Reportedly, the President of the United States travels with an attaché case from which he can, with one button, blow up the entire globe. In some ways most of us have something similar: It’s called the “Enter” button on our keyboard. I feel the pain of that last statement.
I have begun writing this article on the final leg of my trip to visit my parents. After 21 hours of travel I have had plenty of time to think. In some ways, when I travel by myself, it can be a very lonely experience. Such loneliness can lead to much self-reflection. The kernel of this article began in my heart before I departed Johannesburg—but the burden for it has grown over the last 21 hours.
In recent months, to my shame, I have caused unintended and unnecessary offence to others through email. I hit the enter button when I should not have.
Though there is a good-natured idea that I am technologically incompetent, that is not completely true. In fact, over the past many hours I have used my Tablet for so many hours to read ebooks that the battery has completely died (thankfully I also took with me an old fashioned kind; you know, those ancient things made of paper!). I have listened to a couple of sermons on my iPod and have sent an SMS to my beloved wife from the airport in Washington D.C. I will call my mom with a USA network cell phone when I land in Atlanta, and I am writing this article on my netbook. I am grateful for such technology. It has certainly made communication so much easier. But it has also made it more dangerous—because more impersonal.
I have written before about the dangers of technology as a means of communication. I won’t repeat those arguments here. Rather, I want to transparently share with you my own failures—my sin—in the way that, at times, I have communicated through cyberspace. My desire is for my own public/corporate accountability, as well as to provide what I trust will be some help for those of you who get yourself in trouble at times when you send rather than delete.
I have come to the conclusion that I do not communicate well via email when tension is present. I tend to be “short” and “to the point,” and sadly people end up being injured by a perceived very sharp point! Because email does not allow for nonverbal communication, I have sometimes been perceived in a way that I never intended. But to be honest, sometimes my emails have indeed legitimately portrayed the evil in my heart. If I could paraphrase Matthew 15: “Out of the abundance of emails the heart speaks.”
In the light of my reflections (coupled with some necessary rebukes) I have come to the conclusion that I will be doing more voice-to-voice and face-to-face communication rather than communicating through a keyboard.
I really would like to spend the rest of my pastoral ministry here at BBC. But my goal is not merely that I remain here; rather, my goal is that I be fruitful in the time that I have left here at BBC. And one key to such a ministry is self-control; including the ability to keep myself from hitting that notorious “Enter” button when I should not.
There are times when, after writing an email or responding to a not-so-nice one, I need to tell myself, “Doug, do not enter!” In such a case, talking to myself is more a matter of sanity than of insanity.
I was thinking the other day about how the apostle John wrote at the end of his second and third letters (vv. 12-13 and 13-14 respectively) that he preferred to speak face-to-face rather than through his letters. Though the letters were necessary (and inspired!), they nevertheless could not substitute for face-to-face fellowship. There is a lesson in that for all of us. In a day in which one can communicate across the globe without leaving one’s home we should do all we can to have face-to-face encounters with one another.
If you need to send an email then go ahead, but also be open to speak to the individual in person (especially if the email contains matter that can be sensitive).
As for me, I am committed to changing my ways and looking for opportunities for person-to-person dialogue, especially if what needs to be discussed may be a bit tense. For now, that’s all that I have to say and so I will press “Enter” and send this to Christo for publication. But before I do, I want to paraphrase something my dad told me many decades ago, “Doug, if you can’t say something nice to or about someone, then do not enter!”