Cultivating Compassion and Connection in the Age of Social Media

Cultivating Compassion and Connection in the Age of Social Media

Social media can build relationships and enrich lives, or it can be a destructive, addictive, polarising medium. The choice is ours. So, how do we create social media content with humility, integrity, and a desire to enrich conversations and people’s lives? How do we avoid being attention-seekers and online bullies or jerks? We need to cultivate a thoughtful approach that respects the dignity of all individuals and seeks to enrich the lives of others. Here are twenty-one principles to guide your social media engagement in a way that makes a positive difference in the world instead of merely contributing to the problems we already face:

1. Post with Purpose: Consider whether your content serves a positive and valuable purpose before posting. Ask yourself, why am I posting this? Am I bored, seeking attention, or wanting to agitate and cause arguments? Or am I seeking to inspire and contribute to people’s lives? What’s the reason I’m posting this or making this comment? Does my post or comment enlighten, educate, inspire, or uplift?

2. Reflect Before Reacting: Pause and take a breath before responding to posts or comments. Our first impulse is rarely the most helpful or measured one. Ask yourself, would I say this if the person was sitting before me, or would I have more empathy and compassion? If I knew this person well, how would I treat them and their perspective with dignity and compassion, and how can I do this in my comment? Ensure your replies contribute to a constructive and respectful dialogue.

3. Nurture Humilty: Online followers are not the same thing as real followers. Hundreds of “likes” does not mean you’re leading people anywhere since social media “likes and shares” are cheap and easy. So, nurture a sense of perspective and humility. Ask yourself, how am I serving and loving my neighbors, colleagues, family, friends, and community? How can I spend less time online trying to get likes and shares and more time serving and loving in the places I live?

4. Promote Positivity: Share content that spreads hope and positivity. Ask yourself, how can my social media posts serve as a contrast or antidote to all the negativity, anger, fear, and conflict online and in society? Uplifting and hope-filled stories, encouraging words, and posts to unite people can profoundly impact lives. Share stories of faith, love, growth, hope, and new life found in struggles. Authentic stories can inspire and encourage others in their personal and spiritual journey.

5. Seek to Understand and Practice Empathy: When sharing knowledge or correcting misinformation, do so with empathy and understanding, not intending to belittle or embarrass. We often disagree with others and want to engage critically with their ideas, and that’s okay. But are we doing so with empathy? Ask yourself, have I thought deeply about what this person cares about, what’s good in their perspective, what fears and anxieties they may have, and how they are trying to make a positive difference in the world? Then, if you need to contradict them or share alternative information, do so with grace and empathy, seeking to preserve the dignity of others. Approach disagreements with a desire to understand the other perspective rather than to argue or prove a point.

Share content that spreads hope and positivity. Ask yourself, how can my social media posts serve as a contrast or antidote to all the negativity, anger, fear, and conflict online and in society?

If you happen to be a Christian, you may ask, “But weren’t biblical characters critical and harsh?” While Jesus, Elijah, and the prophets used strong language in specific contexts to confront sin and injustice, this does not grant a license for Christians to be rude, derogatory, or hurtful. Scripture calls for followers of Christ to embody the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The New Testament emphasizes mature, gentle, wise, patient, self-controlled, and loving behavior, urging believers to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and to consider how their words build others up (Ephesians 4:29). The holistic counsel of Scripture guides Christians towards gracious, compassionate engagement, reflecting Christ’s love, redemption, and grace. Focusing on moments biblical figures were “blunt” as a license for rudeness and bad behavior on social media seems an unwise and cherry-picking interpretative approach to Scripture. It’s much better to shape one’s actions and behaviors in the light of the whole counsel of Scripture, including the fruits of the Spirit. While Jesus and the prophets had moments of strong language, their ultimate aim was love, correction toward righteousness, and the revealing of divine truths. So, in this blog post, I offer a comprehensive approach to engaging on social media that mirrors Christ’s grace, love, maturity, and humility, thus providing a more holistic understanding of what a Christian response should be.

6. Respect Privacy: Be mindful of others’ privacy. Avoid sharing personal information or photos without consent, and consider the implications of tagging or mentioning others. Ask yourself, am I respecting people’s privacy, and have I asked permission before sharing this or tagging and mentioning someone? We don’t need to share everything; we must always respect people’s privacy, agency, and wishes. Sometimes, the most loving and respectful thing we can do is choose not to post and share.

7. Avoid Virtue Signaling: Ensure your social media actions align with your real-life values and commitments. Authenticity is critical to maintaining integrity. Ask yourself, am I posting views, taking stands, or performing actions in a way that is primarily aimed at highlighting my virtue, compassion, or political correctness to others rather than out of a genuine commitment to those beliefs or values? What have I done offline and practically to contribute to those causes? Am I posting this to draw attention to my “brand,” reputation, virtue, or efforts instead of engaging in sacrificial, unnoticed, real-life actions? How can I post less on this issue, get out into the world, join groups making a difference, and often choose to go personally unnoticed and unrecognized?

8. Don’t Humblebrag: Such behavior signals false humility and insincerity. When we share accomplishments or positive aspects of our lives in a self-deprecating or exaggeratedly modest manner, we attempt to appear humble while seeking attention and compliments. “Ugh, I have no idea how to fit all these award ceremonies into my schedule. #SoStressed.” “I’m overwhelmed by all the party invites I get. Sometimes I just want to be alone, you know?” “I’m beyond humbled to accept this invitation to speak at another conference.” This behavior gives the impression of inauthenticity, fosters social comparison and envy, and damages relationships with followers or friends who might feel that such behavior is tactless or egocentric. Ask yourself, why am I sharing this, especially in this way? Reflect on your motives. If you’re seeking validation or compliments, consider if there’s a more straightforward or authentic way to share your feelings or achievements. Be honest and direct about your achievements. Focus on gratitude, team effort, and the accomplishments of others.

9. Cultivate Community: Use your platform to foster community, nurture friendships, build relationships, and unite people. Ask yourself, do these posts build community or tear people apart? Encourage discussions that build bridges rather than walls. Am I making the world more loving, connected, and harmonious, or contributing to divisions and conflicts? 

10. Listen and Learn: Be open to learning from others, recognizing that everyone has something valuable to share. Pride ruins communities and relationships, and arrogance ruins integrity and reputations. One of our greatest temptations is to only listen to people who share our views, bolster our pride and ego, and live in our social media bubbles. Ask yourself, am I listening and learning from others, especially those different from me—politically, socially, religiously, racially, and more? I may not agree with their views or lifestyles, but how can I listen with compassion, empathy, and a desire to honor the dignity of others? How can I be a lifelong learner, always seeking to listen, grow, learn, and understand?

We can navigate social media in a way that upholds our values of humility and integrity, seeking to positively and meaningfully impact people’s lives. It takes effort and intentionality, but it’s a choice worth making. No matter who you are or what you believe, you can approach social media with integrity, humility, compassion, purpose, empathy, and love.

Rev. Dr Graham Hill is Mission Catalyst – New and Renewing Communities, for Uniting Mission and Education. This is an excerpt from his blog. The full article can be seen here.


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