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Stop!

“Hammer time!” – MC Hammer

STOP

Have any of you ever seen a yellow stop sign? There was one in my hometown, down at the end of a dirt road, nailed to a giant oak tree. I remember the first time I saw it – all I could think was, “I need that stop sign!” So, a few friends and I went late one night with a hammer to pull the nails out and claim our prize. About 3 minutes into a futile effort (we needed a much bigger hammer) we heard the distinctive click-clack sound of a pump action shotgun followed by a low pitched southern drawl – “yoo baws neetuh b-movin’ own jist ’bout nah.” (I plugged that sentence into google translate, but there wasn’t a redneck option. Punjabi was close, but not quite right. Sorry.) I wasn’t holding the hammer, but I think I heard it hit the ground. All I remember is I had two hands on the sign, moving it back and forth to try and loosen up the nails, and then the next thing I knew I was approximately 1/4 mile away. It was all reflex and adrenaline. I heard that shotgun and I was gone.

We should have known better, my friends and I. We should have gone to the movies. We should have been anywhere but where we were. But we weren’t. We hadn’t yet learned to stop, take a breath, and think about what our actions might cause. Such is the life of a small town teen – but some people never actually get past that.

I try to remember my motivation back then – what was my thought process? How did I come to the conclusions that I made?

It was all based on wants, perceived needs, how I felt. Things are not a lot different now, to be honest. And I’m not talking just about myself.

Have you ever read the “letters to the editor” section of the paper or a magazine? Back in the old days, that was about the only way a normal person would be able to have their say and make sure their voice was heard. I guess you could have a newsletter – which was a lot like a blog, but you would type it up, go to the grocery store and make copies ($.10 each) and put them at the check-out at Circle K.

In “letters to the editor” you could respond to a recent article, respond to a letter someone had previously written, or start a whole new topic. I’m sure there were plenty of letters written that never made it into the paper or magazine – I know because I have written many, and have only seen one that made it into print. You may still be able to find it somewhere on the internet – I wrote a letter to The Baptist Messenger in the 90’s. Maybe you can google it. I remember back then that I sounded smart and mature. I’d like to read the letter now just to be sure.

One difference between then and now is social media. Now we can all write our thoughts, opinions and even our darkest secrets, any time, anywhere, and anyone can see it. And it’s going to be out there – programmed, categorized, easily referenced – for all eternity.

At the very least, this has prevented people from getting that job they really wanted, or fired from the one they already had (here’s a blog dedicated to documenting incidents of people losing their jobs because of what they have said on social media). At the most, posting our deepest darkest thoughts and opinions may have caused mayhem, death and destruction 

To be fair, most of what we read is somewhere in the middle – what I like to call “The Zone of Irritation.” Yes, I am irritated by most of what I read on social media these days. And it’s not just the political opinion posts. It’s the “my kid did _______ again OMG time for a trade in,” “this traffic totally bites today,” “I hate it when ________ and I think you suck,” “SPOILER ALERT,” “[insert picture of your lunch here]” and “OMG he’s put all of his punctuation inside the quotation marks! Is that even the right way to do it?” Yes. Yes it is. Except for a semi-colon. I think.

I’m not saying I’m not guilty along with everyone else. I’m saying, maybe we need to slow down a bit, or even just stop – stop and take a breath and think about what we are about to put out there.

Here’s what I tend to ask myself before I post these days:

Is it encouraging or uplifting? Or is it critical or hurtful? This is a character issue – do you build people up, or seek to tear others down?

Is it truly funny, or do I just think it’s funny because it’s 2:38 am and I’m tired? Maybe save it as a draft and review the next morning before hitting “post.”

What is my intended audience with this post? Am I writing in such a way as to appeal to them, or reach them, or give them something they need?

Who else besides my intended audience might see this? What will they think when they read this?

Am I posting this because of a need to be seen or heard, or because I want to help others, share my thoughts, help change things for the better? In other words, do I just want the “likes” or do I want to spread hope, peace, love, kindness?

Am I forcing an opinion upon the world or am I speaking truth in love?

If you have kept up with me on social media, you’ve seen me break all my own rules, time and time again. You may have seen me also come back later and say “I’m sorry.” I rarely will delete a post, but I have done it, to keep peace. I have posted things that people have messaged me privately about and asked me “what were you thinking?” I have posted things that made my wife come at me with a hatchet. Not really, but I have hurt her and made her angry because of things I’ve shared.

In other words, I’m human, I mess up, I do things for the wrong reasons. I’m probably just a lot like everyone else in that regard. But I want to be better! I want to do a better job of letting people know I care about them. I want to be a bright light on a hill, not a candle in a hurricane.

Maybe we can all take it one step at a time. I will take a breath, stop and think before posting on social media. I will ask questions about why I am saying what I’m saying before I say it. I will try and put myself in the place of others, try to feel how they might feel if I hit that button and read what I write. Can you do the same? It’s better to take it slow, not react, not be put in a position where what you say can cause pain. It’s not that you don’t have the right to your opinion – I have opinions on a lot of things! It’s that I am becoming a person who would rather build others up than tear them apart just so I can have my say.

Obviously, this is all just my opinion anyway. But, before that hammer drops – at least take a look at your own heart, your own motivations – examine yourself. If you don’t like what you see, you can change it! And you should, before your words take their toll.
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