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Fuel for the Fire

Social media raises the heat, but in the wrong way.

I once sat in a Christian brother’s house and listened to him rant for over two hours about the political situation in our country. He was livid with rage. He had recently retired from a prestigious company after many years of successes with that company, and he and his wife live in a beautiful home. His children are doing well, and they have given them grandchildren. Yet he was livid with anger against all those who did not share his political views. He demonized them. He was unwilling to hear any views but his own. I knew his views. I had heard them frequently. They were the views of the social media he listened to exclusively. 

I was reminded at what my doctor at the time said to me: “David, I have to listen very closely to my patients. I discovered that even my patients who are hypochondriacs get sick at times.”

Sometimes, maybe not often, those who oppose us might have good reasons why they do so. Rather than get angry, we need to heed James’s admonition in 1:19-20: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

We thus need to avoid doing what those do in studies done on what is called “selective exposure bias.” Far too many people (Christians, included) have no intention of being “quick to hear.” In one study in Spain, people had the choice of either hearing arguments in favor of their biases, or hearing arguments from the other side. They were offered money to hear opposition arguments. They invariably turned the money down and listened only to arguments confirming their biases. So, to be “quick to hear” means to be willing to overcome our biases and listen attentively to the other side. It means to actually hear why they believe what they believe. It doesn’t mean that we are to agree with those who oppose our views. It simply means we are to understand why they do believe what they believe. This opens doors to communication. Social media does not want us to do this. It only wants to confirm our biases and make us “slow to hear.”

Social media offers a full buffet of inflammatory foods that feed anger. It offers this buffet only to those who want to eat the foods they offer. Social media is driven by advertising. Anger and close mindedness thus sell products. We need to be wary of the ways of social media and be “quick to hear,” realizing that “anger…does not produce the righteousness of God.”

When we are “quick to hear,” we are to be “slow to speak,” which means that we are to think carefully and lovingly before addressing those who are unreasonably livid. We need to realize that anger rarely convinces someone to examine why they believe what they believe. Instead, anger alienates and divides. Our words should thus be “seasoned with salt (Col. 4:6)”, in other words tasty, appealing, and gracious. We need to reason, not alienate.

And “slow to anger” means how we should respond to others. “Slow” doesn’t mean that anger might be the right and only response. It means that we must be certain it is warranted before we give into it, and then only in a righteous manner. “Slow to anger” means we are to use self-discipline as we confront those in opposition, or as we encounter Christian brothers and sisters who fall into the wiles of anger induced by social media. 

As I listened to my brother rant, I realized he had no desire to be “slow to listen.” My only approach was to be so “slow to speak,” I had to time to a virtual standstill. I let him rant. When I was ready to leave, I simply said, “I agree with some of what you said, but you haven’t completely convinced me to all of what you said.” He did not like that. Yet we did depart as friends.

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