“As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion.” Proverbs 11:22
This is always the first verse that comes to mind when I think of the word, “discretion.” The idea of putting a beautiful piece of gold in the nose of a pig is an absurd one. Who would even think of doing such a thing? We think it is cute to put a sweater on a dog or perhaps a hat on a cat, but you would never put anything of real value on an animal. When the animal in question is a mud-loving, wallowing swine, that aversion is even greater.
In this verse, the beauty of the woman is the jewel. The fact that the woman is without discretion is the pig. It is our character that comes through, more than the decoration of how we do our hair or wear our clothes, or- for the purpose of this column- how we present ourselves online.
There are a lot of aspects of the internet and social media that we can discuss. We can talk about how much time you should spend online, what sites are dangerous, how you can protect yourself, and how much access you should allow your children to have, but one of the biggest problems that I have observed in social media is quite simply the lack of discretion. Have you ever read something that someone put on Facebook and wondered, “Did they even think twice before typing that?” It is probably a lack of discretion that led them there, and we can all have lapses in our judgment from time to time.
There is an illusion of safety and anonymity on the internet. Even when you are posting under your name on social media, the fact that you aren’t standing in front of a real live person just makes it feel different. This is a false security, though, for several reasons.
- Online words last a long time. Words you speak into the air are there, and then they are gone. Maybe that person will remember, maybe not. Words you post online are there for a very long time. Even if you go back and delete them, there is probably still a record of them somewhere. That’s just the nature of the internet age.
- Online words can be hit and run. It’s easy to just pop in and drop a verbal “bomb.” It is so easy for words to be taken out of context and misconstrued. The person you are talking to, or anyone who happens to read it, will have to put in your voice inflections. Are you being sarcastic, funny, witty, serious, or rude? That is all supplied by them and what they know about you.
- Online words have a greater audience than you might think. Have you ever stood in a public area having a conversation, and it became obvious that someone standing nearby was overhearing? They weren’t really participating in the conversation, but were just listening and maybe nodding to show that they were following along with what was being said. If you are talking about something personal, this can be a bit awkward and disconcerting. Yet every conversation you have on social media has a large group of listeners!
Women in general just like to talk, and often a lot of talking can get us into trouble. “In the multitude of words, there wanteth not sin, but he that refraineth his lips is wise.” (Proverbs 10:19) How much MORE cautious we should be when “talking” online, since those are words that are lasting and words that are more easily misunderstood by both our recipients and the greater audience.
The word “discretion” has the idea of judging one’s actions. Other similar words include, “taste, behavior, understanding.” If we wish to have discretion regarding our use of social media, we need to take the time to evaluate how we are doing. Here are some things to keep in mind with your online interactions:
- Write it twice and think about it three times before hitting publish. After you type something, take a minute to reread and rewrite it. Make what you say more specific, so that there is less room for misunderstanding. Especially if you are involved in a debate or discussing something that is related to spiritual matters, take the extra time to be clear. Think about what a non-Christian might think of what you say, and how it might affect your testimony!
- Remember you have a wider audience. If you are trying to be purposeful in living your Christian life, knowing that you have a larger audience can be a good thing! Yes, there are some things that we want to avoid, but there are also some key opportunities to find. Let’s say your Christian friend posts a Bible verse. You can comment on that and share how it was a blessing to you, how it applies to something you are facing today, or just to thank them for being a good example of that verse. That friend is going to have some non-Christians friends that will see what you say, and your words can reinforce your friend’s testimony!
- Know the difference between being transparent and oversharing. There are some matters that just should not be posted on a social media site. Personal family matters and disagreements should never find their place in a public venue like that. It is one thing to honestly request prayer from your friends; it is another thing to be giving information that should be kept private. Every family is different, of course, but if you would have trouble standing up in church and announcing it as a prayer request, maybe you shouldn’t be posting it on Facebook. We should always try to be real and honest about where we are in life, but that doesn’t mean that every detail of our life- particularly those parts that have to do with our relationships with others- should be made public.
- Use Philippians 4:8 as your filter. Is the thing that you are posting true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, with virtue and worthy of praise? Maybe you should think twice if it does not fit those qualifications. This does not mean that you can’t have a good, lively discussion on Facebook. This does not mean that you can’t joke with a friend or post a funny video. But it does mean that as Christians, if the words we speak are important, then the words we put online are even more important.
Let us seek to use discretion in our online interactions, in order to glorify the Lord and point others to Him! “A good man…will guide his affairs with discretion.” (Psalm 112:5)