Ever been to the beach and swarmed by sea gulls? You look around and some guy three beach towels to your right is throwing stuff in the air and the gulls are having a party. He throws something in the air like bread or pretzel bites or chewing gum wrappers or left-over foil from the cook-out the night before. The gulls just swoop in and gulp down the item without thinking through the ramifications of what they have consumed or what it might do with their system.
Reminds me of the voracious appetite of some people in their response to some tidbit of news or social media. Rather than check the facts, they swoop in and swallow a conspiracy theory or a half-truth without verifying authenticity. It’s as if everything that goes public in the news or is launched on social media is based on truth. The stories or innuendoes are like an old friend leaning over and saying, “Did you know what happened to . . .” or, “I heard it last night, so sad…” or, “An anonymous source reported today that….”
The days of Internet communications and short-cycle news have robbed many people of their capacity to discern. They just gulp down what they read as if it’s true or because it sounds like something they feel. It is like a shiny object thrown into the air near a sea gull convention. They don’t wait to verify or to test what they have heard. They just gulp it down as “truth” without a fact check.
For years, some national media sources with an agenda have practiced this idea of slinging out a headline/story based on anonymous sources. They knew when they printed the item that its veracity was on shady ground. But they published it anyway. If the story was false, they would find some little hole on an obscure page to print an “Oops, I’m sorry. We should not have printed that.”
But if we think print media is bad, social media is worse. Half-truths are made to sound legitimate, placed on the digital page and slung out into the cyber universe. If the item is found to be false, someone might possibly apologize, and after a self-imposed slap on the wrist, they go back to loading up the next storyline that only tells part of the truth or fabricates some brand-new myth.
And before we point our biblically conservative fingers of blame at the liberal tabloid media and pronounce “shame on you,” there is guilt on both sides of the political aisle. The gossip (yes, gossip) has become so prevalent, it is hard to know who to believe in the plethora of emails, texts, and instant messages.
For example, the other day in a court briefing, an attorney stated that MBC had some kind of master plan for the control of our great institution of higher learning in Bolivar, Southwest Baptist University. My immediate response was “What plan? Did someone write down a strategy and I didn’t get a copy?”
Allow me to look you in the eye and say, “The MBC’s vision for SBU is for it to prosper, thrive and fulfill its biblical purpose: ‘a Christ-centered, caring academic community preparing students to be servant leaders in a global society.’” To believe some other narrative is to fail to discern the facts.
Or, how easy is it for us to believe a story about a Baptist “someone” who has been labeled as being part of an offensive group without checking the facts? In the scheme of the global population, Baptists are a small demographic, and we too often stand in a circle taking pot shots at each other — gossiping about one another, instead of engaging one another in meaningful conversations that give testimony of our love for the Lord and one another in spite of our differences.
Suggestions to help conquer gossip and recapture discernment:
1. Choose not to participate in or perpetuate a false “truth.” Unless you can verify a story, it is best to walk away from spreading it. There is no biblical mandate to participate in every conversation.
2. Simply don’t believe everything you hear or read. Sometimes people spin a wild tale just to see who is gullible enough to listen and respond.
3. Position yourself to not receive gossip or false narratives. Consider taking a fast from social media or other news outlets. Simply exercising discipline has a way of making us more discerning.
4. Don’t feed the beast. Those who dump false narratives on you are not doing so to edify you or even to help your common cause. Most often, their goal is to gain notoriety for themselves, to sell print media, or to capitalize on the number of hits to their websites.
5. Arm yourself with facts. What do you know to be true?
6. Focus your thoughts — Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (NASB).