We have a negativity problem on social media.
We rant about certain Presidential candidates, or we rant with equal fervor about those who don’t support said candidates.
We moan about gas shortages or the long lines at the pump, or we leverage the crisis to moan about fossil fuels or why we all can’t just use bicycles.
We grumble about faddish cultural phenomena like Pokémon Go or the latest top-40 song, or we grumble at the grumblers for criticizing our pet fad.
We hurl insults at athletes who speak out on race issues, or we hurl insults at athletes who don’t speak out.
We disparage gun owners, or we disparage anyone who speaks negatively about firearms.
And the media! How we all love to heap insults upon the media, this purportedly debased, monolithic entity with sneering, moustache-twirling executives in smoke-filled rooms planning the destruction of the American Dream. All of us — right or left, conservative or liberal — can find ways to complain about the media.
And that’s just a sample of our negativity on social media. I’m sure you could add a few items to the list.
As I scroll down my feeds, I see us circling a never-ending pit of cynicism, negativity and snark — aimed directly at those who don’t see the complex world exactly as we do. And I know that I’m part of the problem.
Here’s the worst part: These complaints spew from we who claim the name of Christ. This negativity flows from we who claim to have the world’s greatest hope.
Why are we so addicted to negativity?
What’s behind our addiction to negativity? Why are we so prone to air our grievances online?
Perhaps our influences are at fault. Certain cable news networks or websites cater to their target audiences, filtering the news through whatever lenses or biases their consumers prefer. When we absorb their information uncritically, we reinforce our sense of rightness — and thus reinforce how wrong we think everyone else is.
Or, perhaps the medium itself is part of the problem. Social media platforms subtly encourage us to seek controversy and polarized perspectives. No one’s going to like, share or comment on your matter-of-fact statement. Fewer still will care about your nuanced take on a difficult topic. Thus social media, by its very nature, subtly rewards controversy, and its common bedfellow, negativity.
While our influences do play a role, we still choose to listen to them. And while the medium may encourage negativity, social media is only a tool. We’re the ones typing out the words. We’re the ones clicking “post.” And the words that come out of us — even the digital ones — prove what’s inside of us.
So before we blame something outside of us, we should look within us. Most of all, then, we should examine our own hearts. Every word we speak (or type) expresses some corner or crevice of our hearts.
For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. (Matthew 12:34b-35)
For most of us, our words demonstrate a harrowing reality. We have hearts that are easily angered by those who don’t agree with us. We have hearts eager to find fault or complain. We have hearts that find joy in venting our negativity. We have hearts blinded by self-righteousness and cynicism.
We can do more than complain.
The bitter irony, of course, is that we of all people have the most to rejoice about! We have seen the depths of our sin and wickedness, but God has given us a righteousness we didn’t deserve. We know the judgment we’re due, but God has promised us life. We acknowledge the depravity of our hearts, but God has filled us with his Holy Spirit. We see the fallenness of the world now, but we know that history ends in victory.
We have the true story that can restore the brokenness about which we are so prone to complain. Why are we so negative if we have the best news of all time?
To be clear, we need not put on a façade of saccharine sentimentality; there are times when it is appropriate to lament, weep or mourn.
And our good news doesn’t negate real problems in our lives and the world. We have a responsibility to speak out to real issues of injustice, address public sin and bring our faith to bear in the public square. After all, John the Baptist was willing to have his head served on a platter because he believed he had a responsibility to call out Herod Antipas’ sham of a marriage (Matthew 14:1-12).
And I think it’s reasonable to talk through the crazy world we live in. My wife and I have a time each evening where we laugh at the day’s ridiculous political events, talk about humorous fads, think through difficult topics, and, yes, pick at the media.
But if our first (or only) step is to complain about the world on social media, then perhaps our hearts are gripped by negativity — not by the joy of Christ. And no matter what we claim to believe, our social media feeds will tell the watching world that Christians are good at grumbling, but not at offering solutions.
But God’s good news can help us face these real-world problems with an other-worldly hope. Our good news can grip our hearts, so that our words — spoken and typed — overflow with joy and grace, not cynicism and judgment.
We can do more than complain. We can be gripped by hope — and share that hope with others.