July 24, 2014

Yikes! Life Lessons Learned from On-Line Miscommunication

Jan10

With the sun peaking through my window, and my morning coffee snuggled gently in my hand, I sat down at my computer to read the few early morning comments that my readers had left from the night before.

I knew I would get some chuckles because the pictures shared showed priceless beauty and bedlam family moments – I thought.

Only six months into my blog (2009), the community of commentors I was building was an important part of my readership. I wrote as if they were sitting right beside me, sharing every bit of our journey right along with me.

The only problem? Not all of them did.

I eyed the first few. Yep, they laughed right along with me.

“Oh, that is so precious. Wow, that is too funny. I hope that chick is alright, but what a great shot.”

And then I gasped. My stomach sank, and three years later, I can still feel the absolute horror of one picture being so misinterpreted.

“Animal Torturer.”

What kind of mother are you exposing your children to animal cruelty like that?”

“We respect every animal as if it were precious life, and obviously, you don’t.”

At this moment in our home, all five children woke up to their mother screeching, ” Oh no! Oh NO! This is horrible. How did it get misconstrued like that? Oh my word! I am dying. Oh no. I need to make this right.”

Yep, pretty sure that was exactly what they heard as they woke from a sweet sleep.

This new generation of blogging,  texting, commenting and facebook communication has opened up mind fields of miscommunication. We jump to conclusions, assume we know the context of a sentence or two, and in rapid fire succession spew our rash answers right back.

Sometimes, our conclusions are correct, sometimes, they are completely off base causing deep rifts in relationships, both online and in real life.

Clearly communicating in real life is difficult enough, but when we throw in viral communication through emails, texts or blog comments when hearing one’s tone of voice, interpreting emotions, and seeing facial expression/ body language don’t translate, miscommunication is bound to happen unless some clearly defined steps are taken to avoid it.

Let’s use my sweet dog and baby chick situation as an example.  The picture above was one of  many in that post which showed our daughters holding the baby chicks, and our yellow lab peeking into the box of chicks. I closed the post with the title in bold BEAUTY or BEDLAM? (with a picture of the lab looking like it could get the chick.)

I went to sleep “knowing” my readers would just love that post, and I smiled thinking about how cute it was.  Anyone following my blog regularly, knew that we have five children, a sweet yellow lab, and raised chicks. Most of my readers also knew that I shared our bedlam moments, out of much fun and humor.

In my mind, I posted those pictures assuming the sarcasm clearly communicated. I mean, would I ever post a picture like that if our dog really did eat the chick? Of course not, but obviously, when all the back ground information isn’t clearly stated (like the fact that the yellow lab pushed each chick back into the box and never once put one in harms way), the tendency is for people to take ques from their own life or make assumptions to fill in their mental picture based on what they are reading. I had forgotten that there are first time visitors to my blog or people that don’t know my story.

In this instance, a few didn’t see the humor and immediately jumped to their own conclusions without asking me to clarify before responding. Their responses were written out of deep emotions, and therefore translated in very hurtful ways to me. That was my first hard life lesson when it came to on-line communication in the world of blogging, and I wish I could say my last, but that’s not the case.

When dealing with others on-line, in any form, show GRACE!

It’s easy to hide behind our mask of anonymity and make comments that one would never make in real life.

There’s a person behind that text or email or blog with real feelings.

Feelings that get hurt, and 90% of the time, messages are sent that would never be said in real life. In the blogging world, there’s a blogger who claims, “How can they say that about me, they don’t even know me?”  Please don’t rush to judgement. Let’s err on the side of giving someone the benefit of the doubt. Lots of necessary information may be missing to make a good conclusion.

Now, I love a good debate of the issues, and I honestly love hearing varying viewpoints on lots of things. Iron sharpens iron, so I never want people to censor their comments to agree with my positions, but when stating opinions, don’t attack the person, back up your opinion with facts, and always, season with grace.

I just erased some examples of the mean spirited comments that I’ve received, realizing they are not necessary. I understand that often the people writing them have some deep seeded pain in their own life that is just coming out through this venue. The point is that we teach our children this basic principle in preschool: treat others how you want to be treated, but it’s amazing to me the spiteful things that people feel empowered to share at the expense of others.

I want to be an encourager, and assume the best.  Always. I’m not always perfect at it, but blogging gives me a new perspective into people’s pain.

If dealing with a personal email on an emotional issue, WAIT to respond.

In fact, waiting a solid 24 hours is a good recommendation. So many problems occur through texting or emails because people do not wait until their feelings have been defused and they react, rather than respond.

Those rapid fire emotional reactions get us into trouble. I have been on the tale end of a few of those and they are painful. Pray about it, then sleep on it, and most likely when you wake up, your thoughts will be much clearer and you can tackle the issues more logically. Once you write your response, have another friend whose opinion you value, read it first. I’ve had many come to me for help before sending responses. I’ve been able to walk them through what needs to be edited, since I can differentiate what is still negative emotion speaking vs. fact.

Remember to use my OREO cookie approach.

Sandwich the negative issue you are confronting between two positive comments. Think of that yummy oreo, and make sure you have two compliments or encouraging words sandwiched between the negative. It goes a long way.

If possible, talk it through in real life.

In leadership, I have seen my fair share of relationships come to devastating ruin because of online miscommunication. If things are getting blown out of proportion, stop texting, stop emailing, and set up a time to talk face to face. Most do not want to do that because relationally, it’s too difficult, but it’s the right thing to do. We’ve told our teens to STOP with the texting and pick up the phone. So much harm comes to these delicate teen friendships because of misconstrued texts.

Blogging is a whole different world of online communication.

We put ourselves out there by choice and ask for people to enter into our space. Especially with a blog like mine that focuses on lifestyle issues, everyone has an opinion. One of the things I love and appreciate about my community is that people feel the freedom to voice their own opinions and often, are very helpful in the comments. While comments on the blog have slowed down, which I haven’t quite been able to pinpoint, daily discussion on my facebook page occurs on varying day to day topics that I bring up, which I don’t always write about on here.

Yesterday, I shared two sentences of what I thought was a funny moment of potential bedlam with a house full of four teenagers. Our 15 year old son was about to prank our daughter by pouring a cold cup of water over her in the shower. Again, since I have all the background information available to me, I assumed it translated clearly. I knew that our shower was enclosed and that no modesty issues would be compromised. I also knew that with four teens in a house, little pranks are part of our family tapestry, and they end with giggles, some wrestling (with 3 teen boys), but always a lot of fun. I also knew that this was not done out of anger, and therefore instruction on handling anger issues in a more constructive way was not necessary. But here was my mistake,  not everyone on my facebook page would have that knowledge. Now to most of my followers, the innocent fun translated, but to others, they were clearly concerned for our childrens’ safety and self image, and disagreed with this approach.

From that situation, we can all learn, myself included. I updated my status to clarify, thinking it would be a non issue from that point forward and left home. When I logged back in, I was shocked. Comments were getting very opinionated and feelings were getting hurt (between my readers.)

My online desire is to be a place of encouragement, so for comments to turn nasty over a simple status update makes my heart hurt.

It comes back to grace.

We need to show it.  Every day, every where…in our written word. We will all make mistakes, and say things we wish we could take back, but let’s give each other room to do that, and grow from it. We all have different stories, different interpretations, and different ways that we view life circumstances. That’s what makes our community so wonderful. I may not agree with you. I may let you know that, but I will treat your story with respect, and hopefully open your eyes as well to varying points of view.

Most of you reading this can recall that exact moment when you were misunderstood through online miscommunication. I know how it hurts,  but hopefully, we can all learn from those moments and help encourage others as this virtual world only grows larger.

What insight can you share that will help us navigate the waters of online communication? I’d love to hear it.


Comments

  1. I pray we never get to the point where we fear opening our mouths because we are afraid of who we may offend.

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    Jen Reply:

    @Susan H., Oh Susan, on those core, life issues, so very, very true. My prayer indeed because truth must be shared with boldness.

    Now when someone just says that I look fat in a dress, well, maybe they should think twice. haha

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    Susan H. Reply:

    Can’t imagine you ever looking fat in a dress. :). Glad my mama raised me right….if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. I was just referring to you being able to type or say something on your blog or FB page without feeling like your every word/motive has to be under a microscope. I really enjoy your posts and didn’t give a second thought to your prank post yesterday. Sometimes though I guess we don’t know what may have happened in someone’s life that would cause them to make negative comments against something very innocent. You just keep being you. Those who are not happy here will just move on down the road to the next blog. I for one am staying though.

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  2. My husband has expressed that anything we want to say negatively should be said verbally and not put in the written form. When people write something negative, hurtful, or spiteful, the reader can add emphasis on any word or phrase that they want to lock into. I’ve seen that a lot on facebook. People just post something and/or send messages to me and I can take it the wrong way. I’ve learned through the years, that if I have a problem with what I have read I do need to take it personally back to that person to understand the meaning of what is written.

    With the internet and blogging I see lots of people being able to hide behind a computer screen or a username and then say whatever they want. And that goes for the initial comment and then for the response to that comment.

    A couple of years ago, my brother-in-law killed during a training exercise with his police department. I would regularly look up news reports and updates on local newspaper and news websites and I was shocked at the comments people would leave about my deceased brother-in-law or about the situation. Many were cruel and unfeeling. We were a family in mourning and their disrespect just added to the sadness and frustration we were feeling. I know these people would never say those things to my family and especially to my sister, but they can when hidden from view.

    With all our technology to communicate, we have become terrible with communicating!

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    Jen Reply:

    @Nikki, OH Nikki – I can’t even imagine that, and the additional pain it put your family through. I am so sorry for that and you know first hand, just how difficult this virtual world can be.

    You are so right….we’re losing the ability to communicate effectively with the more technology we get.

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    Nancy L. Reply:

    @Nikki, I really wish newspapers would remove the ability to leave a comment on online articles. People say things that can be so hurtful without giving it a second thought.

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  3. Jen ~ Thank you for your grace and your elegance of words and of presence. I’m sad for the people who would look at that picture and see something negative or hear your glass of water story and not understand how much love and joy there is in a household like that. We are very blessed. Thank you for continuing to share with us and inspire us despite the fact that you have to open yourself up to negative opinions. You are VERY appreciated! You and your site bring joy and inspiration to me and many others in many ways :)

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  4. I saw that on Facebook and thought it was so funny! I did think some people might see that the wrong way but figured people that follow you closely would know better. No matter how well you explain something there will always be people that disagree. Sorry you had negative comments!

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  5. Jen – you are always such an encourager and offer great wisdom. Thank you for sharing your heart and opening yourself and your family up to all of us. You offer godly wisdom, which is rare in today’s world. Your family is a great role model for all of us. I love to see how your children interact with each, pick and play, edify, tease, etc. all while showing great respect for each other. Many blessings to you and your family.

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  6. I read what you wrote yesterday, read the comments and “liked” the ones I agreed with. Good old fasion family fun, pranks, jokes, loud laughter that is what should fill all children’s homes. I do understand people will come at every situation differently and you are right not everyone knows your whole story. I guess personally I have gotten to the point where my online life is only about posting encouraging pictures/quotes or pictures of dogs that need to be rescued. After having my feelings smashed online too many times by people who didn’t think how their words would feel to me, I decided not say too many personal things. I do post pictures of food I cook and my crazy dogs playing, but not my kids too much. I’ve learned maybe the hard way to keep my communication with real life friends and my cyber friends just get the little pieces that are not so personal. Don’t know if this makes sense or if I’m rambling now, haha! But I stood by you silently yesterday, I knew your heart was in the right place and your kids were all safe!

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  7. That was beautifully stated. Along with some other character traits our society has allowed to fall by the way side grace is one of those at the top of the list. It takes only a moment to step back and offer grace and godly love. So many people in our society have pushed ” political correctness” that many people have forgotten mercy and grace. I am new to following you on this journey in life and I want to encourage you , from one person constantly in need of grace, to continue to share your life knowing you will always be covered by Gods grace and mercy.

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  8. (I wasn’t thinking and replied to the email address this comes from. So, I’m sorry if you get this twice.)
    Good Morning,
    I don’t remember how I first got to your blog, but I have really enjoyed what I’ve seen so far.
    I especially appreciate this posting as grace does seem to be in such short supply. It’s almost totally invisible in many television shows and movies, and most public places, so it’s always a good reminder. Thank you.
    Margret

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  9. You have to expect that people will have different opinions about what you post and not take it personally. Even if you fully explained the entire situation, people will have opinions that are not the same as yours. We are not all alike, and that is a good thing. Don’t take offense if someone doesn’t agree with what you post. Instead, try to accept those differences and learn from them, with the same grace that you expect from your readers. It’s a difficult thing to put your life out there online, but you have to know, if we are your fans, then we will be your fans even though we might not agree with everything you say. And that’s ok. But something we all must be careful of, is how we state our opinions. We sit safe behind the protection of our computer screens and make harsh statements and forget that others reading might have feelings about it. You are so right about grace. Some of the words used last night in your defense were quite graceless. They were defending your opinion, but attacking those who didn’t agree in a hurtful way. I am not hurt about it, but I wish the lesson about grace would be learned from this. Thanks for the follow up.

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    Jen Reply:

    Absolutely, and that’s why my heart hurt yesterday for those within the comments. I didn’t take offense to those offering varying views than mine because I realized that I didn’t state the full story or the background knowledge of our family, and that was on me.

    But aside from yesterday, many people just choose quick divisiveness in online communication without any thought to others, and I wish everyone would be slow to speak, you know? We all will struggle with it, but hopefully continue to learn.

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  10. I, as well, believe that you should weigh your words before you speak. And also, that God gave us one mouth and TWO ears! However, I have also come to understand that having an online presence is going to have it’s own set of “issues”. I guess that’s just par for the course, and we have to accept it or leave the online “scene”. As far as your daughter being “showered” on, while in the shower…gosh, I can’t even type that without smiling (!) anyway, with the way our society has become, and the lack of what you would think would be pretty common, common sense, some people may find it inappropriate. Unless you explained the shower enclosure, they would, really, have no way of knowing it was all appropriate, and just in plain old, good fun.

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  11. Jen, I find your posts to be thoughtful and encouraging. I began reading here years ago and especially love your thrift store fashion posts.

    As a family farmer, I’d like to comment on the photo. It is CLEAR that the dog isn’t trying to eat that chick. I don’t understand how anyone can confuse that as animal cruelty. The dog’s nose is underneath the chick. He isn’t even smelling the chick, doesn’t have his mouth open and isn’t expressing aggressive body language. Now, there are some people that will say that it is cruel to keep and eat livestock/poultry animals and that is a different discussion all together. You will never win people that have those kinds of opinions over and you really shouldn’t try or have to. There are many people that think what you are doing is fantastic.

    Best Wishes.

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  12. Anyone who knows animal behavior can tell that your lab is being tender. Her facial expression and ears show that s/he is not being aggressive with the chicken.

    I think you nailed a huge rule in online communication: wait. I read somewhere “Maturity is the pause between the stimulus and the response.”. That has stuck with me. I think the most important rule is to pray for the other person’s best. If I can pray for blessings for the other person, chances are that I can then control my tongue/typing fingers. :)

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    Jen Reply:

    Wow – I LOVE that quote. Writing that down, and committing that to memory.

    And on behalf of the picture, there was one more picture though that I dare not post again, that looked more mischievous, but again with all the sweet pictures first, I thought that last one would just get a chuckle. Lesson learned.

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  13. At 56 I am amazed at the “right” people believe they have to speak their minds…and even more so on the internet. My young adult children have wanted me to start a blog and offered to set it up but I just don’t think I have a skin thick enough for today’s discourse. I read the update and could just picture something similiar happening in our house when the kids were teens.
    I’m sorry that you had to deal with this but you made this into an excellent teaching moment both in the tone of your response and in your words.Hopefully it will encourage all of us to be more careful in our judging and words.
    Hugs, Hope

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  14. I think that with any negative comment it takes us a moment to regroup from the comment. I use to work in a church, I had to get use to it. Even in the most “Christian” environment negative can come from simple harmless acts, comments, or written articles. Online has opened us up to a whole new world of people we don’t even know, and that even makes it edger.
    Well written-I was in your list of comments. I comments of how much fun it was-not even knowing what others had said….should I had read the other comments? Maybe I should have. Be online there is a responsibility we have, and we should not just comment because we feel like it. I love the Oreo example.
    Keep up the good work!:)

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  15. I also have had those nasty haters comment when I described a “day in the life on the farm” when discussing how some of the animals are cared for by our younger children in prep for the freezer. I will continue to 100% stand behind our choice to raise our children to know WHERE their food comes from as well as defend some nasty haters ability to comment. Oh well. Live, learn, love. Faith and family are #1…everything else can wait.
    xoxo!!

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  16. Thanks so much for writing this, Jen! I completely agree, our conversations must be “full of grace and seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6), especially when they’re online. I always tell myself to take a breath and wait a couple of hours before I respond to something that makes me upset because I usually will not even comment on it later, realizing it wasn’t as big as I made it out to be!

    I’m thankful for you as a blogger and when I think of the bloggers I’d like to pattern myself after, you’re always first on my list (honestly, I’m really not trying to just butter you up ;) )

    I have also been pondering for a long time how we can write persuasively as bloggers without coming across as so judgmental. There must be a balance in there somewhere!

    Have a blessed day :)

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    Jen Reply:

    Thank you so much for your gracious, gracious comment. In a really, long hard week, it just made my day. :)

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  17. Jen – I love this post! It’s such a helpful and timely reminder of the care we need to take in all of our communications – online or in person. I’ve been in your shoes – misunderstood and maligned because of assumptions made due to my {too often} poor communication. As a woman who loves words, you’d think I would employ them more judiciously, but I don’t always! I’m learning though! I try very hard to wrap any concerns or disagreements in words of kindness – as you call it ‘The Oreo Approach’ – simply because that’s how I like to be approached with hard things. Sadly, even my most carefully and prayerfully thought out words have caused hurt at times. Living in community isn’t easy – I am so thankful that God has clearly outlined in His Word how we are to behave towards one another within the body of Christ – with care and compassion, preferring one another {Romans 12:10}. As you say, with {a heaping amount of} daily grace!

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    Jen Reply:

    heather – you are so right. In fact, I should have mentioned the post I wrote recently about living in community because you are right, it’s NOT easy. It takes work, just like communication does and unfortunately, too many want the easy way out and don’t want to work at it. Romans 12:10: AMEN!!

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  18. I decided I wouldn’t comment since I would only by agreeing with what everyone else was saying. But then my 15yo son walked by, saw the picture of the dog and the chick and said, “Poor dog, that chick is sitting on his nose.” LOL!

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    Jen Reply:

    Angi – Now THAT made me laugh!!!! You gotta love kids.

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  19. We just need to cut each other a little slack. (This is what we said in the fifties South. Does anybody say that anymore?)

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    Jen Reply:

    I wasn’t born quite yet, but I LOVE that saying, and yes, have used it with my kids. :) Let’s bring that phrase back. :)

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  20. Yes, Jen, so true and such a good reminder. I too get frustrated by how nasty people can be when “anonymous”. Thanks for your gracious reminder!

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  21. Many are the times I’ve been grateful that, from the very beginning, my intention was always to “impart grace” with my blog. My name is taken from Ephesians 4:29, and it’s been a good guide for me in the blogosphere. It’s not always easy–but I’m always glad when I do it!

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    Jen Reply:

    And you, my sweet friend, are grace personified. Truly!

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  22. Jen:

    I totally agree with this sentence:

    “I understand that often the people writing them (comments) have some deep seeded pain in their own life that is just coming out through this venue.”

    Of those people that “got into it” with me on FB, I know that they have been hurt in the past.

    Elizabeth Bernstein, a writer for the Wall Street Journal, examined “Why We Are So Rude Online” in this article that might give you additional insights:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444592404578030351784405148.html

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    Jen Reply:

    Thanks Katja, off to check that article out. :)

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  23. Personally, I enjoy having a really super-varied group of friends and acquaintances, which naturally leads to differences of opinion. It all comes down to respect and the aforementioned “pause” (also memorizing that quote…), as well as the ability to recognize a person they disagree with as an actual person with value beyond the comment they take issue with.

    Even before the age of the Internet, public discourse (talk radio, reality tv, etc)was trending toward a tendency to need to view others with differing opinions or world views as inherently wrong in all regards or even evil, which has a dehumanizing effect. What a shame and loss for all of us! Thank you for the reminder to be kind.

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    Lisa J. Reply:

    @Kristina, So true and well stated! Thanks Kristina.

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    Jen Reply:

    Absolutely, Kristina. Just like you, I enjoy having a varied group of friends. We can agree to disagree, but learn from each other and walk away arm and arm. Thanks so much for your comments. I always appreciate them and it brings a smile when I see your name pop up. ;)

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  24. I’m so sorry you had such a negative experience when sharing such a special moment. I saw the picture at the top and thought it was terribly cute. It probably helps that I have raised chickens and had dogs at the same time and I know that the combination can work and is often quite endearing. Our giant mastiff mix would often lay on the patio, and after a period of not moving, chickens would climb all over him and he wouldn’t budge. It was a sight to see!

    You’re so right that people need to step back and consider what they’re saying. Where does the comment come from? Is it intended to help or hurt? I think sometimes it is appropriate to say something that may not be received well if it comes from an intention to benefit the other person. But if it is only intended to harm, then you simply need to close the window and walk away from the situation. With the internet it is so easy to do.

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  25. Wise words my friend! You have taken such a calm and sensible approach to this topic. Its much needed! Thank you for tackling it so wonderfully!

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  26. Diane Bloom says:

    1Co 13:4 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant,
    1Co 13:5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered,
    1Co 13:6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;
    1Co 13:7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
    1Co 13:8 Love never fails;

    Thank you, Jen, for exemplifying this

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  27. Well said! I think most people have had those times where something they’ve said online is misconstrued. I make a point of telling my daughter, who loves facebook and twitter, to remember that the human element is missing from that type of communication. You can’t see a person’s facial expression, or hear the inflections of their voice. I think we have to approach online interaction remembering that we’re only seeing one piece of what makes up good communication.

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  28. I’m new here but I loved this post. Fortunately the worst I’ve received on my blog is spambots!

    One thing that has helped me in dealing with people, whether in person or online, is whenever I’m feeling the urge to say something “negative” to stop and consider how to say what I want to say in a way that “speaks the truth in love”. I find that most of the time, I wind up not saying anything because I can’t easily come up with a way to be kind and tactful on the fly! Life has been a lot less contentious since I started applying that phrase to my actions!

    I’m sorry people were ugly towards you. I’ve never raised dogs or chickens, nor did I have siblings (and my sons are still too little for pranks) but I thought both the picture and the story were precious! Hugs!

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  29. Uh-oh…miscommunication possibility: the only reason I have only had spambots and no negativity is because I have a ‘baby’ blog. It’s so new, with so few readers I haven’t found controversy yet! I’m sure when (if) I have as many readers and as much experience as you, I’ll experience the negativity. Didn’t want it to seem like I thought I was “better” than you with that comment! Oops.

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    Jen Reply:

    No worries. I didn’t think a thing of your comment except you sharing truth in love. :)

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  30. A much needed reminder. Thank you so much for writing. I think we’ve all been there!

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  31. Very thoughtful, wise article. I might add, too, that one of the problems we face is from our allowing so much of our private-lives to be published.

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  32. Beautiful and thoughtful and spot-on post, Jen!!

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  33. Love this. I saw yesterday something that Mary Demuth said… “Hurt people hurt people… Joyful people enjoy people… It gave me a fresh perspective to seek joy so that I will be softer toward others & enjoy them, giving them grace with God’s help… For me, I’ve noticed that I’ll excuse away my hurtful comments toward someone because I’ve been hurt… but, God gives me grace and will help me give that person grace….

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    Jen Reply:

    Such good words, April, and yes, I am continuing to remind myself, give more grace, more grace

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  34. This article perfectly explains why I rarely leave comments on blogs I follow, or even on my friends’ Facebook pages. Unless it is incredibly positive and very neutral language, I try to not respond for fear of being attacked or hurting someone else’s feelings unintentionally. Thank you so much for sharing this. I just had to comment to let you know that there are lots of us out there who follow you but just remain quiet. :-) Please keep the amazing work coming!

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    Jen Reply:

    Thank you so much, Brandi, for leaving me a comment. I really appreciate t. :)

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  35. I haven’t been in many negative situations, real or virtual, where grace isn’t a great idea. Thank you! I liked reading this,

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