Trial by shame

We've all done it. We've all felt outrage at the sick online comment or the bad behaviour captured on YouTube. Yet social media connects our thought bubbles with everyday scenarios in a way that previous generations could have never conceived.

Take, for instance, the actions of a 68 year old man, who with his passenger, were rescued from flood waters in Tasmania by Police in the past couple of days. Within hours of this incident appearing on the Tasmania Police Facebook page, the following comments were posted by members of the public:

Seriously!? They should be charged for inconveniencing emergency services. Unacceptable behaviour and downright stupid.
Send them an invoice for the rescue costs, bloody idiots!
There's always one! No cure for stupidity or ignorance.

Some comments actually called for them to be charged for deliberately ignoring warning signs about driving in the flood-affected area.

What do we learn from this kind of commentary? Plenty I suppose, but one thing for sure is that social media has fast become the premier mechanism for publicly judging and shaming people - without mercy or grace. So much so, that journalist, Jon Ronson has provided a number of high profile examples in his book, "So You've Been Publicly Shamed", which show how public shaming on social media has virtually ruined people's lives.

The Gospel of Christ though runs counter to the politics of public shaming. Lewis Smedes wrote over 20 years ago when talking about the merciless power of shame which we all face, "is there an alternative to the shame-producing ideals of secular culture, graceless religion...There is. It is called grace." Grace resists the hammer blow of self-righteous judgment by first looking in the mirror and asking, "let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone."

By looking into the mirror of self-examination, there may be less entertaining rants on social media, but also less damage to the lives of people, the extent of which will only be revealed in the light of eternity.