We are poised for an interesting New Year. Many important issues are being discussed in a wide variety of places. One of the hubs for discussion, for many, is Facebook.
What do Jesus, John Gottman and Explosives Have to do With Facebook?
Facebook has great potential to bring a wide variety of viewpoints to the same place. However, I think we may be shooting ourselves in the foot with our approach to online conversation.
On Facebook, many of us are waging a war of ideas that are pushing relationships farther and farther apart. We do this by looking for targets online in the form of ideas we disagree with; then, we throw our biggest argument bomb from a safe distance, wait for the dust to clear and shoot anything that still moves. Ah, the sweet smell of factual superiority.
Can anyone relate?
To be sure, the issues in question are real and important. The presidential race, racial conflict, systemic oppression, immigration, individual rights, religious tension, etc. They all matter. The problem is, we may not have anyone left around us after we have all made our points. I am guilty of this, and I want to seek an alternative approach, an approach that allows us to remain in relationship amidst the conflict. I believe the accounts of Jesus’ life from the Bible and research from John Gottman offer a healing alternative to the online arms race.
A Different Way to Engage: Jesus’ Life
The societal, political and religious climate during the time of Jesus’ life was violent and polemic – clearly paralleled in our time. The “Peace of Rome” came with a loss of local identity and plenty of violence in its imposition. Religious leadership battled over ideas. Marginalized people groups were forgotten. Society was built around stratified, patriarchal leaders with significant disparity between the haves and have-nots.
Into this world, a new leader was born. Jesus’ life offered an alternative to the “might makes right” approach. The circumstances of his birth alone reflect the disparity between Jesus and political leaders in his day. While they were birthed in nobility, he was birthed in humility. While the “right people” showed up for leaders’ heralded births, foreigners and the lower class welcomed Jesus, surrounding him in a trough where animals ate. At the end of his life, he would be executed for his claim to religious and political leadership – a claim he backed not with a sword, but with service, love and affection. With humble beginnings, Jesus lead a life often characterized by disarming weaponized relationships. In the end, he preferred to maintain relational availability rather than enforce his ideology through violence.
Current Research: Gottman’s 5:1 Ratio
John Gottman, renowned relational researcher, studies what keeps us in relationships. He has found in his research that there is a “magic” ratioof positive interactions to negative interactions of 5:1 in healthy, stable relationships. With it, he can predict divorce with surprising accuracy. It is noteworthy that he does not exclude the need for conflict in his ratio; in fact, conflict is important for growth.
What Gottman points out is that there is an amount of positive investment necessary for a relationship to weather the storms of conflict. When there is enough positive investment to handle the conflict, he calls this “Positive Sentiment Override.” My unscientific assessment of the Facebook world is that we need to, collectively and individually, move our ratio towards the positive if we want to stay in relationship.
A Tool for the New Year
So, in light of polarizing Facebook conversations, I am going to try to post with Gottman’s research in mind. Five posts that invest in care, love, humor, generosity, forgiveness, etc. for every one critique. Honestly, I do not know exactly how that looks yet. I will start by taping this to the edge of my computer screen…
Taking my cue from Jesus’ life, I want to prioritize maintaining connection over winning arguments. I think the 5:1 concept may help me.
What Ideas for Improving Online Relationships Do You Have?