The beatitudes and kindness on social media

Thank you so much to Steven Croft, Bishop of Oxford in the Church of England for recently publishing this novel application of the beatitudes to social media behavior (see post image as well as his original post here).

As I have written about on the “contemplative activism” page on this website:

If there were ever a communications medium that seemed custom designed to bring out our worst selves, it might be social media. Online interactions often incentivize and reward snarkiness, sarcasm, meanness and “call-outs” of various kinds. While not impossible, social media does make it difficult to be polite, slow, deliberate, and thoughtful.

Because of this reality, I especially appreciate Bishop Croft’s gentle application and admonition:

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted This world is full of grief and suffering.
I will tread softly and post with gentleness and compassion.

It is so, so, so, so easy to be snarky on social media, often mocking others with an intention to appear clever to one’s followers and social group. It is even easier to get sucked into “outrage culture” where in a few seconds we can spread fiery denunciations of someone’s comment or post and call into question their character and humanity.

Sometimes there is a place to be outraged and sometimes it can be a productive reaction to injustice and oppression. Most of the time, though, “our immediate urge to like, retweet, favorite, endorse, denounce, etc. something we see on social media is generated by our lizard brains that are seeking a dopamine hit. When this happens, our rational thinking becomes distorted temporarily.” I say this as someone who has very, very often reacted on social media with snark and outrage instead of compassion and kindness. Bishop Croft’s reminders are as helpful to me as anyone.

In order to better “tread softly and post with gentleness and compassion,” as Bishop Croft has written, we might “pause five, ten, or twenty seconds before acting, waiting for the dopamine response to pass and letting your prefrontal cortex and executive functioning come back online.”

Cultivating a practice of regular mindfulness meditation is especially helpful in today’s social media environment. The lizard-brain urge to outrage at social media posts can be calmed to some extent through training our brain to disassociate from the outrage thoughts that so often cross our minds. The more we can calm down the outrage reaction, the better we can see and think clearly and calmly. We are also better able to remember the common humanity that we share with those we interact with on social media and the love that we are called to have for all, even those we might be tempted to consider our “enemies”:

“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. 

Matthew 5:43-45, The Message Bible

How might our contribution to social media be used to uplift and edify instead of tear down and demonize?

More resources on contemplative activism and how it can be applied especially to social media contexts can be found on this website here.

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