I think perhaps the Internet is the modern day Tower ofBabel (or is it Babble?) where people of faith gather to be misunderstood. We all come to this same place, but we are all speaking different languages. Let me explain.
Last spring, during Bluebell Week, I posted from the woods. This was a mistake on my part, as I tend to post hastily when I post from my phone. Anyhow, I did it. I put up a picture of Nicky holding a fish between two sticks and the simple message “Gone Fishing.” I thought I was oh-so-clever. I was planning to check out for the week. “Gone Fishing.” Get it? Am I the only one who hears the Andy Griffith theme song? Anyway, I did check out for the week. And I didn’t check comments. There, in my combox, people had a lively conversation about Nick’s inhumane treatment of the fish. It went on for some time. Back and forth about how and whether and why to kill a fish.
The thing is? The fish was already dead when Nick picked up the fish. It couldn’t be inhumane because the fish was floating belly up when he “caught it” between the sticks. So, they were arguing passionately about a non-event.
A few months later, I re-posted my screen rules to the MomHeart website. At the time, MomHeart was in the midst of transition and author bios didn’t appear beneath the posts. (MomHeart has been moved to I Take Joy now, by the way.) I didn’t know that there were no bios and really, even if I had, I wouldn’t have given it much thought. A commenter took some time telling me all about how I would change my mind when I had children in middle school or older. Then, I’d recognize how they needed to learn their ways around the web and be tech-savvy. In closing, she threw in something I really didn’t understand about kids and tattoos. I imagine she was surprised to learn that I have five children older than middle-school age, that my oldest is the managing editor of USA Today’s sports social media site, and that all my adult children have tattoos. She’d made some big assumptions without really knowing me and she read my words in a different language because of her paradigm.
In a much more painful scenario, some grown women picked apart the Serendipity Alphabet Path story (among a great many other things) on a message board a few years ago. To this day, I wonder if they simply hadn’t read all the posts where I discussed my 12-year-old’s authorship of that story or if they really did intend to destroy a child’s perception of her work. Regardless, my daughter has never written fiction again. Her dream of writing children’s stories died on that message board. And her perception of homeschooling mothers was altered forever. I have to believe we weren’t all speaking the same language. If I don’t believe that, I believe some pretty awful things about human nature.
People say things online they would never say in person.
And so that brings me to friendships. It’s a very tricky thing to navigate an online friendship. We think we’re reading carefully. We think we’re in the same paradigm. But it’s entirely possible we are not. It’s entirely possible we are assuming things because that’s the way we “do friendship.” I’m notorious for assuming a level of intimacy and kinship because I’m granting that level. It’s a foolish thing (and I’m working on it, truly), because I’ve learned that even though I think people feel the same way about me as I do them, often they do not. (There are rare exceptions and I thank God for those.)
What’s the takeaway from it all? Balance, I suppose. In the case of blog posts, we need to read reminding ourselves that we rarely have the whole picture (the fish was dead, my kids are older, the story was written by a twelve-year-old for her little sisters) and we bring our own experiences, not the author’s, to our reading. In the case of friendships made online, balance means face-to-face, voice-to-voice conversations before plunging into heart-sharing. And even then, tread carefully. Likely, it’s not exactly what you think it is.
Give grace more readily. Apologize more quickly. Forgive more easily.
It’s OK to assume the best. Even after all these years, I still do. I’m just not quite as surprised when it isn’t all I assumed it would be.
And balance also means investing as much or, preferably, more time in local friendships, where every dimension can flourish and where all the works of mercy can be lived in the relationship.
It’s worth it to work at relationships online. There is much that is good to be gleaned on the internet. There is much to learn. There is much to share. There is much to give.
Be careful out there;-).
this is an image i never imagined sharing.
this is an image i am certain many readers never thought they'd see here.
yet, here it is.
i love this kid, ink and all.