This is the first in a new series of posts that I call “Living With Christ in a Digital World.” These posts are intended to help the faithful understand how to deal with the confusing demands placed on us by digital media and to find positive ways to interact with our digital world.
In the book of Proverbs, King Solomon and the book’s other authors often write about what they refer to as “habits of the tongue,” or how we talk with one another. What they tell us is very simple: Be careful what you say. Words have the power to hurt as much as they have the power to bring happiness. Unfortunately, that’s something that’s all to easy to forget when we “talk” to each other using Twitter, Facebook, or making comments on websites and blogs when we’re not “talking” with people face-to-face. Consider these two passages: In Proverbs 21:23, for example, it is written “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble;” in 12:18 we read that “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Both of these excerpts seem to be fitting advice for all those who might easily lose touch with the power of words to hurt, particularly given the immediacy and anonymity of Twitter.
Here are two cases in point. The first is last week’s tweet by the retail home improvement chain Home Depot that some believed was racist. The tweet, shown above, depicted two African American young men drumming on plastic drums alongside another percussionist wearing a gorilla suit with the question “Which drummer is not like the others?” As you might imagine, the backlash was immediate and Home Depot quickly deleted the offensive tweet and tweeted an apology, saying “We have zero tolerance for anything so stupid and offensive.” The retailer went on to tell The Huffington Post “We’re … closely reviewing our social media procedures to determine how this could have happened, and how to ensure it never happens again.”
Now contrast Home Depot’s tweet with that of the satirical newspaper The Onion’s earlier this year. The tweet, shown below, was an attempt at humorously commenting on the sweetness of nine-year-old Oscar nominee Quvenzhane Wallis during this year’s Oscars broadcast.
Depending on your point of view, Home Depot’s tweet was not as shocking as The Onion’s given how profane it was; plus, it seems that whomever typed the Home Depot tweet simply might not have been thinking about how the tweet would be received, whereas The Onion’s tweet seemed clearly intended to offend. Nevertheless, this latest misstep once again reveals how easy it is to cause harm with something like Twitter which so easily gives an outlet to unreflective thought.
The lesson, according to Proverbs, is this: Take the time to think about what you’re going to say, what you’re going to type before fatefully pressing your return key. Like a sword thrust, once it’s been done, it can’t be taken back. And the results can be quite hurtful. Remember that as much as words have the power to delight, they too can be “like sword thrusts.” We should all endeavor to possess “tongue[s] of the wise.”