Can you read a post online that you disagree with and refrain from:
- Melting down emotionally
- Commenting with something rude, or lacking the fruit of the spirit
- Talking to your friends about how terrible the post was
- Reporting their post (online or in real life)
- Believing it’s all about YOU! (Or is targeted at you)
- Staying offended long after the post has been shared, treating the poster differently
I’m an open-minded person who enjoys listening to other people whether I agree with them or not. I believe it is important to seek to understand where the other person is coming from even if I don’t ever come into agreement with what they are saying. I have found that a whole lot of people don’t come from this same place. They don’t want a free exchange of ideas. In fact, they are threatened by open conversation.
Many times I’ve asked a question on one of my social media pages and invited dialogue about it, and certain individuals became rude, and in some cases spiritually or emotionally abusive with their comments. In these situations, I privately messaged them, and asked them to refrain from verbally beating others over the head. Sadly, almost every time I’ve had to do that it’s been a Christian who has retaliated against someone else, attacking them — simply for sharing their thoughts.
I have learned the circle for conversation is much smaller (if I don’t want it to become abusive) of people that I can have a completely open exchange with. I’m not even referring to sensitive topics like sexuality. I’m talking about subjects like theology, parenting, education and adoption. There are people who cannot have a conversation without becoming offended and some of them, sadly are Christian leaders.
The following are some things that help me personally as I read other people’s posts:
Everyone views literally everything through the lens of their own life experience.
I view everything through the lens of a white, middle-class, highly educated, Generation X female. I am adopted and grew up in a classical Pentecostal home in Baltimore. My adoptive home became a broken home, crumbling in dysfunction and divorce. In adulthood, I became a wife, mother, and grandmother and an adoptee in reunion. Ultimately I am a daughter of God, a believer in Jesus Christ, and specifically a Pentecostal.
Everything I think, hear, see, and touch is filtered through all of that. I am cognizant of the fact that as I consider new information that is coming my way, even if it’s just a cartoon or a meme, it goes through that lens.
Sermons I hear go through that lens.
Jokes people tell me are filtered through that lens.
What is said to me in business meetings is processed through that lens.
I watch the news through that lens.
I realize that others are filtering everything through their lens. They are sifting it through their culture, age, race, growing up experience, education, current situation and so much more. Surely it is no mystery why we may see things differently. I see it as my role to listen and not brand them as dangerous or the enemy just because we don’t immediately (or ever) come to the same conclusion. People don’t have to be just like me for me to listen and love.
Just because you feel disrespected doesn’t mean you were.
Just because we feel something doesn’t make it real, wrong or right. I can feel disrespected because you just said you didn’t like my lasagna, but that doesn’t mean I was. It just means you don’t like the taste of this particular lasagna. It’s not an attack on me, though I may feel it is.
People having a differing opinions is not an attack, it’s just an opinion.
Disagreeing is not disrespect.
This is especially hard for authoritarians or complementarians to digest, but everyone doesn’t have to “line up” with you to be respectful. Others are not only allowed but encouraged by God to use the brain He gave them.
Be prepared for triggers and remember — they are your responsibility!
I’m gonna tell you a secret…
I get triggered ALL. THE. TIME.
Seriously, all the time.
It’s not wrong to be triggered and you’re not weak for being triggered. It’s just a fact of life, that we all have our triggers. (Some don’t realize they have them, and would bristle at anyone telling them they have them, but if you get offended by someone’s post, you have been triggered. So, there’s that.)
Banishing triggers is not the key — learning to handle triggers is the key.
For example, one day years ago, I was leading a team meeting when one of the participants said, “Keep us in prayer. Tomorrow is our daughter’s adoption day at the courthouse. It becomes legal tomorrow, and our girl is officially transitioning from a Puerto Rican to an Italian!”
The triggering part for me was the transition from a Puerto Rican into an Italian. I felt a wave of anger go through me. If I was not a mature leader who had learned how to handle my triggers, I would have spoken up and said something like, “Are you crazy? Your daughter cannot transition from a Puerto Rican into an Italian anymore than I can transition from a Greek into a bag of sugar that’s sitting in my pantry! That is ludicrous!” I was so angry that they were trying to erase their daughter’s ethnicity. Even if that’s not what they were trying to do, it was what it felt like in the moment. Like her Puerto Ricanness would be expected to go away, never to be recognized again despite the fact that there was no possible way to actually do that. DNA doesn’t lie or disappear. I felt a wave of sadness for the little girl who might feel that she had to try to hide her Puerto Rican self, as if she could!
I didn’t explode with the first crazy thought that popped in my head. Instead, without any look of upset on my face, I kindly said, “Ladies, I have to use the restroom, quickly…I’ll be back in a few…” and I got up from that leadership table, went to the ladies room, and sat in the stall and breathed deeply for a few moments before I headed to the kitchen area to get myself a cup of coffee before returning to the meeting. I wasn’t lying. I did have to get to the restroom quickly. Although I didn’t need the use the toilet, I needed that space to breathe and stay even-keeled to lead the rest of my meeting. I was responsible for my trigger. My response was to kindly remove myself, remain calm, return to the group and carry on with my duties. I wish I could say this was an isolated incident, but I have triggers like this all the time. Fortunately, I am prepared and can handle them without a problem.
This response is a good one for online posts as well, and it’s even easier! You don’t have to get up and leave the room…you can just keep scrolling and ignore the post.
Remember that offense is a choice
I could walk around offended, handling things and people all wrong. I could avoid people, gossip, stay in a perpetual state of irritation, or I can chose to let go and realize, everybody’s coming at life from the vantage point of their own experience.
I can choose to be curious instead of offended.
I can choose to show up in the world as a learner instead of one who believes I already know everything there is to know.
I can choose to ask a person questions directly rather than talk about them behind their back.
I can choose to be okay that we may never agree.
I can choose to hold people at arms’ length or I can love fiercely.
I can choose to only be with people like me, or I can choose to do life in living color.
Reading a post without getting offended is ultimately a choice.