PROLOGUE: Every now and then I want to respond to something but don’t necessarily want anyone I care about to know that I may or may not be responding to them. In such cases I postdate the post so it shows up later. This could be a day or two, or a year after I actually wrote the post. This might be one of those posts. 🙂 If it is one of those posts then it means that if you are one of my friends and you posted a jerky thing on social media this post isn’t about your post today … though it could be about a post you made at another time. 🙂
There are some people that I know and love IRL (In Real Life) that are kind of jerks online. It is really odd. These are people that can say the most positive and caring things when you talk to them in person. They are a pleasure to be around. Yet, for some reason, they are entirely different when they respond on social media. If they are talking with you face to face and can see and read your emotions they great company. They would never say something to tick off, for their own enjoyment, a random stranger they meet in public. They are great company in real life but there is something about the impersonal nature of the internet that brings the jerk out of them. Maybe it does for me too (though I hope not).
I’ve heard John Wooden often cited for saying:
Sports don’t build character; they reveal it.
Though it appears that Wooden is probably not the person who should be credited with originally saying this phrase (HERE’s quoteinvestigator‘s article on the quote) I believe there is a great deal of truth in it. Similarly Henry Ford actually said something similar regarding money.
Money doesn’t change men, it merely unmasks them. If a man is naturally selfish or arrogant or greedy, the money brings that out, that’s all.
It doesn’t take much research to discover that for Henry Ford his money unmasked him as strongly anti-semitic.
I believe the point of the sports quote and Henry Ford’s money quote is that they thought who you really are lies within you and the freedom of sports or money just gives people the freedom to reveal that real nature (i.e. unmasking your character). I’ve heard the same thing attributed to the freedom brought about by the impersonal nature of the internet. You are free to say and do what you want on the internet without experiencing in person the emotional and personal repercussions.
Therefore, some would say that if you are a jerk on the internet it is probably because that is who you really are in real life. The little bit of Calvinism I have in me (I’m a 2 1/2 to 3 pointer depending upon the day – look up the Calvinist TULIP to understand this) and the large influence that Christian thinker Søren Kierkegaard‘s Existentialist thought has had upon me leads me to disagree with this sentiment. I believe instead that it is our choice that reveals who we really are.
The mild-Calvinism I have makes me fairly certain that we all have stuff hidden within us that we find disgusting, disturbing, and in need of redemption. Mike Yaconelli, one of my personal heroes, used to say when he was speaking (usually at the National Youth Workers Convention) that if we knew what really was going on in his heart we wouldn’t be listening to him, but that was ok because if he knew what was really going on in our hearts he wouldn’t be speaking to us. You see I believe we all stand in need of redemption. We all have an “inner-jerk” but that doesn’t mean we have to let him/her out.
Kierkegaard’s Christian Existentialist thought leads me to believe that our choices are hugely important in determining who we are. Jesus proclaims His disciples to be justified and then we have the choice to live into that or not. What we choice to do reflects who we believe we are and who we want to be.
I have a friend, who I love in real life, who realized that he was a bit of a jerk on certain social media and decided that was not who he wanted to be. He addressed it by removing himself from that social media. He decided that he wasn’t the type of person whose enjoyment came from hurting others and he chose to remove himself form the media that he was having trouble with. I believe that choice reflects who he really is, rather than the fact that he has significant trouble interacting on this social media without being a jerk.
We all have statements and feelings inside us that if we publicly express them will often hurt others. Sometimes expressing those thoughts display who we really are, and sometimes not express those thought display who we really are. Our choice is is important. It is how we become who we are (which I believe is determined by Christ).