moms-in-park

I used to belong to this neighborhood social media site that was similar to the bigger social platforms. People nearby could post neighborhood information like lost pets and helpful information. But after a while I noticed a change. For many, the site had become a place to air grievances against neighbors. Instead of providing information, the platform became a place of complaint.

One such topic often discussed was people walking their dogs. I made the mistake a reading some of the posts, which were filled with complaints and even suggestions on how to get back at the people who walked their dogs.

Wow. As a person who walks almost daily with my dogs (and picks up after them), I wanted to respond in anger. I refrained because I have no desire to argue. I also didn’t want to be the one person on the other side of the issue and then face getting attacked.

But something else also happened in my head. Those few voices suddenly felt much bigger, as if EVERYONE felt this way. I became afraid to walk my dogs because I feared everyone would come after me with their proposed law suits over grass and such. I didn’t want to cause a ruckus, and I certainly didn’t want to become the subject of another anti-dog-walker post. So yesterday, despite whimpers from some very sad Greyhounds, I stayed inside.

Social media has a way of doing this, doesn’t it? Because of the way conversations are structured, when a group of people start in on a topic, many of them agreeing, we have what feels like a crowd seeming to all shout the same message (even if that “crowd” is only ten people). And those shouts can start to feel like EVERYONE. So then the narrative becomes “Everyone is saying _____.” And “Everyone feels _______ about (that) topic.”

A friend recently mentioned their desire to write but said they hesitated because of what “all” the people would say. As the person talked more about the negative things “everyone” had said in the past, I realized they were falling into my dog-walking trap.

The trap is thinking a few voices = everyone.

But Everyone is NOT everyone. In fact, most of the time when people have positive thoughts on a subject or topic, they might not comment. They usually nod their head and move on. Or maybe like me, they didn’t want to argue or seem combative. Or maybe they didn’t even read the post because they really don’t care about that topic. So maybe a thousand people saw the post and didn’t read/comment because they don’t have negative feelings. But all we see is the ten people agreeing, and suddenly those ten out of a thousand (or many more) become “everyone.”

This false “everyone” stirs up fear and anxiety, and it stifles creativity. I, for one, have let that unseen, false “everyone” dictate what and how I write. I’ve worried that “everyone” will be mad if I say _____. But in truth, a few people will agree. Some will disagree (possibly loudly). Many will be ambivalent. Most will not even notice.

The truth is very few of those opinions actually matter. So why do we keep listening? Why do we keep worrying? Why do we write to please those fifty dissenting voices on Twitter when there are a thousand quiet souls who really need to hear what we feel compelled to say?

In my case, I try to filter my words through some questions. God’s opinion matters to me, so did I speak God’s truth in love? Did I hold to God’s truth (because who am I as a mere human to decide what is truth)? Did I speak and act in respect to others? And in the case of criticism, is it constructive? Is it helpful? Does it point me to God’s truth? In those cases, then it is definitely worth listening to. But otherwise, it is probably just noise.

There will always be critics. Don’t let those few voices stop you from things that are good and true and noble and right. Work to please God and let Him worry about the rest.

This morning I got up as usual and walked my dogs. People waved. People admired my Greyhounds (which the hounds always love). No one came after me with proposed law suits because my dogs stepped on their grass. In fact, one neighbor pulled her car over to tell me I could put my trash in her trash can so I wouldn’t have to carry it. In all the years of walking my dogs (over twenty), I’ve had all of ONE person speak unkindly to me about my dogs. But I’ve made a whole bunch of friends, I’ve helped people by picking up trash and things like nails that would ruin tires, and I’ve talked with people who were lonely and needed a listening ear. I’ve helped people find lost pets and more. I’ve built relationships. So much good has come out of something so simple that I almost gave up because of a few complaints.

As I close, I find myself wondering what kinds of comments we would have seen on social media had it been around in Jesus’ day?