I went walking with a friend not too long ago. We had a few hours to kill and my dog, Mo, was more than game. I stocked my walking belt with a bottle of water and several green plastic doggie bags.
As conversations usually do, the subject matter went from light to heavy and landed smack dab in the middle of a sad story. A story of an ending friendship all because of a demeaning social media post. I’ll never understand how a light-up screen could turn a friend into a foe, but it happens. What do you do when mean comments seem to be directed at you online?
What To Do About Mean Comments Online
Words are powerful—spoken or typed—they spread quickly and can take out reputations and friendships in one fell swoop. Philippians 3, a chapter I memorized in high school, describes our words as a forest fire. If our only response to mean comments is judgement and a quick stab back into cyberspace, then the relational fires will be blazing hot and hard to contain. To keep from getting burned and burning other unintentionally, I suggest taking the higher road. It’s not easy, staying quiet with your keystrokes takes some intentional self-control. And maybe even a round of deep breathing exercises!
So what do we do instead?
Give Yourself Space
When hurtful words are spoken or posted online, take a step back before responding. Give yourself the freedom to find a safe space—a place where you can process with a listening friend or with God. It will often snuff out the emotion of the moment and keep you from making a rash judgement or comment. Be kind to yourself and acknowledge that we all need more grace and space in our lives. A much-needed break from social media can be a breath of fresh air, you can always jump back in when the flames have died down.
The most effective response to mean comments is asking questions. Most likely, a mean person is dealing with their own dose of internal burns from the past. Lashing out can be a defense mechanism to protect themselves from further pain even when in reality it doesn’t stop the pain from continuing. When we open our minds to the possibility that mean people are just people who are hurting inside, it transforms the way we move forward. Asking, “What pain might this person be dealing with?” is always a better choice than retaliating in anger. Hold your tongue long enough to think up a question that might help you understand what’s really going on.
Respond With Compassion
Remember, we all treat people poorly at times, it’s part of the human condition that isn’t going away anytime soon. People make mistakes. We make mistakes and say hurtful words to people we care about. The greatest gift you can give yourself is a drama-free, stress-free life, don’t add to the mess when you can avoid it. Respond with compassion and humility, it the quickest way to douse the drama.
Whether it’s face to face or on social media, mean comments will find their way to you and your news feeds. The question is, how will you respond to family members, friends, and co-workers who think differently than you and can’t keep their opinions to themselves? How will you react to mean comments on social media?
In the book of Romans, we are instructed to “… live at peace, so far as it depends on you.” It’s a high calling, for me too, especially online when unnecessary memes are used to degrade people’s beliefs and opinions. If it happens to you, give yourself space, ask questions, and respond with compassion. You’ll be a spark of light and grace, instead of a torch of flames setting fire to everyone around you.
Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.
Colossians 4:6 NLT