would share with them that I checked out all their social media pages before inviting them to join the group, making sure they would be appropriate representatives of the organization before we shared any information with them. Their future employers would do the same.
And now I think about the fact that one moment of ranting on Instagram could potentially close the doors to the opportunities I’ve worked so hard to achieve. What if you wanted to write a book, had an excellent proposal, presented yourself and your skills in the most incredible way and then? Publishers chose not to work with you because of the way you represented yourself online?
Or maybe you want to be a speaker, or write for an online community, or lead a group. Your words matter, not only to the person you’re speaking to or about but if you are going to shine Jesus online you need to know that your words matter to people who watch silently from the sidelines, the ones who never comment but always observe.
Sometimes the best option is to hold your tongue, sit on your hands, or walk away. Understand that not everything everyone you follow posts will be for you – so feel free to keep your discouraging and opposing commentary to yourself and think instead about the time and heart and courage it took someone to create that post. Unless the post specifically asks for your opinion, you don’t need to offer it every time. If you disagree with an author or have strong feelings about a movie, have those conversations in person with the people in your inner circle who know your heart. Not every book that comes out will be good for you and you don’t need to buy it. Not every conference will be formatted to meet your exact needs, and you don’t need to attend.
But for the woman on the other side of the screen who is excited about it? Encourage her. Lift her up and be kind above all else. Because you never know when the fine art of holding your tongue will be exactly the skill that opens the doors to those opportunities you’ve been waiting for to share your heart.