What are the rules of engagement here?

For most of the time I’ve been on Twitter, it has been a really fun ride.   Watching the responses of people from across the country and beyond about things as diverse as the Oscars to Ted Kennedy’s funeral to Olympic Opening Ceremonies or March Madness bracket debacles has been moving, funny and touching in turns.  Tracking churchy and denominational things, finding a great variety of sermons and blogs, learning by observing others in ministry, and sharing the stuff of life in this crazy online commune has been an adventure.

This past week, though, has been a little different. At least half a dozen times yesterday, I saw pleas for space from folks in my Twitter stream and heard similar comments in face-to-face conversations.  People (me included) were processing and/or proclaiming their own views on how we ought to respond to the news of Osama bin Laden’s assassination.  The week before, many people were expressing their disgust or delight in the nuptials of Wills and Kate. Mix in the pain and frustration of those who were literally blown off track by tornadoes in Alabama and Tennessee…  it was hard viewing, and at times I felt like I’d lost my way.

I think Twitter in particular can be a punishing venue for these sorts of occasions.

  • The character limit lends itself to a terse writing style (more Hemingway than Faulkner).  There is no space for words/phrases that soften a statement from immutable fact to musing
  • The context of a statement is almost always lost as the timeline pulls in posts as they hit, regardless of who the poster is.
  • Really high volume topics can make it difficult to keep up reading with the incoming tweets or catch up if you go offline for a while
  • People retweet other people’s comments, adding to the virtual decibel level
  • Some folks just plain come across as telling you what to do and think.  Some because they intend to, others because they don’t realize it.
  • If you have 2 or more of those folks engaged in a back & forth – whether agreeing or disagreeing with one another- it can quickly feel like you’re in the middle of a shouting match

Then there is the reality that hanging around in this venue is completely voluntary.  People choose to follow me or not.  I choose to follow them or not.  People can be muted or blocked.  People can log out altogether.

So what is my responsibility in this?  Do I need to filter my passion?  Should I allow space for others to bloviate at will?  It it all incumbent on me as a sojourner in this virtual land to protect myself? To be a big person and  just let people be as they are?

There is part of me that wants to step in and right the wrongs I see.  I have a pretty high need for fair play and justice in my world.  Particularly when people I know and love are involved.  Then there are the issues around which I have some sensitivities and want to see people grow in understanding. How to I express those feelings of loyalty, protection and correction without being an utter jerk?

There is also part of me that needs to be able to express half-baked ideas and get feedback from folks who have lived wholly different lives from mine.  Sometimes, I will expose my own shortcomings, blind spots, deeply buried -isms, and naivete.  Is there space for learning without being accused of malicious intent?  Or for getting feedback that is honest and life-giving?

I guess it’s like one of those choose your own adventure books.  I need to set my own rules for engagement.

The more varied the people I follow and the longer I leave my account open to be followed, the more likely I am to rub up against some of these rough spots.  And the more adult and accountable I need to be to myself and others in my engagements.  I can be a big person and apologize when folks let me know I’ve offended.  Even better, I can watch for signs of offense.  I can mute, block, unfollow or de-friend those who cause me pain or whose communications patterns are just not good for my soul.  And I can let people know when they are hurtful – hopefully in an appropriate way.  Kind of like playing nicely in the sandbox we call an office or a neighborhood or a home… or a church.

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