Sticks, Stones & Smartphones

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

I grew up with this well-meaning adage encouraging children to recognize that words, unlike sticks and stones, can’t really hurt you.

This never held much weight for me. I’m a “words of affirmation” kind of gal. It lights me up to hear positive words; an uplifting podcast or lyrics to a powerful song fuel me to my core. In that same respect, words used to intentionally hurt have the power to cut me deeply, more than they probably should.

“A gentle tongue is the tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.” Proverbs 15:4

Working professionally in social media for the last five years hasn’t done much to convince me otherwise. Words wield some powerful magic. I know first-hand what kind of damage the intoxicating world of pseudo-anonymity can create; a modern-day manifestation of the very reasons why the Bible instructs us on the importance of fiercely guarding our sinful tongues.

“The one who desires life, to love and see good days, must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit.” 1 Peter 3:10

My first “big-girl” job out of college was working for a corporate social media team. I was one of four women, all roughly 22 years old. Soon after I started, a major lawsuit was filed that brought national attention to our business.

It wasn’t two minutes after the lawsuit became public that a firing squad of activist groups, trollers & bystanders from around the world began to follow our Facebook page, waiting. The sunny skies of social media sites I had come to know and love quickly darkened. Soon, posts came flooding in, filled with the most vile language and intensely graphic images, and they came by the hundreds. The people who received the brunt? Four 22 year old girls.

I drove home every night with my heart heavy from filtering the poison that was pervading every hour of my work day. My cheeks were constantly flushed with anger and embarrassment. If they only knew the people who were actually receiving that nastiness, they’d regret it. Or maybe they wouldn’t. The reality is, they’d never have to take responsibility to know for sure.

After that, I began to police my own outpouring of social media, deleting things I might have flippantly tweeted to make a point or reposting something that does not adequately reflect who I am or who I represent. The importance of it all had never weighed so heavily on me as it did right then.

Now, five years later, I am still heartsick as I scroll through the daily feed. Respect and decorum have been replaced with haughtiness and a barrage of snarky memes – because somehow hatefulness and ignorance are more acceptable when they’re laced with humor.

I see posts every day from people I hope never repeat face-to-face. But just like the ugliness I witnessed years ago, rarely is the expectation to take responsibility beyond the screen.

Smart phones, as it turns out, are far worse than sticks and stones.

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14

My prayer is that we would grow in wisdom and kindness toward one another. That we would hold the things we post and the things we say in the same regard, because they are, in fact, the same. That we would be guarded in the things we consume and that which we produce – and that all these things would truly please the Lord.

Doug Serven