Everybody has an opinion.
And everyone is entitled to one.
But not every opinion is of equal value. Including mine.
With the advent of social media, we can state our opinion on platforms that can potentially be seen by thousands of people. Because of this, our opinion feels like it carries a greater weight, and it can sometimes feel like we have a higher obligation to offer our opinion than we used to feel.
This is still a relatively new phenomenon – and it’s one we’re not handling very well.
After having participated in online conversations for several years, including in this blog, I have developed four questions I ask myself before putting my opinion out to others. Online or in person. These are especially helpful when it comes to the controversial topics of the day and arguments in which people’s blood is running hot.
1. Am I Interested In This?
This seems like a given. After all, why would anyone consider commenting on something they’re not interested in?
Yet we all have circumstances in which we’re asked to comment by someone who tags us or gives us “that” look in a committee meeting as they wonder why we haven’t chimed in yet.
These requests have a way of making us feel an obligation to respond. But I’ve learned to resist that feeling.
With a few exceptions (like if your job requires you to speak up, or your spouse or kids are asking you to participate in a family conversation) you are under no obligation to offer your opinion on issues you don’t care about.
And you’re also under no obligation to care about an issue just because everyone else seems to care about it.
2. Do I Have Any Expertise In This Field?
Never have so many people had so many strong opinions about subjects they have absolutely no expertise in.
Just because you can comment doesn’t mean you should comment.
Before I decide to offer an opinion, I always ask this question. Do I actually have an expertise in this area, or am I just riled up about it? Sometimes we mistake one for the other.
Especially in the online world in which there are so many voices speaking out on every subject, I don’t want to add to the noise unless what I’m saying comes from a place of knowledge about the subject at hand.
Clutter is unhealthy. If I can cut through the clutter, I’ll speak up. If I’m just adding to it, I’ll stay quiet.
3. Can I Comment Without Making A Personal Attack?
“You’re an idiot!” is not helpful. And is probably untrue. And is definitely unchristian. (Yes, I’ve read Jesus’ rant in Matthew 23. I’ve also read the Sermon on the Mount. I stand by this principle.)
“They’re an idiot!” isn’t any better. Just because someone isn’t in on the conversation doesn’t make it right to abuse them with personal insults.
Even if they’re in the public eye. Their fame does not exempt us from acting in a Christ-like way toward them. Famous people are also made in the image of God and they deserve the same respect you would want to receive yourself.
We need to remind ourselves that just because someone holds a wrong opinion doesn’t make them a bad person. We can disagree. Strongly. Without demeaning each other’s value as people.
If I can’t offer a counterargument without treating the other person with kindness and dignity, I need to re-assess myself more than I need to offer my opinion.
Especially when I’m a Christian talking to another believer, it’s essential to treat them the way I would want to be treated.
“Speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). We’d all have a better online experience if every Christian had that verse as their screensaver.
4. Is My Comment Likely To Have Any Positive Influence?
This is a huge one for me.
Even if I’m interested, passionate, have some expertise, and can speak my mind with clarity and kindness, I won’t add to the conversation unless my comment has at least some hope of having a greater positive influence than a negative one.
What that often means is taking the conversation offline.
For instance, a few months ago there was a hot topic in the news about a particular sinful behavior. I was asked why I wasn’t commenting on it, and was even accused of being a coward because I was “staying silent in the face of evil”, as one person put it.
But I wasn’t staying silent. I just wasn’t having the conversation online.
In fact, while everyone was yelling online, I was having face-to-face conversations with a couple people who were truly confused by how to handle the issue within their own family. The reason they came to me was because they knew where I stood on it and they knew I was going to listen and not yell. How did they know that? Because my online behavior let them know they could trust me.
The end result was a very helpful series of conversations in which they were able to see things in a new light and behave in a more Christlike manner.
Because we took the conversation into a venue (face-to-face) where we could filter out all the yelling, we were able to affect change for the better.
Helping one person live a more Christlike life is always better than yelling at a lot of people and seeing nothing change.
It’s not about the volume, it’s about the impact.
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