Twitter, Temptation, and The Golden Rule.

I wonder how many times I’ve heard the phrase, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I wonder how many times you have. As I think back on childhood Sunday School lessons, friendship advice, and teenage devotionals, it seems that the answer must be in the thousands. Whether you grew up with those words echoing through your home, church, and community, or you only stumbled upon them through the occasional pop culture reference, it’s likely that you consider them to be familiar, part of the common ethos.

“The Golden Rule” is what we call those words. Many think of the “rule” as the ultimate guide for how humans should treat one another, for how we should filter our words and actions before allowing them to spill out and impact relationships. The Golden Rule is found in The Gospel of Matthew, chapter 7, verse 12. Jesus said these words as part of the Sermon on the Mount, stating that they are “the Law and the Prophets.” In other words, they are a general summary of God’s call to us and hope for us, of what He sends His Spirit to equip us to do.

These words call us not only to act a certain way, but to view humanity and its value in a certain way. Christians are not simply to operate according to our own desires, nor are we permitted to act or speak in such a way that merely serves ourselves. We are to consider how we treat people, even how we think of them, through the lens of how we would like for people to think about and treat us.

This is a huge task, one we are ill-equipped to undertake without the power of the Holy Spirit. I have not a bone in my body that desires to think of others as fondly as I think of myself. Only by the power of regeneration do I care much at all for the treatment (or mistreatment) of others. (This, by the way, is not meant to be a post about whether or not those who are not Christians can or can’t have positive intentions toward others. A topic for another day!)

In my day-to-day life, I try to remain conscious of The Golden Rule, whether by remembering its words specifically, or by meditating on the general way of life and pattern of thought the Christian is called to adopt. When I want to do all I can to get ahead, when I want to say the thing that will be funny but will also potentially hurt someone, when I want to parent according to selfish desires rather than loving sacrifice, I remind myself that, because of the blood of Jesus and the power of the Spirit, I don’t have to give into those desires.

Sometimes, though, when I log onto Twitter, this whole thing gets a lot harder.

Here’s the thing about Twitter, the thing that’s the reason why I’m writing about it specifically rather than including other social media sites (which I plan to address in the future, but you’ll have to wait for that!). The thing about Twitter, I suppose, is really three things:

  1. It moves so fast.
  2. Each tweet is limited to 140 characters.
  3. Sometimes it feels like the wittiness Olympics.

Last week, during the Republican National Convention, I typed and subsequently deleted (before publishing) a load of tweets. Some because of over the top snark, some because they took me too long to compose and I felt that the moment had passed, some because I couldn’t decide if they were as funny as I wanted to believe they were.

And some I kept from sharing, by God’s grace, because they didn’t pass the test of The Golden Rule.

Hidden behind our avatars, the illusion of safety and shallowness can sometimes keep us from thinking that what we say online actually matters. This is discouraging, at times, to those who are attempting to write something meaningful, but (far more tragically) it seems to all too often loosen the bonds of civility and reduce people to their most snarky, sarcastic, arrogant selves.

I want to be clear that I follow a lot of people who share a lot of humorous, snarky, pointed content, and I love it. I think they do it well. I think that sarcasm and even snark have their appropriate places. I think that many people are skilled at using their words to make a person laugh just enough and also to think about something that’s meaningful. But I don’t always trust myself to be that person, and I’ve had to set up a little filter for myself that helps me keep my presence on Twitter roughly halfway sanctified.

In case this is something you struggle with as well, here’s a little system I use:

  1. Are these words intended to build others up or to puff up my own image?
  2. Am I continually tweeting about myself, my content, and my ideas, or am I going out of my way to share the words and thoughts of others, building them up by promoting their hard work?
  3. Am I using my words to try to get noticed or to bless those who read?

I want to be clear that this filter of mine does not keep me from tweeting about hard things, or from sharing many a news story or opinion that is likely to make people uncomfortable. But the way I present such things, even the way I present the most lighthearted of things, are pushed (at times begrudgingly) through the above filter, which in a way could summarized as “serving others.” Sometimes my hope is to serve through silliness, sometimes through prompting deep thought, sometimes through charitably asking a question about a seeming point of disagreement, and sometimes through sharing the work or words of another.

It all becomes very simple, very Kindergarten level, in a sense. In all dimensions of my life, including Twitter, I want others to teach me. I want others to read my words and respond to them charitably. I want others to see the words I string together and find enough meaning in them to share them with others. I want others to converse with me when they agree with me and when they don’t. I want others to encourage me.

And so, I seek to do unto others as I desire them to do unto me, even in a space like Twitter. And whether or not I’m treated the same way in return (and I so often am), it’s worth it, and it helps me believe that even the Twittersphere can be a space for redemption, that nothing is beyond His dominion.

And I, for one, can use that reminder as often as possible.

Author: Abby Perry

Abby has written for The Gospel Coalition, Christ and Pop Culture, Upwrite Magazine, and The Influence Network. She is the communications coordinator for a nonprofit organization and co-facilitates two community efforts—one promoting bridge-building racial reconciliation conversations and one supporting area foster and adoptive families. Abby graduated from Texas A&M University and currently attends Dallas Theological Seminary. She and her family live in College Station, Texas.