Just because the Internet and social media can bring out the worst in people, does that mean that we must take part in the ugliness? Susan Shaw of Oregon State University proposes an alternative.
In only a few weeks I’ve been shocked at the rude comments, name-calling and insults that are posted as responses to the arguments and evidence that are offered to encourage critical thinking and different perspectives. What’s most surprising–and disappointing–is how many of those insults come from people who identify as Christian….
…I’ve noticed a disturbing pattern of some commenters attacking the writer rather than engaging the ideas. Certainly, a great deal of scholarship has noted how the anonymity of the internet seems to encourage people to behave badly toward others in ways they likely would not in person. And what we witness in the media among politicians is often more “gotcha” than any real willingness to delve deeply into authentic conversations over points of disagreement.
What baffles me most is how some Christians participate in online meanness and incivility. I’m not sure how people whose identifying characteristic is supposed to be love justify treating others with contempt because they disagree with them (Granted, church history is dotted all along the way with mean Christians, but I keep hoping we’ll learn to do better)….
…Personal attacks do not further analysis; rather they impede or shut down deliberation. Maybe that’s the idea. Maybe those Christians who attack writers personally are simply trying to shut down the conversation rather than examine ideas that are different from their own.
But it does not have to be that way.
This doesn’t have to be the case though. I ran across a social work project at Dordt College, a small liberal arts college in Iowa associated with the Christian Reformed Church. The social work students there selected the theme for social work month as “the ideal of community” with specific attention to how incivility breaks down community. The goal of the project was to encourage conversations about how to engage civilly when we are so accustomed to uncivil engagement, and the students’ guiding principles arose from their Christian faith. Their professor explained,
“First and foremost, we teach and try to put into practice the principle that all people deserve and require dignity and respect. All people includes those in power–politicians and public figures are people too–to the people in society with whom we disagree or those whose experience we cannot seem to connect with. From our Christian worldview, we know that all people are image bearers of God and therefore require our respect. . . We can, and should, cultivate communication–in person and online–that is both kind and gentle, respecting each other in our differences and yet being able to engage in meaningful dialogue about what we believe.”