posted by Robert Hall Saturday 13th April 2013
A police officer has resigned after posting ill-advised comments on a social media site. This is just one of many instances where public employees have found themselves in hot water for expressing personal views, which in other contexts within a free society, would be acceptable. So what is different about today’s social media which is so very hazardous for people in the public eye, especially those who work in education?.
Are we becoming a more closed, intolerant society, or a police state? Some think so, and a general fear is rising that we have to be very careful to avoid being who we really are. Do we create for ourselves a false front, in line with current political correctness, maintaining a set of quasi values which do not sit easily with those who seek to live out the Christian life in their working lives?
I do not think so, and I believe that we can, in an educational setting, live our lives true to the gospel, provided we observe some simple rules. Below are some points which, I hope, will help us to be true to ourselves and our faith, and keep us out of hot water.
1. We are called to live a life of faith. ‘Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.’ Hebrews 11.1-2
2. We live by a set of values and absolutes which are sometimes fundamentally different from those of the people we work with and those in authority over us. We cannot unthinkingly accept the values of the institution and people with whom we work.
3. We need Holy Spirit discernment in our public lives, in the same way that John talks about in 1 John 4, regarding testing the spirits to see if they are from God.
4. During the course of a single day we will find ourselves in a variety of different arenas. These may include tête-à-tête with a spouse, exchanges at family meal times, banter on the bus to work, dialogue in the staffroom, addressing the whole school in assembly and so on. We instinctively know how to speak in each of those situations.
5. When using any form of ICT, we need to be very clear about what kind of medium it is. If we use a keyboard, including all the latest types, to express ourselves, we must understand that it’s just the same as shouting from the rooftops or pasting up our words on a poster in the public square.
6. Whoever our intended audience, we actually have no control of where our words will end up. Once they escape to the public domain, our words can wing their way across the world in seconds. A useful watchword is, ‘Never commit to the written word anything you wouldn’t want made public.’
7. An historical anecdote is instructive here. A certain society lady had a large inglenook fireplace over which was an ornate wooden carving of roses. Comfortable chairs were arranged around the open fire. When she wanted to say anything confidential to her friends she would invite them to meet her “beneath the roses”. The phrase came to mean that absolute confidentiality was required. And, of course, a clear understanding of that phrase was vital by all the hearers.
8. The Chatham House Rule, devised in 1927, is also interesting in this context: ‘When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.’
9. Any kind of social media is OK to use, as long as the user bears in mind the watchword in point six above. Any other kind of communication would be best conveyed by telephone or, better still, face to face conversation. Context is everything.
10. ‘The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.’ James 3.5-6 The whole chapter is worthy of studying by Christians in education.