Saturday, November 28, 2009

lost in translation

Things I love:
1. Hearing and understanding the opinions of others.
2. Voicing my own opinions and feeling heard and understood.
3. Communicating by email and social media websites.

Now what I'm about to say on this topic is in no way original or anything more than basic common sense, but I am still going to say it:

When written communication between individuals -- whether email, facebook, twitter, whatever - is not predicated by a mutual understanding of personality, perspective, and beliefs, then clear, efficient, and civilized correspondence is difficult at best, and often simply impossible.

Allow me to illustrate. I recently got a message from a total stranger. This person made judgments and assumptions about me based on a few sentences I had written on a social media site. In a tone dripping with condescension, they proceeded to write nearly 750 words telling me where I had gone wrong, why they were right, and what I should do about it. And this was from a fellow believer.

I could write 750 words right now about how this made me feel... but if I really think about it, why would I expect anything different? Why would this person understand where I am coming from, what I believe, what my history and experiences have been? And when I read the message sent to me, why do I assume I know those things about the individual who wrote it? I don't.

I struggled for a bit about how to respond. I didn't want to react in kind, or try to engage in a point-by-point debate, or write something fueled by emotion that I would regret later. In the end, I did write back. I thought about the chapter in Mere Christianity called "Let's Pretend." In that chapter, C.S. Lewis advocates a "good pretending," in which we pretend to be something that we ought to be, but know that we are not yet. So I pretended to love the person to whom I was writing. I pretended to believe the best about them. I pretended that I had already forgiven their judgments and rudeness, and pretended to believe that they meant no ill-will.

It was not very hard to pretend. The hard part is now allowing the person of Jesus Christ to come in and do the work of making pretense into reality. The hard part is relinquishing the unexpressed feelings of anger, hurt, and resentment. The hard part is choosing not to write 100 different scathing responses in my head. Because at the end of the day, those thoughts and feelings will only hurt me. I love this quote from recovering alcoholic and heroine of the Rebel Alliance, Carrie Fisher: Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. Preach on, princess.

To summarize, I have re-committed myself to using social media primarily to share my thoughts about important stuff like how many times my 2-year-old peed today and why I love peppermint mochas. I'll save the boring politics/theology/hot-button issues for real life conversations - you know, the kind that incorporate tone of voice, facial expression, body language, eye contact, laughing, crying, and maybe even a hug.


Deborah said...

Sigh. You are considerably more patient than I am. I'd have to write back to them an entire essay explaining to them how the world works. Including the world of the internets such as how 1. they don't know me 2. they aren't getting any voice inflection 3. they don't know me 4. they aren't getting any facial expressions 5. they don't know me 6. they don't know my personality and 7. they don't know me and that it simply doesn't make any sense for them to make a ninny of themselves by talking about things of which they know very little. I think the world is a bit better of a place because you're not me, hehe. ;-)

Haley Ballast said...

Ahahaha thanks Deborah! :)