Digital Grace: Cultivating Compassion and Connection in the Age of Social Media

by | Mar 30, 2024 | Culture & Society | 0 comments

Social media can build relationships and enrich lives, or it can be a destructive, addictive, polarising medium. The choice is ours. So, how do we create social media content with humility, integrity, and a desire to enrich conversations and people’s lives? How do we avoid being attention-seekers and online bullies or jerks? We need to cultivate a thoughtful approach that respects the dignity of all individuals and seeks to enrich the lives of others. Here are twenty-one principles to guide your social media engagement in a way that makes a positive difference in the world instead of merely contributing to the problems we already face:

1. Post with Purpose: Consider whether your content serves a positive and valuable purpose before posting. Ask yourself, why am I posting this? Am I bored, seeking attention, or wanting to agitate and cause arguments? Or am I seeking to inspire and contribute to people’s lives? What’s the reason I’m posting this or making this comment? Does my post or comment enlighten, educate, inspire, or uplift?

2. Reflect Before Reacting: Pause and take a breath before responding to posts or comments. Our first impulse is rarely the most helpful or measured one. Ask yourself, would I say this if the person was sitting before me, or would I have more empathy and compassion? If I knew this person well, how would I treat them and their perspective with dignity and compassion, and how can I do this in my comment? Ensure your replies contribute to a constructive and respectful dialogue.

3. Nurture Humilty: Online followers are not the same thing as real followers. Hundreds of “likes” does not mean you’re leading people anywhere since social media “likes and shares” are cheap and easy. So, nurture a sense of perspective and humility. Ask yourself, how am I serving and loving my neighbors, colleagues, family, friends, and community? How can I spend less time online trying to get likes and shares and more time serving and loving in the places I live?

4. Promote Positivity: Share content that spreads hope and positivity. Ask yourself, how can my social media posts serve as a contrast or antidote to all the negativity, anger, fear, and conflict online and in society? Uplifting and hope-filled stories, encouraging words, and posts to unite people can profoundly impact lives. Share stories of faith, love, growth, hope, and new life found in struggles. Authentic stories can inspire and encourage others in their personal and spiritual journey.

5. Seek to Understand and Practice Empathy: When sharing knowledge or correcting misinformation, do so with empathy and understanding, not intending to belittle or embarrass. We often disagree with others and want to engage critically with their ideas, and that’s okay. But are we doing so with empathy? Ask yourself, have I thought deeply about what this person cares about, what’s good in their perspective, what fears and anxieties they may have, and how they are trying to make a positive difference in the world? Then, if you need to contradict them or share alternative information, do so with grace and empathy, seeking to preserve the dignity of others. Approach disagreements with a desire to understand the other perspective rather than to argue or prove a point.

If you happen to be a Christian, you may ask, “But weren’t biblical characters critical and harsh?” While Jesus, Elijah, and the prophets used strong language in specific contexts to confront sin and injustice, this does not grant a license for Christians to be rude, derogatory, or hurtful. Scripture calls for followers of Christ to embody the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The New Testament emphasizes mature, gentle, wise, patient, self-controlled, and loving behavior, urging believers to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and to consider how their words build others up (Ephesians 4:29). The holistic counsel of Scripture guides Christians towards gracious, compassionate engagement, reflecting Christ’s love, redemption, and grace. Focusing on moments biblical figures were “blunt” as a license for rudeness and bad behavior on social media seems an unwise and cherry-picking interpretative approach to Scripture. It’s much better to shape one’s actions and behaviors in the light of the whole counsel of Scripture, including the fruits of the Spirit. While Jesus and the prophets had moments of strong language, their ultimate aim was love, correction toward righteousness, and the revealing of divine truths. So, in this blog post, I offer a comprehensive approach to engaging on social media that mirrors Christ’s grace, love, maturity, and humility, thus providing a more holistic understanding of what a Christian response should be.

6. Respect Privacy: Be mindful of others’ privacy. Avoid sharing personal information or photos without consent, and consider the implications of tagging or mentioning others. Ask yourself, am I respecting people’s privacy, and have I asked permission before sharing this or tagging and mentioning someone? We don’t need to share everything; we must always respect people’s privacy, agency, and wishes. Sometimes, the most loving and respectful thing we can do is choose not to post and share.

7. Avoid Virtue Signaling: Ensure your social media actions align with your real-life values and commitments. Authenticity is critical to maintaining integrity. Ask yourself, am I posting views, taking stands, or performing actions in a way that is primarily aimed at highlighting my virtue, compassion, or political correctness to others rather than out of a genuine commitment to those beliefs or values? What have I done offline and practically to contribute to those causes? Am I posting this to draw attention to my “brand,” reputation, virtue, or efforts instead of engaging in sacrificial, unnoticed, real-life actions? How can I post less on this issue, get out into the world, join groups making a difference, and often choose to go personally unnoticed and unrecognized?

8. Don’t Humblebrag: Such behavior signals false humility and insincerity. When we share accomplishments or positive aspects of our lives in a self-deprecating or exaggeratedly modest manner, we attempt to appear humble while seeking attention and compliments. “Ugh, I have no idea how to fit all these award ceremonies into my schedule. #SoStressed.” “I’m overwhelmed by all the party invites I get. Sometimes I just want to be alone, you know?” “I’m beyond humbled to accept this invitation to speak at another conference.” This behavior gives the impression of inauthenticity, fosters social comparison and envy, and damages relationships with followers or friends who might feel that such behavior is tactless or egocentric. Ask yourself, why am I sharing this, especially in this way? Reflect on your motives. If you’re seeking validation or compliments, consider if there’s a more straightforward or authentic way to share your feelings or achievements. Be honest and direct about your achievements. Focus on gratitude, team effort, and the accomplishments of others.

9. Cultivate Community: Use your platform to foster community, nurture friendships, build relationships, and unite people. Ask yourself, do these posts build community or tear people apart? Encourage discussions that build bridges rather than walls. Am I making the world more loving, connected, and harmonious, or contributing to divisions and conflicts? 

10. Listen and Learn: Be open to learning from others, recognizing that everyone has something valuable to share. Pride ruins communities and relationships, and arrogance ruins integrity and reputations. One of our greatest temptations is to only listen to people who share our views, bolster our pride and ego, and live in our social media bubbles. Ask yourself, am I listening and learning from others, especially those different from me—politically, socially, religiously, racially, and more? I may not agree with their views or lifestyles, but how can I listen with compassion, empathy, and a desire to honor the dignity of others? How can I be a lifelong learner, always seeking to listen, grow, learn, and understand?

11. Be Inclusive: Embrace diversity and inclusivity, ensuring that your content is welcoming to all, regardless of their background. There are times when this is difficult, especially when we are critically engaging with a social issue. When critically engaging with issues or confronting views that challenge our beliefs, it’s vital to practice respectful dialogue, seeking understanding before judgment. Ask yourself, am I approaching conversations with empathy, focusing on constructive criticism rather than personal attack, and striving to learn from differing perspectives? How can I foster inclusivity and respect diversity, even amid disagreement?

12. Reject Comparison: Avoid comparing your life to others on social media. People curate their lives on social media. They show perfect lives, relationships, accomplishments, bodies, holidays, marriages, families, and everything else. It’s often filtered, airbrushed, photoshopped, curated, imaginary, and branded. Ask yourself, am I comparing myself with others and their perfectly curated online lives? Am I struggling with envy, jealousy, and comparison? How can I reject comparison and be genuinely comfortable with my life, nurturing contentment and generosity? Celebrate your unique journey and encourage others to do the same.

13. Reflect or Pray Before Posting: Some people like pausing and reflecting, while others pray. Whatever you do, take a moment to purposefully stop and pause before posting. Ask yourself, am I centered and calm and experiencing inner peace, contentment, and freedom from anxiety, anger, ambition, envy, or ego? How can I seek to ensure my posts align with my spiritual values?

14. Exercise Restraint: Not every thought or opinion needs to be shared. Social media rewards and encourages oversharing and impulsivity. Often, a good discipline is to choose not to share something as a way of practicing self-restraint. Ask yourself, am I exercising self-restraint in my use of social media? Do people need to know about this romantic relationship, including conflicts, breakups, or overly intimate details? Who benefits from my sharing of excessive information about my daily life, activities, or routines? Am I sharing confidential or sensitive information about my workplace, colleagues, or job frustrations? Am I posting pictures of children, family members, or friends without their consent, potentially infringing on their privacy? Am I sharing my political, social, or religious beliefs excessively and in a confrontational or polarizing way without space for constructive and respectful dialogue? Am I using social media as an outlet for frustration, anger, or disappointment in a way that might reflect negatively on myself or others? Are my posts attention-seeking? Have I crafted this content to elicit sympathy, validation, or attention through dramatic or exaggerated disclosures? While social media can offer a safe and comforting space for self-expression and connection, mindfulness about the nature and impact of shared information can help maintain boundaries, respect privacy, and foster positive interactions. We should practice the art of silence and self-restraint when it serves the greater good.

15. Use Humor Wisely: Humor can be a powerful tool for connection. But I can also be used to belittle, stereotype, or condescend. Our humor should never be at the expense of others’ feelings or beliefs. Ask yourself, am I using humor to amuse people while upholding the dignity and value of others? Before using humor, ask questions about your purpose, inclusivity, and respect for others. Before sharing, filter your humor through kindness, gentleness, respect, and empathy, considering how those with different perspectives and experiences might receive it.

16. Highlight Acts of Kindness: Share stories of kindness, charity, and good deeds. Many people experience life as cruel and unforgiving. Ask yourself, am I being gentle and kind online? How can I highlight how others practice kindness? Such content can inspire others to act similarly. Kindness builds stronger and more compassionate communities and relationships. In the simple acts of giving and receiving kindness, we encounter each other’s presence, healing the hidden wounds of both the giver and the receiver. Kindness is a balm to the weary soul. Kindness fosters a sacred, interpersonal communion. Kindness binds us together in compassion, love, and solidarity. Kindness creates spaces of grace and understanding. In kindness, we find the profound realization that in our shared vulnerability lies our strength, and in our acts of love, the world is reborn. How can I be gentle and kind on social media today?

17. Maintain Consistency: Let your online persona reflect your real-life values. Consistency between your online and offline self is crucial for integrity. Ask yourself, is there a disconnect between my online persona and my life in the world? To live with integrity, we must ensure our online presence mirrors our real-world values. Evaluate any disconnect between your digital persona and real life. Aim for consistency in your virtual and physical selves. Uphold the same principles and behaviors in both realms to maintain credibility, authenticity, and honesty. Ask people who love you to give you honest feedback on this consistency. 

18. Offer Support and Encouragement: Use your platform to offer support and encouragement, especially to those struggling. Ask yourself, how can I use my social media posts and comments to encourage others? We can encourage others in many ways on social media. Share positive stories, interesting quotes, and personal testimonies of love, grace, community, and overcoming challenges. Be intentional about using comments, likes, and shares to offer support and foster a sense of belonging. Hosting live sessions or webinars on topics related to personal growth, mental health, and resilience can provide valuable resources and a space for connection, solidarity, compassion, and encouragement. Get purposeful about creating content that highlights acts of kindness, inclusion, welcome, peacemaking, hospitality, and community service. These encourage a culture of positivity and love. Encourage followers to share their stories as a source of encouragement for others. These can create a ripple effect of inspiration, demonstrating the collective power of encouragement and the positive impact we can have on each other’s lives.

 19. Promote Meaningful Conversations: Encourage discussions that delve deeper than surface-level engagements. Ask yourself, do some of my posts encourage meaningful conversations that inspire people to change, understand issues in fresh ways, or engage in respectful, dignifying, fresh, thought-provoking, and compassionate conversations? Pose questions or topics that stimulate meaningful conversation.

20. Reflect on the Impact: Regularly assess the impact of your social media presence. Ask yourself, are my social media behavior, comments, and posts contributing positively and constructively to my community and the well-being of others? What impact is my behavior having? What’s the nature of my online interactions? Are they positive, supportive, and inclusive? Monitor the diversity of voices and perspectives in your community to ensure a broad and constructive discourse, and seek to honor those who offer a differing or alternative perspective. Do my social media content, replies, and conversations align with my values and personal mission? How can I adjust my approach to social media to enhance positive influence and the well-being of others?

21. Take Time Out: Regularly take time away from social media to focus on your personal and spiritual life, spend time in an embodied, real-life community, and break any damaging social media addictions or habits. Ask yourself, how can I diarise time out from social media this year? In the gentle decision to step away from the ceaseless stream of social media, we can find sacred spaces for our souls to breathe, rest, recover, and listen. Here, in the silence, we encounter the still, small voice that speaks of our belovedness, our value, our nature, and our true purpose—away from the clamor for attention and affirmation. Intentional retreats into solitude, reflection, and embodied lives open us to the deep movements within our hearts, guiding us toward true communion with ourselves, others, and our spiritual center. Pause can be sacred. Solitude, silence, rest, and time away from social media can give us fresh space for self-care, renewed relationships, actions in the world, and a vision for a more constructive, humble, and courageous approach to our online lives. In this sacred pause, we rediscover the joy and peace that come not from external validation but from the profound truth of the sacredness and belovedness of our innermost being.

We can navigate social media in a way that upholds our values of humility and integrity, seeking to positively and meaningfully impact people’s lives. It takes effort and intentionality, but it’s a choice worth making. No matter who you are or what you believe, you can approach social media with integrity, humility, compassion, purpose, empathy, and love.

(Image credit: Rodion Kutsaiev on Unsplash licence)

Graham Joseph Hill

Rev. Dr. Graham Joseph Hill serves as Mission Catalyst for Church Planting and Missional Renewal with the Uniting Church in NSW and ACT, Australia. Previously, he was the Principal of Stirling Theological College (Melbourne), the Vice-Principal of Morling Theological College (Sydney), and an Associate Professor at the University of Divinity, Australia. Graham is an ordained and accredited minister with the Baptist Churches of Australia. He has planted and pastored churches and been in ministry since 1988. Graham is the author or editor of 13 books. Graham writes at grahamjosephhill.com

Graham's qualifications include: Honours Diploma of Ministry (SCD), Bachelor of Theology (SCD), Master of Theology (Notre Dame), and Doctor of Philosophy (Flinders).

See ORCID publication record: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6532-8248

 

© 2024. All rights reserved by Graham Joseph Hill. Copying and republishing this article on other Web sites, or in any other place, without written permission is prohibited.

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