In all things, clarity.

black text on gray background
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

We Christians sometimes struggle to use social media well.

Rather than going out of our way to be clear, we choose to aim for “pithy and incisive” and instead land squarely in “muddled and misunderstood.”

It’s predictable on some level. Social media readers (and here, I’m thinking mainly of platforms like Twitter or Gab) tend to reward those whose posts are punchy, snarky, and meme-able. Everyone loves a good pile-on; there’s a certain warm camaraderie in adding your voice to the chorus of “Look at that guy—what a doofus!” As a result, when we post our own comments and memes, we instinctively revert to middle-school “gotcha” mode, chasing after our mutuals’ “oh snap” replies and GIFs and those precious “shares” and “likes” that affirm our rhetorical prowess. (Please, Mr. Dorsey, just plug all that ephemeral affirmation directly into my veins!)

Sometimes, however, the slings and arrows we are so quick to let fly at our online ideological foes can be based on less-than-complete information or may communicate with all the subtle finesse of a rusted claw hammer.

If we are indeed disciples of He Who Is The Truth and obedient servants of the God Who Does Not Lie, then it seems redundant to say that we should be truthful in all of our interactions, including those online. I’ve talked about this in the past, with regard to the stories and articles we share online. But I would also venture to propose the following three bits of advice for our daily digital dialogues:

  • Part of love “believing all things” may just be assuming the best when someone who is otherwise demonstrably orthodox says or posts something that may be unclear/confusing. When that happens, walking in love could mean starting by asking questions to gain clarity, rather than assuming heterodoxy of a brother. If the issue is minor, it could even mean letting a post go without saying anything. (I know, that’s crazy-talk when someone is wrong on the internet.) And if the issue really does need to be addressed (and you actually can gain a hearing from that person, rather than just being another stranger shouting online), walking in love means addressing it publicly but in a way that is not self-aggrandizing or belittling of the other person. If the person is a Christian, entreat them directly as a brother or sister. Don’t play to the audience. 
  • The flipside of that is, when we post things online, we should be willing to rework our pithy, “retweetable” construction if we realize our readers find it unclear or confusing, especially when (for example) we’re dealing with weighty matters like theology or sensitive issues related to sin or suffering. Zingers get buzz, but they don’t often build up. If you come to realize that you should have said something more clearly in order for it to be of benefit to others, don’t be too proud of your turns of phrase not to “kill your darlings” and try again in order to communicate something important in a way that is direct and digestible.
  • If you do tweet something that you later realize was ill-informed, poorly communicated, or insufficiently considered, don’t double-down. Just acknowledge it and move on. Seriously. Don’t employ tortured logic to contort your original post to mean something entirely different (or at a minimum, tangential) from its plain original reading. If you goofed, say you goofed. If you missed the mark or overstated something, admit it. If you want to add more context to explain things more clearly, or remove/repost with a correction/explanation, go ahead and do that. But don’t insult the rest of us by asking us to disbelieve our “lying eyes” as if the fault lies entirely with us. If you find that a dozen people are all “misinterpreting you” or “taking you out of context” the same way, it’s more likely a “you” problem than a “them” problem.

Am I now seeking to be the social media police because I’ve raised this issue? Yes. You’ve caught me; that’s exactly my desire. All online traffic needs my approval, with proper forms filled out and stamped in triplicate. You’re exactly right.

OR… perhaps I’m just a Christian who gets frustrated that so much of the sturm und drang of my Twitter feed could be avoided if (presumptive) brothers and sisters in Christ would stop trying to be social media influencers for a minute and just seek to be honest, clear, and edifying with their (online) speech. You know, the way we’re told to be. (In other words, I think we should seek to be salty rather than spicy.)

I’m far from perfect in this area–my Twitter “drafts” folder is a barren boneyard of half-baked takes and snarky responses–but I sincerely want to grow in wisdom with how I use social media. At the end of the day, it would be better for me to lose the miniscule “platform” I’ve built and shut down all my accounts for good, rather than become a known and influential online figure who profanes the Name by my sinful speech, conducting myself as little more than a banging gong or clanging cymbal.

I’m still thinking through all this, so if you have ideas/disagreements, or if I’ve missed something obvious that should factor into my thinking, I welcome your pushback and am happy to discuss further. Hit me up in the com-box below.

Let’s talk about Simone.

Or rather, let’s talk about how we talk about Simone.

Photo by Matheus Viana on Pexels.com

Within the last 12 hours, Team USA gymnast Simone Biles, a 24-year-old woman who has already earned herself a near-mythic reputation in the sports world, announced that she was sitting out the team gymnastics final in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. She described feeling like she wasn’t in the right mental place, and she struggled in her early-round event. In later comments, she said she needed to take a mental health day because she didn’t want to “do something silly out there and get injured.” Her team, with back-up Jordan Chiles in place, won the silver medal in the team event, barely losing out to Russia.

Look, I’m not a gymnast. (File this under “Obvious statements are obvious.”) But what I can gather from simple observation is that gymnastics requires not only an incredible level of physical stamina and control, but also a great deal of mental control, as you are trying to complete complicated multi-stage move sets that require split-second reactions and coordination. Beyond that, you have to make sure your body is positioned properly at all times in order not only to complete certain moves but to do so without causing what could be major or even life-threatening injury. I think we sometimes take this for granted as passive observers of the sport, every-4-year gadflies who (many of us) won’t give gymnastics another thought until we see athletes wearing our country’s name and colors again at the next Olympics.

So if a professional gymnast–a medal winner, a record holder, someone who has devoted her life to her events–says that she needs to take a short break in order to collect herself and continue to perform at top level, I’m inclined to trust her judgment and that of her coaches and trainers, even if she decides to do so at what seems like the worst possible time. I would think that, as a competitor, it was a hard decision for her, because, especially as an Olympic athlete in her mid-20’s, it’s not like she’ll get many more of these opportunities in her career.

But what do I know. I’m just a guy on the internet.

And as an admitted “guy on the internet,” I’d like to take a moment to talk about what I’m seeing in response.

Opinions: Everybody’s got one.

It seems like much of the online response is dividing up along two camps. There are those who are quick to pour adoration on Biles for this decision; she has “already won,” she is heroic, she is stunning and brave. Others seem just as quick to pour derision; she is selfish, she is failing to keep her commitments, she should never have agreed to participate if this were an option to her.

Some have drawn unfavorable comparisons to other young men and women in history who have faced undoubtedly more serious challenges to health and heart, literal life-and-death moments that demanded their moral courage and mental toughness. Others have pointed to previous generations of Olympic athletes who have overcome much more and are lauded for their tenacity.

If you’re in either of these camps, can I ask you to do me a favor? Come over here, just for a second. C’mon. Lean on in. Make room, give everybody a chance to hear this. Okay, ready?

Just…stop for a minute.

Y’all, Simone Biles is a twentysomething young woman who has lived her entire life under a microscope–yes, for a sport she chooses to play, but that doesn’t mean the level of scrutiny that she and all other athletes face is normal, sensible, or appropriate. What’s more, she’s part of an organization that has been involved in pretty heinous scandals recently regarding athletes being sexually abused. I don’t know if Simone Biles was ever victimized, but at the very least she could have been friends with many who were, so that possibly adds a layer of internal struggle and conflict when it comes to this sport she loves.

No, she’s not as courageous as the sixteenth-century Christian martyrs, or the young men who stormed Omaha Beach, or the first-responders on 9/11. Fine. Granted. Those are exceptional and praiseworthy acts of heroism.

She isn’t even facing the type of animus that Jesse Owens overcame or the personal risk and emotional toll of recent Olympic athletes competing under the “refugee” flag because they are seeking asylum from oppressive regimes. Biles is much loved by her teammates and her nation, and she’s respected by her opponents.

I don’t think she deserves the heaping of adulation that she is starting to get and will continue to get by people in the press. But I also think she doesn’t deserve the level of hostility that she will get from her critics and a host of random strangers on the internet.

Let me propose this: Can we, as we see stories like this pop up in the world of sport, try to hold a more moderate position of “well, if she needs the help, I hope she gets it, but that really stinks for her teammates” and pretty much leave it there? Don’t flex on Twitter. Don’t fawn on Facebook. Comment if you want (it’s your social media feed, after all), but don’t be ridiculous about it (in either extreme). Just a suggestion from a random guy on the internet. Take it for what it’s worth.

Why I Care About This.

If it’s not that big of a deal, why do you care enough about this to write a blog post?” you may rightly ask me.

Here’s why: I personally know people who will see posts and tweets and videos criticizing Biles’ decision as selfish and weak and infantile, and they will internalize those critiques and recall them every time they need to step back from a situation because they recognize the black-dog days that are creeping in around the edges of their mind. These folks will wonder if others in their own lives will see them as selfish and weak for saying “no” and “I can’t do that” rather than running themselves ragged trying to please everyone around them.

And I also know that the rampant adulation of simple self-care that has become popular in the media also creates an environment in which everything is syndromized (if that’s a word). Moments of difficulty and frustration are labelled “bad for my mental health,” so that some folks will run away from anything challenging or necessary or exhausting because they see it as a threat to their wellbeing. There’s a real danger on that end of the conversation, too.

It’s not “heroic” or “sinful” to be self-aware and do what you need to do to stay healthy. It should be normal, even if it’s typically not that common in our culture. Let’s be careful not to overcorrect by throwing a parade when someone admits with regret that they can’t complete a commitment. But let’s not throw stones, either.

=====

I’m glad Team USA won a silver medal, but I don’t see it as a national triumph, just like I don’t see losing the gold to Russia as a national shame. It’s a game, y’all. These aren’t our avatars. They don’t represent all that we are or will be. They’re teenagers and twentysomethings who get the opportunity to compete in the rarified air of a worldwide stage, and it is a shining and thrilling time in their young lives that will end more quickly than they realize. And then in ten years or twenty years, most of them will be forgotten by the fickle masses watching their every move. All of this is transient.

I hope Simone Biles gets the rest she needs (mental and physical) so that she’s able to enjoy this moment. That’s all.

“Let Me Go, I’m Only Letting You Down…”

Photo by Mizzu Cho on Pexels.com

If you follow me on social media, I’m probably going to disappoint you at some point, if I haven’t done so already.

I’m not going to do it on purpose, mind you. I try to keep things pretty light and avoid unnecessary squabbles. I may retweet more “controversial” things, but only if they’re things I truly believe, and even then I’ll admit that I weigh the importance of the issue to the potential negative feedback I might receive. I’d never go out of my way to act like a proverbial internet troll. There have been a few times where I’ve gotten pretty heated about a subject and that comes out in a quick thread that may or may not stay up for more than a few minutes, but usually when I tweet from the spleen, I’ll refrain from hitting “send” or will delete the posts pretty quickly once the moment of anger passes.

All in all, as much as I can, I keep it pretty low-key. It’s more fun for me that way. But even with that approach, I will still disappoint you. (Depending on how up-to-date you are with “cancel culture,” I may have even disappointed you with my post title.)

About 6 months ago, I discovered that over the course of just a few days, I had deeply disappointed folks in two opposite ideological directions. What can I say, I’m just that talented.

You say you want a revolution…

If you’re an American citizen and/or a news junkie, the date “January 6th” holds a new level of meaning after this year. No matter where you land on the political spectrum, the date might inspire some sort of visceral response, even now. In the heat of the moment, it certainly did so for me.

I was in the middle of a particularly plodding Zoom meeting and decided to check the news; it was the day that the presidential election results were scheduled to be certified, and the buzz was that there may be some rhetorical fireworks in the People’s Chamber. (Little did they know.)

As I started to see the raw footage being shared over social media and network news feeds, I was shocked. The Capitol, surrounded by a crowd pressing in at the doors, smashing windows, crossing barriers and security gates, celebrating like they just captured the enemy’s castle. From my virtual vantage point, the mood was a swirl of elation, outrage, and undefined hunger looking for an outlet.

When I saw footage of mobs smashing buildings and burning businesses and cars last summer, I viewed it with a mix of resignation and bewilderment; the logic of looting is something I’ll never fully comprehend. But when I saw this raucous crowd push their way into the Capitol, I felt something else: indignation. It felt like a civic transgression had taken place. I was incensed.

So, like so many watching news they can’t do anything about from a distance they can’t cross, I did the only thing I could think of: I tweeted about it. (Spoiler: This was a mistake.)

My comments were basically that anyone who had been trafficking in weeks of reckless rhetoric about election fraud and Deep State coup owned a little piece of the chaos unfolding, because my position in that moment (and to be honest, even now to some degree) is that there seems to be a pretty clear line from one to the other. If you tell people enough times and in enough ways that their country was being stolen by corporate and political powers who were defrauding them of their ability to vote and that they need to show up at a certain place and time to “fight for their country,” I don’t think you can then see a mob busting into the building chanting “Stop the Steal!” and throw your hands up like Captain Renault, shocked that there’s gambling going on in Casablanca. My tweets were essentially, “Here are your winnings, sir.”

In my head, I had in mind certain political talking heads and commentators–the tastemakers of the right. But hoo boy, did that not communicate well, and members of our church family reached out to my fellow elder and our lead pastor to let him know about it. (Fewer of them reached out to me directly, but that’s neither here nor there.) Thankfully, one of them did follow the Matthew 18 directive, confronted me about the tweets (which he felt were reckless and directed against some members of our church family), and exhorted me to take them down, saying they did not reflect well on the Gospel or our church. I realized I’d really stepped in it this time, so I screenshotted the offending posts, sent everything to my fellow elders for review, and took them all down. It took a while, and multiple conversations, to try to heal the offense I’d made against certain members of my church family. I’ve been able to have coffee with the offended brother and work out some of the misunderstanding, but it would have been better for me to take a minute and breathe and try to communicate things in a wiser manner.

Guilt by Association…

A few days later, I mentioned on Twitter (why am I still on there?) that I had an account on the social media platform Parler, in case people wanted to follow me there. As you may recall, this was one of the several times in the last year that conservatives on Jack Dorsey’s platform were threatening to pull up stakes and move elsewhere (which is about as convincing as when progressives threaten to move to Canada if Republicans win elections).

Now, in the interest of clarity: I originally set up that account because I was thinking it might be a nice, encouraging, apolitical alternative to Jack’s platform. (Silly me.) I used it a little bit, didn’t really like the interface, and saw that the folks I followed from Twitter onto Parler (mostly pastors and writers and podcasters) were actually MORE abrasively political there than they were elsewhere, so I just stopped using it. I kept the account as a placeholder with a link back to this blog, but otherwise haven’t really touched it since late 2020 (as far as I can recall).

I mentioned to my Twitter followers that I had an account over there they could follow, on the off-chance Jack became too inhospitable toward overtly Christian content or content that was too far to the right. (Which, I recognize, seems silly given my stated philosophy of “keeping it chill,” but as it turns out, some of my mutuals are starting to take heat from the tech overlords, so hey, better safe than sorry. Besides, I have a “brand” to maintain.)

I soon got a rather disapproving comment from a mutual follower on the left side of the political aisle who was shocked that I would even have an account on that platform. I’m not “real-life” friends with this person, but we’ve interacted positively several times online, so I was a bit surprised by her comment. She indicated that Parler was a place for those who wanted “people like her” dead. She posted a few screenshots from random Parler users saying particularly crazy things and said she would never want to be associated with a site that engaged in that sort of hate speech. I tried to respond that a) I’m sorry there are posts like that; b) that’s not why I’m using it or who I interact with; and c) I’m really not using it that much anyway (for the reasons outlined above). By that point, the conversation had pretty much ended, and I’ve gotten radio silence ever since.

It’s funny how much a little bit of push-back like that can catch you off-guard when you’re not used to getting it.

“You’re not as brave as you were at the start…”

Thinking back over these interactions, I realize that I could have acted differently in two opposite ways, but somehow with the same end result.

Rather than taking the path of conciliation and explanation, I could have just said “No.” I could have argued my case, cited examples to back it up, poked holes in the accusations. I could have even turned the arguments against these people–arguing that if you’re so offended, perhaps it’s you who are the problem. Doing that would have perhaps gotten me the argument “win,” but at the cost of potential continued friendship or loss of having a voice in that person’s life. That’s a bad bargain for such a fleeting prize.

I instead could have avoided the issue altogether. Said nothing. Kept my head down. Stayed off social media. (There’s always a good case to be made for that.) But I don’t think that would have been any better. Sure, I could have avoided the drama that week, but sometimes living an honest and open life means you are going to rub up against people who just don’t like what you have to say. I’ve spent too much of my life trying to avoid that kind of conflict by being pleasant and agreeable. That’s part of my peacemaking people-pleasing nature. And in the end, am I really maintaining the relationship with someone to whom I’m unwilling to tell the truth? (The irony of this is, we’re slowly reaching the point in which “keeping it chill” stops working and you’re no longer allowed by your peers to avoid taking a position on certain issues.)

I think I need to be braver about saying what’s true and good and right on social media, even if it’s unpopular. I should be willing to get pushback if it can open up dialogue and provoke thought from others. I also need to be wiser and more prudent with my words. I think I’m growing in that, but I know I’ve got far to go.

I probably should get off Twitter eventually, because the balance of usefulness and connection to distraction and frustration is shifting too far to the latter. Until that day comes, if you choose to follow me on Twitter, just know that I’m probably going to let you down. I’ll say something you don’t agree with or are even offended by. And if you decide to push back, to argue, to call me out, I hope that I answer you well. I’m going to try to do so with grace and wisdom, for your good and for God’s glory rather than for a rhetorical win.

But I am going to answer you.

“I’d like to speak to your social media manager, please.”

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

A Tale of Two Tweeters

I noticed something this week on Twitter reflective of a social media trend that I wish would go away. (Note: I won’t screen-shot or name-drop, as that would undercut my point.)

Instance A: A well-regarded sports media personality (with well over a million Twitter followers) complained on his feed that the CBS network’s lack of a contract with his specific cable provider meant he was not able to watch the Super Bowl–specifically that the cable provider is shutting him out (a HOF member!) from watching the big game. Multiple tweets later (providing the play-by-play of the situation, as it were), he has let his followers know that an “engineer” has installed an antenna that can pick up his local CBS affiliate.

Instance B: An anchor/commentator for an “up-and-coming” “news” organization (with over 250,000 followers) tweets at NINE IN THE MORNING that he got upset there was no “McFish” on the menu of his local “MacDonalds” but when he asked to speak to the manager about it, he was reportedly told he was a “male Karen” and asked to leave. This person included a picture of the offending restaurant in his post. (In subsequent tweets, he proudly mentions that “McFish” was trending and that he thought “MacDonalds” now had a “big problem” on their hands. I have to confess, dear reader, I’m still not sure if this is just an elaborate joke or not. Considering the man’s other tweets, I’m leaning toward not.)

In both instances, a media professional who encountered some frustration with a retail business decided to air his grievances on social media, instead of (presumably) working directly with the companies to resolve the issue.

Why would two grown men take their grievances to hundreds of thousands or even over a million strangers? Because it works.

No Trends are Good Trends (Unless You’re Wendy’s)

It used to be a given that “any press is good press,” since news coverage increases your name recognition and the amount of space you take up in the marketplace. To be fair, we still see this play out in certain spheres (such as presidential politics).

But for corporations and retailers, social media is a fickle beast that must be treated with respect and fear. For every Wendy’s whose Twitter account gets positive buzz for its playful (and sometimes sassy) approach, you have dozens of horror stories of gaffes, goofs, and outright fails by corporate social media accounts. In the vast majority of cases, companies want to avoid the “trending topics” page, unless it’s regarding their latest ad campaign.

Customers know this. We’ve seen how a disgruntled passenger’s Instagram story or a frustrated customer’s Twitter thread has taken on a life of its own, resulting in viral trends, some unexpected media buzz, and eventually a corporate walk-back to try to save face.

As a result of the growing power of this “online review” economy, there is a heightened corporate sensitivity to “bad looks,” and customers have used that leverage to try to provoke a response. Maybe you’ve taken your gripes to social media in the past. I know I have.

Your deep-dish pizza arrives cold? Tell your thousands of Instagram followers and tag Pizza Hut in the story! You had to wait in a long line at the bank? Jump on their corporate Facebook page and talk about how it’s ridiculous that more lines aren’t open! Got bad service at Olive Garden? Don’t tell the manager–tell the Twitter mob! #OliveGardenIsTHEWORST

Point of fact, the social media companies revel in this sort of performative outrage. Viral angst generates a windfall of engagement and them sweet, sweet clicks. Plus, customers know that if they can kick up enough dust and get others to join in, they might get results faster.

I remember seeing a story last October in which a man sucker-punched another person in the parking lot of a Buc-ee’s gas station because that person supported a different political candidate, and within a few hours the phrase “Cancel Buc-ee’s” started trending on Twitter. I thought, Really? What does Buc-ee’s have to do with it?

That doesn’t matter to the mob. Retweets are easy, son; thinking is harder.

And that’s the poisonous logic of all this. I’m mad about something, so rather than addressing that particular person or place that caused my frustration, I’m going to summon the internet horde to flood the digital streets with torches and pitchforks.

Just Another Hashtag?

I think some of you may have your hackles up at this point, so I want to clarify: I’m not talking about serious or (dare I say) systemic social issues here. Some problems are much more widespread than a single person or place. Some issues deserve extended examination and discussion. We have seen in the last few years how social media is a powerful tool that can be used both constructively and destructively to bring people together behind a common cause. I’m not talking about that kind of “movement” dynamic right now.

Rather, I’m talking about the type of situation that, in the era before hashtags, would have gotten (at most) a complaint to a manager and perhaps a funny or exasperated anecdote to the folks around the water cooler or in the carpool line. “Oh man, I had such bad service at Louie’s Pizzeria last week; I think I’m going to be taking my business elsewhere until they get that straightened out!”

Now, all of our petty outrages get elevated to such a height that we are convinced the ENTIRE WORLD should know about them–without stopping to ask if they’re *that* big of a deal in the grand scheme of things.

What makes matters worse is that this multiplies. More people see that viral outrage gets the corporate giants’ attention, and decide that’s how things get done now. Another story is shared and another hashtag is created. Each person’s individual outrages contribute more noise to the internet cacophany, even if they doesn’t actually accomplish much beyond adding just another hashtag to the mix like so much visual static. Boycott this. Cancel that. #TheWorst. Blah blah blah blah blah. Any important issues or causes fighting for oxygen in the public square get swept away by the latest outrage-du-jour.

I’d like to suggest a different approach.

An Alternative Option

My wife and I ordered take-out at a fantastic local spot that serves twice-fried Korean fried chicken. Outstanding, crispy, spicy chicken strips and drumsticks, along with fries covered in kimchi and bulgogi that are just bonkers-good. It’s not a cheap meal, but it’s a nice splurge once in a while.

I picked up the order and brought it home only to find it was room-temperature, soggy, and in some cases over-cooked. It wasn’t enjoyable at all. We ended up eating most of it because we were hungry, but it’s frustrating when your much-anticipated meal turns out to be a dud.

So I jumped on social media…and pulled up the direct message option for the restaurant. I sent them something like the following as a private message: “Hey guys, I just wanted to let you know that our meal today was pretty disappointing for the following reasons… Usually, you guys are on point, so I’m going to assume it’s just an off-night. If you think it’s appropriate, let the kitchen staff know this one was a miss, so they can address it if needed. Don’t worry, we’ll be back sometime. Thanks.”

About an hour later, I got a response from the restaurant, thanking me for my approach, asking for details so they could refund my meal, and asking for my address. A few weeks later, I receive a gift card in the mail to pay for another dinner.

I didn’t need to get angry or rally the troops. I just reached out directly, let them know my concerns, tried not to be a jerk, and encouraged them to try again. They responded with graciousness and attention. Why? Because they’re not trying to give customers lousy food and a bad experience.

That’s the thing: no business, restaurant, or retail store that wants to succeed is actively trying to disappoint their customers–really.

Disappointments do happen. Food gets cold, cashiers get tired and frustrated, people call in sick so that fewer lanes are open for your convenience. And that’s also not to say that if you respond well, you’ll always get a refund and a free meal. Sometimes, yes, you may encounter corporate indifference, for a variety of reasons. When that happens, you don’t make a scene, you don’t yell or scream, and you don’t record a video rant to share with the Internet. And why don’t you do that? Because you’re a doggone grown-up, that’s why.

On the flip side, I also try to go out of my way to tell restaurants, stores, and other folks in the “hourly-wage” fields when they do a really good job. I love asking servers if I can speak to a manager and immediately adding, “Don’t worry, it’s a good thing!” just to watch them visibly relax, smile, and go grab their supervisor. I enjoy bragging on good service and quality work.

One more story: years ago, I ate at a Subway restaurant with my folks, and they told me they liked coming to this one location because the manager really cared about what he was doing and that attitude trickled down to the whole crew. While in line, I watched an 18-year-old make my sandwich with skill, care, and speed, putting the ingredients together carefully and presenting me with an advertisement-perfect sub. For most Subway employees, the label “sandwich artist” is wild hyperbole. For this kid, it didn’t come close enough. And I let him know about it. And his manager. And now you.

Make Praise Go Viral

Here’s my bottom-line recommendation, dear reader: let me encourage you to make your praise go viral, and keep your complaints in your DMs.

When you have those bad interactions, those disappointing experiences, those let-down expectations in the marketplace, try to direct those frustrations toward finding out who is responsible and can actually make a difference in the situation. Seek restitution if needed, and seek improvement whenever possible, as that benefits not only you but your fellow customers.

But even more so, when you have those great interactions, those over-the-top positive experiences, and your expectations are exceeded by everyday rockstars who are doing their very best in an often thankless position, highlight that. Give big, generous tips to restaurant staff. Grab managers and tell them which of their employees is hustling. Jump on your social media feeds and promote local businesses (especially small, independent shops!) who are doing things the right way.

It seems like such a small thing. It costs you practically nothing. But it makes a difference.

Friday MegaFeed (12/4/2020)

Photo by Athena on Pexels.com – Not my actual desktop!

Happy Friday, friends, and Happy December!

I got a little backed up on my posting, so today, let’s just knock out some of my “Friday Feed” backlog, huh? Here are a bunch of links I’ve been compiling over the last few months that I’ve been meaning to serve up for your weekend edu-tainment and encouragement. I think they’re pretty neat. Hope you do, too!

Let’s gooooooooooooo!

That’s all I have at the moment. Have a great weekend, my friends. See you back here next week!

The Life-changing Magic of Deleting 200 Emails

black and gray digital device
Photo by Torsten Dettlaff on Pexels.com

On the way home from an out-of-state roadtrip (family obligations, stop glaring at me, I’m quarantining now), I listened to a discussion Brett McKay of the Art of Manliness podcast had with Scott Soneshein about his book Joy at Work, which he cowrote with the Queen of Sparked Joy herself, Marie Kondo.

One of Soneshein’s suggestions for decluttering your digital life is to clean out your email inbox of things you keep around but don’t need. I don’t know about you, but this is an area where my pack-rat tendencies flare up.

I have a few different email accounts for personal use, including one just for advertisements, mailing lists, and newsletters–non-vital email, in other words. I subscribed to several newsletters, which may arrive every day to every month or so. They range from political analysis to creative advice to theology. I think they’re all pretty neat, and I’ve enjoyed reading them from time to time in the past. However, several months ago, I started collecting a backlog of emails I promised myself I’d get around to reading. The news-commentary emails are easier to delete in a more timely manner, but some of the other less-time-locked material was just sitting there in my inbox, like it was a little digital to-be-read shelf full of bite-sized goodness. If only I had the time!

Well, I took the time today–but used it to clear the deck. I pulled up the 250-300 emails, and went screen by screen, highlighted all 50 emails on each screen and selectively saving only the ones I decided I could read TODAY. And then hit “delete” at the bottom of each page, removing all the rest.

That inbox now has 36 emails in it. And I’m about to go through, read or skim each of the survivors, and file or delete as needed. The crazy thing is: I don’t even miss the 200+ other emails, because I have no idea what was in them. I’m sure they included good and useful content (I’m pretty selective about newsletter mailing lists), but that doesn’t matter.

Sometimes the hardest thing for me is to accept that I don’t have the time or ability to read everything or learn everything. I am finite. And that’s okay.

So here’s my suggestion, reader: if you’re collecting hundreds of emails that would be nice to go through if you had the time, but just aren’t vital to your life, perhaps consider flipping the script. Rather than asking whether or not you should delete each of those emails, assume you are going to, click that “select all” box, and then make each of those emails justify why they deserve your attention.

Be merciless. Be demanding. Don’t linger. Hit delete.

You probably* won’t miss them.

(*And if you do realize you just deleted something valuable, dig that one thing out of your “Trash” folder–but don’t go email dumpster diving!)

 

“Please think I’m cool.”

adorable blur breed close up
Photo by Lum3n on Pexels.com

Confession: That was the thought running like a background track in my head yesterday, as I took part in a group Zoom call with two authors/podcasters whose work I admire.

I’ve tried in various ways to get into their “club” in some way over the years (with some minor level of success), but this was the first time I’ve actually interacted with them face to (screen-mediated) face. I was able to get a few words in, but otherwise, I found myself just grinning foolishly and trying unsuccessfully not to embarrass myself.

I’m a grown man with a wife and kids. I’ve got my own stuff going on, such as it is. I should be fully out of middle-school-mode. But there are still people who I can’t help but see on another plane of coolness. And despite my very best efforts, I slip right into notice me, senpai mode. I hate it.

The call went fine. When put on the spot to perform a bit of dramatic reading (don’t ask, it’s a long story), I bungled some of my dialogue and felt like a goober. Then I tried too hard to be funny at the very end of the call, so that when it finally ended, I spent the next hour-plus kicking myself for being such an irredeemable dork.

This isn’t the first time I’ve done this. There’s another podcaster whose work I enjoyed for years, and when I was finally able to talk to him during a live call-in show, I got tongue-tied and said something stupid. For the months/years that followed, while I was active in the live chats during various broadcasts, I was never really recognized as a “regular” by the host or the chat group. Eventually, I dipped out and stopped listening/engaging with that show at all, not out of malice but really just disappointment that I couldn’t break into the circle.

What’s the point of all this? Shoot, I don’t know. I’m just talking here, gang.

Maybe what I’m getting at is this: it’s really easy to chase attention, recognition, and a sense of belonging among those we think are cool, talented, and more “together.” But maybe the thing we should be focusing on most is just doing our own thing and being content with that.

But, then again, you know how it is: about to hit 40, looking at the successes and accomplishments of your peers, comparing yourself to the people around you, second-guessing your life choices. Typical Wednesday.

That’s all I got. See ya later, space cowboy…

Friday Feed (05/01/2020)

Hey readers!

Here are some interesting things I’ve collected from around the World Wide Webiverse over the last 6 months. Enjoy and have a great weekend!

=====

That’s all I got this week. Have a good weekend, stay safe and healthy, and we’ll see you down the road!

Message Received.

red and white stop road signage
Photo by Wendelin Jacober on Pexels.com

Receiving clear and direct feedback is necessary, especially when it’s uncomfortable.

Over the last few months, I’ve been pondering how I can build a readership, serve my audience, and use my writing to build up others, especially fellow Christians. Thanks to Jeff Goins’ recent series about email lists and Seth Godin’s book Tribes, I had a flash of inspiration a few weeks back: What if I put together an email newsletter?

I could focus the content toward guys like me–lay pastors who want to grow as teachers and communicators and faithfully lead their families and churches. I’d be writing as a peer, not as an expert, and would focus on encouraging the brothers. Maybe I’d even throw in some writing advice or Scriptural encouragement.

I was instantly excited about this idea, so I decided the best way to gauge potential interest in this project would be to ask my Twitter follows; after all, they’d be my core audience for such a venture.

I put the question out there as a poll, with the plan that, if I got at least 20 or 25 “yes” responses, I would start brainstorming for an early 2020 roll-out.

I certainly got an unambiguous response.

nope poll

In the words of Alex Hitchens (Will Smith’s character from Hitch))… 

I’ll admit, my pride took a bit of hit. When a brother started asking very specific follow-up questions about what exactly I would include in such an email, I started to get defensive, mainly because I hadn’t thought it all through yet. I had an exciting idea but no plan of how to get there, and no real clear goals. Truth be told, I may have been more enamored with the idea of having an email list than actually serving my readers, which would have been almost instant death to any goodwill if anyone had signed up.

What’s more, this clear response said something else I wasn’t eager to hear: An email audience is earned, and I hadn’t put in enough work to earn that level of trust.

Let’s be real: of the 170 or so “followers” of this blog, there are maybe 20 of you who actually read my posts. (In fact, do me a favor: if you’ve made it this far, reply in the comments with your favorite ice cream flavor. Just humor me–or Good Humor me, if you prefer.) Most of my blog follows are other bloggers looking for follow-backs, or folks looking to sell me something. If I tracked actual engagement via likes and comments, the number is much, much smaller.

As Jeff Goins puts it, joining someone’s mailing list means giving them specific permission to get into your “space” and speak to you directly. This is a closer level of access than a blog post that can be ignored. For an email newsletter list (of any kind) to grow, readers must believe I have something worth saying that is worth their valuable time to read. It’s clear I haven’t done enough to prove that yet.

It may not have come the way I wanted, but I’ve heard my 2020 challenge loud and clear: I need to give my audience a better reason to listen.

AND I need to have a better answer for the inevitable “why” question. Maybe that starts by deciding why I’m really interested in the idea of an email newsletter at all.

Suffice it to say, I won’t be creating an email newsletter in 2020. I’ve heard you loud and clear, folks.

Now, a podcast, on the other hand–there’s an idea…

Shareable, skimmable, skippable.

man and woman sitting in front of black table
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

I’ve been trying to catch up on my RSS feed’s “Read Later” tab. (After a few weeks of effort, I started the day at around 270 bookmarks.) I farm my RSS feed for links to share in my #FridayFeed posts (which seem to be most of my posts these days–I’m working on that!).  But I noticed as I mechanically cycled links this afternoon that I was merely skimming to see if the post was worth sharing, instead of reading to see if it was beneficial to me. I wasn’t reading; I was just curating.

Reversing the roles, I’d probably be disappointed if readers were only skimming my posts to weigh if they were “good enough” to share or retweet.

I have to admit, the pressure to put *something* up on the blog makes it easy to slip into that role of curator instead of creator

So I decided to chop my voluminous “Read Later” list down to things that I [gasp!] actually wanted to read later, even if doing so cut against my info-hoarder tendencies. The list is now below 150. Even if a link touched a topic I might want to read at some point, if I didn’t want to read it now, I deleted the bookmark.

Here’s my point: As much as you are able, only read what you actually want to read. There are no prizes for reading the most blog posts or news feeds, beyond the prize of what you actually retain. So read what you like, read what feeds your brain and heart and soul, and skip the rest. (And hopefully, I’ll create some of that good stuff for you along the way.)

Side-note: It’s also fascinating how little the BIG NEWS COMMENTARY of 6 months ago matters now. It’s almost as if, I don’t know, the 24-hour news cycle produces a lot of sound and fury that signifies nothing in about a week. Hmm.