“May you live in interesting times” said the ancient philosopher Confucius.
While often seen as more a curse than a blessing, the world in 2017 is certainly living in interesting times.
From a free world leader who makes his policy pronouncements on Twitter, to the current angst over Australia’s Same Sex Marriage plebiscite, our world is one which our great-grandparents could not have envisaged.
The rise of social media has transformed our communication landscape—whereas just 30 years ago if you had a loved one travelling overseas, those thin blue aerogrammes were the most precious thing that landed in our mail boxes, even though the news in them could be weeks old.
Fast forward to 2017 and the idea of posting a letter is strange to many young people, and we would be far more likely to use email and Facebook to keep in touch with our world travellers.
Social media always reminds me of the saying about fire—it, too, is a great servant but a bad master.
It’s easy to criticise social media, but like many things in life, it has a good side and a bad side.
Lately I have been saddened to see the vitriol unleashed by both sides of the same sex marriage debate. The point that too many seem to be missing is that we are fortunate to live in a democracy, where different views are not just allowed, but are able to be expressed.
Acknowledging the right of others to hold different viewpoints, even when you think they are wrong, should be a hallmark of a civilised society. In 1906 Beatrice Evelyn Hall paraphrased the philosopher Voltaire, saying “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
While we don’t need to go that far, it’s not a bad approach when we strike divisive issues, especially on social media. True friendship allows for different opinions, and respect is a cornerstone of our Christian values.
So how can social media be a positive influence on our lives?
Apart from being a great way to let family and friends know you are safe while travelling, especially if you have been in the vicinity of a disaster—it can be a lifeline for those isolated from society through age or infirmity.
Think of a person recovering from a major operation, who is confined to home. Social media can provide a very welcome distraction and a chance to interact with others at their own pace.
It also comes into its own when we are facing the death of a loved one. Fundamentally, humans are generous people who want to help soothe a hurt, and reading heartfelt messages of support while you are grieving gives you strength.
So where would Jesus stand on how we use social media? I think he made it pretty clear in John’s gospel.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13, verses 34-35)
Approach social media in a spirit of generosity and love, and it can make a positive difference in the world.