“And be moderate (or show no insolence) in your walking, and lower your voice. Verily, the harshest of all voices is the voice (braying) of the donkey.” Holy Qur’an 31:19
I have been busy tracking twitter exhanges for an upcoming book chapter on the role of social media in spiritual formation. I discovered beautiful instances and moments of connection and have been moved by the capacity of people to have deep and spiritually fulfilling conversations with one another. One aspect that fascinates me as a Muslim who is always concerned with accountabilty of my speech, was whether I have a higher or lesser duty to civility when on-line?
Much has been written about thin relationships online (see Umair Haque’s smart piece:
http://blogs.hbr.org/haque/2010/03/the_social_media_bubble.html). While I was not surprised that people may engage in ways that don’t replicate face-to-face interactions I was struck by how the virtual reality we occupy is shaped by our ethics of engagement.
The Qur’an addresses the loudness of our voice and the arrogant manner of our walk as markers for how not to act in person. How much of this should translate into online relationships or our digital footprint?
For me, my way of being online is subjected to the same internal spiritual reflection, not just because others see me but also because it is a religious obligation to speak softly, to walk in this virtual world with the least insolence possible. This mode of communication does not promote humility, the exponential inflation of social engagement processes amplifies the nafs (soul) in ways that are not always in concert with the intention of curbing the ego.
So, I always check that niyah (intention) with each keystroke.
Some questions I go through consistently and constantly:
What is the purpose of a particular set of communications?
How does my own self worth stay independent of the “likes” that are almost demanded by social media strategies?
How can the words I place in this now mainstream space affect others?
Am I helping to build my character and the character of others, or am I harming myself or others?
Will this post burn bridges or build them between my community members and between my community and others?
What is the tenor and tone of my text? Would I say such a thing if I was face-to-face with that person?
Am I speaking in a way that is a form of backbiting, which is forbidden as an act for me as a Muslim?
Should I first engage the person privately before public admonishing them? (see question above).
One need not sacrifice critical thinking nor debate, but the conversations then need to be about conflicting ideas, not about the attacks against an individual’s character.
So I attempt to think boldly, tread softly and type thoughtfully.