I'm Worse than a Gossip

Pressing "enter" is the fastest way to forget that you're talking about a person.

Almost everything I write about has a person in mind. Sometimes that means I'm quoting a friend or referencing a conversation, but more often than not, it means I'm writing about someone behind their back.

On Twitter, this is called subtweeting: tweeting about something someone else has tweeted without tagging them or otherwise speaking directly to them. I do this a lot because, as my wife would tell you, I'm always on a tirade of some sort. It's rare for me to have an opinion I'm not willing to draw blood over. And for some reason, I've always thought it was more respectful to do this rather than talk to the person.

Perhaps I had bought into the lie that what they don't know can't hurt them. But I was borrowing trouble thinking that something so public could never make it back to the target. That's what subtweeting does. It turns people into targets. It's like gossip in its furtive execution but calling it that would be a compliment. At least gossip isn't always malicious. Subtweeting may masquerade as a critique of an idea but its sole purpose is to shatter the person holding it.

They don't need to know that and neither does anyone else. Only I do. Because this isn't really about them or what they said; it's about me. I'm doing it to get back at them in a way where they can't respond. I'm doing it because I took something personally. I got insecure and defensive. And instead of taking it to them and facing the possibility that my reasons will be rejected, I put it on Twitter where I can count on at least a couple of retweets and favorites for affirmation.

The right thing to do would be to confront in love and dialogue in private. Subtweeting, on the other hand, is the act of a coward who needs an audience to feel victorious. Face-to-face might be a fair fight, but it's easier to let my words do the cutting without feeling the uncomfortable sensation of torn flesh. I certainly wouldn't want to feel guilty for making someone bleed because I was insecure.

This was what made war before repeating rifles so much worse--you actually had to look into the eyes of the person you were harming. It's amazing how seeing people as people and not targets can change what you're willing to say. Because you're likely doing this to a person you know. And what you're saying about them on Twitter, Facebook or wherever, you would never say to their face.

You can't maintain a relationship if you don't treat the other person as a human being. And that will never happen if you're criticizing what they think behind their back. It's bad enough that social media has made such criticisms public but it's also made them permanent. Don't think that you can hit delete before a thousand people take a screenshot. The damage you can do today is like a literal record of wrongs, and that alone makes it so much harder for the other person to heal. Just ask the NFL ref who made a bad call a few years ago and is still dealing with PTSD.

Make no mistake: subtweeting breaks relationships. And no matter how much you dislike what another person thinks, you can't disassociate people from ideas. Ideas only come from people. And relationships should never be broken over impassioned causes, only due to unrepentant sin. And not because you think it's unrepentant sin, but because formal discipline has been spurned. Besides, we can always find reasons to justify ourselves, but we can't always repair what we've broken.