We all have opinions. Whether we prefer sushi over Indian cuisine, a sci-fi movie over romantic comedy, or soccer over basketball, most of us could wax eloquent about our taste in food or our viewing choices. But, while I might be frustrated that you want to go out for sushi when I’m craving Chicken Tikka Masala, our differing opinions on what tastes good aren’t likely to damage our friendship.
Opinions on more controversial topics, however, can be damaging when shared in a heated manner. We witnessed this during the 2020 election cycle in the United States and continue to see evidence of it during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This is particularly problematic on social media. When strongly held opinions marinate long enough in an atmosphere of frustration or misinformation, they may morph from opinion to explosion.
Have you witnessed one of these blowups? Occasionally, people who are basically good humans erupt on social media, insulting the intelligence of anyone who disagrees with them, or aggressively promoting opinions based on questionable news sources. Many of the online explosions I’ve encountered have occurred in the comments section of a post, even when the post itself was civil and intended to provide carefully considered opinions or information about politics, mask mandates, vaccinations, racial tensions, etc. The perceived anonymity of the internet often emboldens commenters to respond in an ugly manner, spouting insults or harsh language they would never use in a face-to-face encounter.
A recent experience taught me more than I ever wanted to know about explosions. Earlier this month, my husband and I were canning green beans which we had harvested from our garden. After picking, snipping, and washing the beans, we packed them into glass canning jars, added salt and boiling water, then topped the jars with metal lids and rings. We then placed the jars in our two pressure cookers and set a timer to allow for sufficient processing.
Always careful to allow plenty of time for pressure to release once the processing is finished, my husband waited until it was safe to open the first pressure cooker. Having stepped out of the kitchen a minute earlier, I suddenly heard a huge “crash” and rushed back across the house toward my husband. He called out for me to be careful where I stepped since the floor was covered with broken glass. Brad was standing by the counter, stunned, as he assessed the situation. He explained that while he was slowly removing the third jar of green beans from the pressure cooker, it exploded, launching the metal lid ten feet through the air with such force that it dented the ceiling–then ricocheted onto the light fixture below, shattering one glass lampshade, and damaging the wooden dining table.
Every surface in the kitchen–including my husband–was assaulted by scalding water, beans, and glass. I’m still amazed that Brad didn’t end up in the emergency room with serious cuts and burns. As we assessed the damage, we discovered that not only was the kitchen a disaster zone, but the family room–which is completely open to the kitchen–was littered with debris as well. We found glass fragments and bean carcasses twenty-five feet from the point of the explosion.
Face-to-face explosions of opinion are unpleasant and damage relationships, yet explosive posts on social media or even through text and email have an extra element of danger to them: once you post anything electronically, you no longer have control over it. Yes, you may have second thoughts about venting over the Internet and you may take your post down so it can no longer be seen on your social media feed, but during the hours or days it was “up,” how many people copied and pasted your words–saving them on their devices? How many people shared and reposted your shards of glass?
Once an explosion has occurred, it is impossible to recall or clean up every damaging fragment that shot through the air, or the internet. I can testify from personal experience that in spite of multiple “vacuumings,” sweepings, and scrubbings, my husband and I are still finding tiny fragments of green beans and glass in our home three weeks after the great jar explosion of 2021. And my bare feet will testify that even the tiniest shard of glass can draw blood.
My husband and I were sorry to see an entire quart of beans to go to waste, but though the explosion did not cause the beans to lose any nutritional value we were understandably reluctant to save and eat anything mixed with glass fragments. Likewise, even if there is truth or important information in an explosive social media post, when readers are required to sift through jagged shards of inflammatory language, they are unlikely to care about whatever nutrients the beans might provide.
The right to free speech benefits no one if we wield it as a weapon to beat down anybody who opposes our viewpoint, or to imply that they are idiots. As Christians, how can we justify un-Christlike language or name-calling on social media? Temple recommend holders might consider how angry or ugly social media posts and comments hold up in light of this recommend question: “Do you follow the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ in your private and public behavior…?”
How can we, as Christians, elevate the conversation on crucial topics? A review of the Savior’s teachings can be beneficial as we carefully consider what we post and how we respond on social media. Do not discount the importance of the following scriptures simply because they’re so familiar:
- “…love one another; as I have loved you…by this shall men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:34)
- “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matt. 5:9)
- “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” (Matt. 5:44)
If you are going to share an opinion on social media: please, please, please let it be based in fact. Think twice before immediately sharing someone else’s diatribe or rant that struck a chord with you. Think hard about the opinions expressed. Vet your sources. Don’t assume that because you read it on the Internet it is factually based. Do your homework. When evaluating Internet resources, keep the following in mind:
“…information available on the Internet is not regulated for quality or accuracy; therefore, it is particularly important for the individual Internet user to evaluate the resource or information. Keep in mind that almost anyone can publish anything they wish on the Web. It is often difficult to determine authorship of Web sources, and even if the author is listed, he or she may not always represent him or herself honestly, or he or she may represent opinions as fact. The responsibility is on the user to evaluate resources effectively.” (1)
Beware of responding to inflammatory posts with a knee-jerk, un-Christian explosion of your own. If you have facts to share that might shed light on what you perceive to be ignorance or a misrepresentation of the truth, by all means write a response. But write in such a way as to diffuse an explosive situation and elevate the conversation.
I close with an old hymn text, wise counsel for preventing explosions:
“School thy feelings, O my brother;
Train thy warm, impulsive soul.
Do not its emotions smother,
But let wisdom’s voice control.
School thy feelings; there is power
In the cool, collected mind.
Passion shatters reason’s tower,
Makes the clearest vision blind.” (2)
2. School Thy Feelings, Charles W. Penrose, 1832-1925. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/music/library/hymns/school-thy-feelings-mens-choir?lang=eng