Last month, I dished out a lot “advice” for how to get yourself and your writing moving forward rather than staying static. In my classroom, I also give students “suggestions” (aka advice) for how to improve their reading endurance, writing skills, even their time management executive functioning skills. There are also many conversations we have that bring about disagreements. In my classroom, disagreements come with rules because for them, it needs to be a place of trust. After all, they are still learning, despite them thinking they don’t English classes in high school. It’s a promise I make to them on day 1 of school and it takes time to build the trust but when it’s there, students trust me to keep debates and disagreements free from judgement, free from name calling, free from bullying, free from all the nastiness. At the end of those discussions I remind them that this rarely happens online. It’s not meant to be a scare tactic, it’s meant to protect them from the lawlessness of the online world.
It’s advice I should haven taken for myself.
Recently I questioned a post on Instagram by a well-known Christian entrepreneur, life coach, writer, etc. which led to an onslaught of his devote followers to start slinging their arrows. I thought I would take my own advice, you know the advice I give my students,”ignore and scroll on.” However, with this post, I choose not to ignore and scroll on, I engaged – and by engaging, I questioned the other side of the story. I refused to take his post at face-value.
From that question alone, I began to carry my cross.
Names like “devil’s advocate” and “satan’s worker” became my labels. It didn’t feel good. His crowd of followers brought into question my faith. I know where I stand in my walk with Christ and I never surround myself with people whereby I need to justify that relationship, especially online. Yet, here I stood fighting off their arrows. Then I took one more arrow than I could handle. The simple pierce of the tip had me teetering on the edge of a dark depression that I know all too well. I felt like one more word would send me into that darkness and I didn’t want to go there, so without any more words or justifications, I walked away. That didn’t make them stop.
Four days later, their new words included, “coward” “too scared to fight” “If you are truly a Christian, you wouldn’t have questioned and then walked away.” The grace of one follower sent me a DM explaining the other side of the story and apologized for giving into the mob mentality. I appreciated her reaching out and responded cautiously.
I shared this experience with my students so they could see that even as an adult, I made a bad decision, didn’t follow my own advice, and suffered the consequences.
I continue to teach my students to question everything. Never take something you read, especially online, at face-value. Research. Read more. Look at both sides. Most importantly, I never allow my students to apologize for asking questions. In a trusted space, questions are welcomed, questions are learning opportunities.
Should I have done my own research before engaging online? Yes.
Should I have walked away without engaging? Possibly.
Should I have checked my armor for cracks before treading into a territory, that I know from past experience, could lead to a fight? Yes.
Did I expect this treatment from fellow Christians? Never.
So will I take my own advice in the future and remember that engaging online is very much like swimming farther into the ocean than your comfortable with, because you could be in trouble very quickly? Possibly…if I have a life vest.