“Thinking Out Loud” Online

I don’t normally “think out loud” on Facebook or other social media. That’s a dangerous practice since misreading the few dozen words that might make up a post is far, far too easy. People make assumptions about your intent, motives, desires, etc. And they might judge you. Or lecture. Or misread everything you intended. Every once-in-a-while you might actually find someone who seems to understand exactly what you wanted to share, and there’s that little frisson at the hope someone gets you. Or at the very least gives you the benefit of the doubt.

But then the next post is from another who takes a jackhammer to your words in a way that causes you to doubt your very own intent. 

Despite all that two nights ago I decided to make a post on a closed Facebook group to think out loud about something that had just happened to me, mainly because I’m a verbal processor who’s currently traveling alone for at least two months with no one to verbally process with. This particular Facebook group is intended as a safe place for a grab bag of anything related to art, culture, faith and community (which means pretty much everything), and it normally is a place where anyone can think out loud. Ask any question. Share their heart. The topic I wanted to dive into was an issue related to “faith,” so I knew they’d understand. I knew I would be “safe.”

Because what I wanted to share had never happened to me before. I won’t go too deeply into the details, but I have reason to believe an Airbnb host denied my stay at her listing because my profile shows a heavy dose of faith-related things, such as my seminary degree and a few previous jobs at churches and other Christian non-profits. I’m not going to list all the reasons I believe my hunch to be true, but there are several. And just the possibility of being denied a place to stay because of my belief system is a new experience for me. 

I realize how naive that could sound to those who are judged every day based on the color of their skin, gender, sexuality or religion if they don’t line up with the cultural norms where they live. But I had an “I get it!” sort of moment and wanted to share. I also wanted to talk to others who might have had a similar experience.

Prove it

So I made the post. And for the most part the folks who responded were interested and respectful. They gave me the benefit of the doubt on my perspective or motive in raising the topic. A few did decide to answer questions I didn’t ask and were preachy. And then one person got … well … a little nasty. She decided I was unfairly biased since I didn’t give proof of prejudice beyond a shadow of a doubt and that I should never have made the post without proving my case first. For her I couldn’t “think out loud” or ask the group to trust my experience without proving it.

 
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I can see red pretty quickly in instances like that (another reason I rarely make posts in discussion groups) and decided not to go head-to-head with her. But my silence seemed to make her more angry. And wordy. To the Facebook group’s credit, an Admin ended up removing most of her comments and muting her for a while since her words and attitude didn’t promote the grace, kindness and safe conversation encouraged in this particular group. 

Was I surprised to see comments like hers online? No. Of course not! Vitriol and hate run rampant in discussion threads across the internet spectrum, and impersonal text on a screen apparently gives people license to say things they never would in person. And this person wasn’t really hateful, just aggressive, argumentative, and demanding to see something that I believe took away from the focus of my original post. 

But the brief episode made me sad. Despite the fact that I raised the issue, I had no desire to prove the horribleness of the Airbnb host who might have denied my stay based on my faith. And I didn’t want anyone to think I believed this possibility of prejudice even remotely compared to what others experience every day. I just wanted to air it out. Acknowledge the ugliness of any kind of discrimination. Maybe discuss how to confront it. Maybe even learn to love the ones who hate us and, most certainly, to love those who suffer far more than we do.

The internet and social media aren’t “safe.” The reality is people will always misunderstand and possibly judge us for what we say, don’t say, how we say or don’t say something, etc., whether we’re communicating through the internet or face-to-face. But does that mean we should be afraid to communicate at all?

No. But we might need to grow thicker skin and know what battles … I mean conversations … to enter into and which ones to leave alone.

Not all bad

I admit that I let this person affect my day far out of proportion to what I should have, mainly because I got angry and believed she was unjust. And part of me really wanted to stoop to her level and type of language. Ultimately, however, I was encouraged and even challenged by some of what people shared with me on the discussion thread. Most of the language was laced with grace and a longing for a better world. Some of them wanted to understand and grieve the wounds that might have caused the host to deny allowing a Christian to stay at her home. And another wanted to be very, very careful not to engender an “us vs. them” mentality. 

That in particular was absolutely not what I intended, and I’m so glad the gentleman verbalized what he did. Because it reminded me how dangerous words are. Especially careless ones. 

Now if only everyone on the internet would feel the same.