Wielding Words as Weapons on the Web

This post has been on my mind for a long time. Maybe I was afraid to share myself so starkly, or expose my pettiness. I’ve worked through all that (at least in this moment) so here goes:

I believe God entrusts us with words. And if we wield them in a public way, we have a greater responsibility to share them wisely. If one has been given a gift, much will be required.

So it’s with sadness that I recount a few of my own stories as cautionary tales.

Many, many years ago before I was published, I edited and produced a church newsletter. In addition, during that time, we sent out regular support letters for our upcoming adventure in seminary (not for me, but for my husband). I had a conflict with a dear friend, and I chose to write about it in a masked but pretty obvious way in the support letter. Yikes! Of course my friend kindly asked me about it. Horrified that she figured out my little tirade, I apologized profusely and tucked the lesson away in my mind. Don’t publicly share a vendetta! Just say no!

Then, in the blush of publication when I had a book contract or two, I shared some of my pet peeves with Christian books, not thinking a snitch how this might be taken, or how it would hurt others. Lesson number two: be careful and think through your criticism. This is a small business, and your crabby tone will be remembered a long time, even after you apologize and take down posts.

Later, after being hurt in a painful situation, I took to my blog and wrote a story, veiled, about how I felt. I didn’t name names. Didn’t paint the picture as obvious, but a good friend of mine emailed me privately and said, “Mary, is this about ___________?” It was. And I removed my pain-filled, woe-is-me post, again feeling like I’d really messed up. I learned it’s best to go to Jesus first, air your pain there, before considering sharing it out in public with the whole wide world. People are pretty darned smart, and they’ll figure out your strange posts!

Here are some things to think about when wielding your words in a public space. Ask yourself:

  1. Will this hurt someone if he/she figures it out?
  2. How would I feel if someone posted this about me?
  3. In what ways am I trying to prove my rightness?
  4. Will I be damaging a person’s reputation?
  5. Is it necessary to be targeted in my post?
  6. Why not choose to suffer quietly?
  7. Do you trust your reputation to Jesus, or do you feel you have to manage it?
  8. Will this wound dissipate tomorrow? (Often we feel the wound in the heat of the moment, then slash off an email or blog post, regretting it in a few moments. Better to wait, pray, and seek to let it go.)
  9. Will this post bring reconciliation or further discord?
  10. Am I fueling a raging debate or acting in a conciliatory, teachable way?

So my question is: have you felt this way? Have you wielded your words in a way you regretted? What have you learned? What would you say to others who are tempted to write in a disparaging manner about a person or an injustice?

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