Any new technology or media option has the potential to benefit or harm humanity. Such is social media. I appreciate social media because it provides a simple tool for staying in touch with family, friends, and acquaintances we have made throughout our life and our travels. Social media is also an outlet for airing personal insights and opinions. That can be beneficial. It is harmful when not done in good taste, or when it promotes ideas that are not true or especially divisive. Most of us are novices learning how to navigate the variety of social media outlets available. As in any human interaction, good manners are critical.
Recently I have been ruminating on an article by Don Patterson, Professor of Computer Science at my alma mater, Westmont College. Professor Patterson expressed concern about the decline in civility in our social discourse. “Our rising discourtesy raises at least two concerns: one ethical and the other practical. The ethical concern is that incivility is unloving. The practical concern is that incivility is polarizing.”
Another apprehension conveyed by the Professor is the deficiency of intellectual virtue evidenced in social discourse. “In our pursuit of truth far fewer display wisdom, discernment, charity, and willingness to see things from their opponents’ point of view.” He goes on to write, “A deficit of intellectual virtue involves a failure to make the most of our God-given intellectual endowments.”
Patterson cites the human faculties of perception, memory, reflection, insight, and reasoning. He states, “Good stewardship of our faculties requires us to work hard to habitually make excellent use of these resources in our quest for knowledge.”
Professor Patterson promotes a love for knowledge as an essential human virtue. He believes this virtue will motivate us to be good stewards of all our faculties.
In the quest for knowledge, Patterson encourages us to:
“Humbly admit our need for it.
Charitably acknowledge an opponent’s possible possession of it.
Courageously seek it when doing so is risky.
Firmly hold onto it while critically testing it.
Generously share it.
Wisely manage it.”
I have enjoyed 40+ years of airing personal insights and opinions as a preacher and teacher. These are three of my guidelines for proper preparation and delivery.
1. Do your homework.
2. Move up the Disagreement Pyramid.
3. Express your unique perspective.
1. Do your homework!
This exhortation is a key “take-away” from my school days. It is a challenge and is particularly relevant in this social media age. Unfortunately, some choose to manipulate and perpetuate lies and distortions via social media. These deceivers often utilize sophisticated software programs. Now we are faced with a new reality called “deep fakes.” Deceivers are now able to create realistic-looking videos of influential individuals speaking lies and misleading statements. They are also able to manipulate existing social media posts.
For me, the most impactful statement in Professor Patterson’s essay was this: “Perhaps we can say that to the degree we pursue the truth, we pursue Christ himself.”
The Professor goes on to state, “Some of my students and I are working on something new, a technology called Witness. This blockchain-based media verification service seeks to recognize fake media. Each piece of media we catalog is registered on a growing list of records, called blocks, linked together using cryptography with a timestamp and transaction data. It’s designed to identify when media was first encountered on the internet.”
I can not pretend to understand everything about this new blockchain technology. I do comprehend that this new software is designed to help me compare a current post with the original post. I can then determine if someone altered the original post to change or distort its original meaning.
Patterson final encouragement is,
“Computers and truth have become deeply intertwined, and the ancient struggle concerning what is true will continue – and be greatly amplified. Fake news is only going to increase. But pursuing truth is critical to finding peace both internally and as a culture. So we must embrace the difficult challenge seeking truth and find a way forward using all the intelligence at our disposal, artificial or otherwise.”
Fortunately, there are others like Professor Patterson and his students who are designing tools to help truth seekers do their social media homework. We need to avail ourselves of these tools.
2. Move Up the Disagreement Pyramid
I have included Paul Graham’s diagram for you to consider. For a more detailed description of the “Hierarchy of Disagreement Pyramid” check out this link. http://www.paulgraham.com/disagree.html
Disagreements are inevitable because we all are unique prisms that refract our life experiences. We all have different perspectives on life. As we allow ourselves to consider other points of view, we gain a more holistic view of life.
Consider the parable of the blind men and the elephant
Each blind man felt a different part of the elephant. The result was divergent descriptions of the reality they were feeling. Combining their insights provides a more holistic picture of the elephant. If these blind men resort to name-calling and ad hominem attacks, they will never be able to imagine together the actual appearance of the majestic elephant!
3. Express your unique perspective.
You are a unique creature made in the image of God. You have a unique grid through which you process life. When you share with others your insights as you process life, it blesses others with unique perspectives and ideas on life. You are like that glass prism to which we were introduced in science class while in elementary school. We are all unique prisms that refract our life experiences.
I remember one of the first Pastor Conferences I attended for our state denomination after I became a full-time Senior Pastor. I was shocked and somewhat appalled to discover that there was a Pastor who offered his services, for a small fee, to compose messages for other Pastors. My understanding is that a sermon is the result of a message processed through the unique grid of a Pastor’s life. It is not just the message that benefits the congregants, but also the Pastor’s prism.
Together let us determine to use social media in ways that will benefit humanity.
NB The source for the quotes cited from Professor Patterson’s essay is:
(Westmont Magazine, Spring 2019 Vol. 38 #1 pp.32-37)