[The following is a chapel address presented to Junior High and High School Students at SouthLake Christian Academy on January 8, 2020.]
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: ‘Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross.’” – Philippians 2.3-8, New International Version
Social drama is common among teens and adults alike. People living and working in close proximity with one another will inevitably experience relational conflict. This is a normal, natural, and necessary part of any family or community. People have to learn to exist peaceably with one another. The problem comes when conflict isn’t resolved effectively and persists creating unnecessary stress for those involved. So, let’s define social drama as unresolved relational conflict that creates undue emotional distress. (For the purposes of this address, I am not talking about situations involving physical harm or the threat of injury. Social drama is both more common and more trivial.) Here is an example of social drama that I observe frequently. Susie says insulting things about Adam to her friend Beth. (These are not real people). Beth tells Adam what Susie said and Adam gets angry at Susie, who in turn gets mad at Beth for telling Adam. Then Beth gets mad at Susie for starting the whole thing and she gangs up with Adam against Susie. Susie gets her other friends involved to take her side, and Adam and Beth do the same. And on the drama goes!
The passage from Philippians 2 quoted above gives four instructions. (1) Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. (2) Consider others more important than yourselves. (3) Look after the interests of others. (4) Be like Jesus who was equal to God but gave his life for us. If everyone followed these instructions, social drama wouldn’t exist. Here are some of the causes of drama as I see them.
Personal insecurity is the most obvious and common cause of social drama. People who are uneasy about their position in a community, people who do not feel liked or trusted, people who are not comfortable in their own skin, people who feel unsure about their friendships, or people who are lonely will often try to bring others down in order to feel better about themselves.
Competition for social position isn’t unique to teens. We adults can be more overt and vicious in our quest for popularity. Teens follow the examples we set. Who is friends with whom, who travels where and with whom, who hosts parties and who is invited, who lives where and who drives what … these are the concerns of socialites. You’ll avoid a lot of drama simply by refusing to play this game. Have close friends but be a friend to all. When you travel or host social events, don’t post pictures about it that inevitably make others feel excluded. Be less concerned with who likes you and more concerned that you treat others with unfailing kindness and respect.
Gossip, rumors, and slander often pose as genuine concern for people but accomplish nothing good for anyone. Some seem to thrive on involving themselves in the private business of other people and use gossip to fill a personal void. Other use slander as a weapon of war against those with whom they hold a grudge. Spreading negativity about other people fuels one’s ego, but the fire can burn all involved. The old expression seems to apply here: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say it.”
Attention seeking behaviors are those actions intended solely for the purpose of drawing attention to oneself. Social media exists because we are attention seekers by nature, but social media allows us to deceive by painting a picture of our lives that isn’t real. We show online what we want others to see not what we truly are. We exaggerate what is good about our lives to impress others or exaggerate what is difficult about our lives to get their sympathy. We express opinions to impress or to annoy, and the attention that results helps us feel smart or important or validated. Yet, a growing body of research indicates that the inevitable result of our online existence is jealousy, anxiety, and discontent. Limit your time online and remember that everything you see is contrived.
Entertainment is a cure for boredom and social drama can surely be entertaining. Perhaps it’s not a bad idea to have a good-humored approach to the drama that swirls around you, so long as you don’t seek to create it for your own amusement. Jokes and pranks and poking fun can help us cope with a world that is filled with tragedy, but these things can go too far and become belittling or damaging to others. If you are sensitive to those around you and consider their interests ahead of your own, you’ll develop the sensitivity to know when you are about to cross the line from humor to humiliation.
Now here are some things you can do to handle, or better yet, avoid social drama altogether.
- Never speak negatively about other people. Yes, sometimes you need to blow the whistle on bad behavior. Sometimes you need to give those in authority an honest evaluation of someone’s behavior. But aside from those rare circumstances, if you follow the simple practice of never speaking badly about others, you will be a happier person in the long run. The Rotary Club promotes an ethical standard called “The Four-Way Test,” recited by members at each meeting. “Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it bring goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?” These are good questions to ask yourself regularly.
- If someone offends you, talk to that person. In Matthew 18:15, Jesus gives these instructions to his followers: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” These conversations will seem difficult to those with little experience having them. But there are simple and gracious ways to talk to someone who has offended you. You do not need to get in their face or become confrontational or drag up years of offenses. A simple statement like, “Hey, you said something that bothers me, and I was hoping we could talk about it sometime.” You will get better having difficult conversations over time. Best to become comfortable with difficult conversations now while you are young, and the stakes are low. As you get older, difficult conversations will become more common and far more consequential.
- Apologize when you mess up, and when you don’t. Sometimes the solution to social drama is a simple apology. And sometimes, you need to apologize even when you don’t think you are at fault. If the objective is a mended relationship, then at some point it doesn’t matter who is right and who is wrong. Be a peacemaker not a drama creator. Of course, you need proper boundaries to know that there are times when you must insist that others take responsibility for their behavior. But most instances of petty social drama will never be resolved by pointing fingers. If you aren’t ready to say you’re sorry when it isn’t your fault, then you aren’t ready for any serious relationship, romantic or otherwise. Jesus gives us the best example I know. As He gave His life, dying a martyr’s death in torturous despair, he said of his executioners, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
- Forgive, forget, and move on. Middle school and high school are too difficult already. LIFE it too difficult and too short for you to hold grudges. Each grudge you carry is like a brick in a backpack that you cannot remove. The books and supplies you’re carrying are heavy enough already and each time you fail to forgive, you add more weight. You are only hurting yourself. Forgive. What if the other person doesn’t apologize? Forgive. What if the other person refuses to admit he or she did something wrong? Forgive. What if he or she keeps doing it over and over? Forgive. You may need to get some help from an adult, but you still need to forgive. Jesus was asked once how often we needed to forgive. “Seven times?” was the question. Jesus answered, “Seventy times seven.” He did not mean 490 times. Seven is the biblical number of completion. Forgive completely.
In conclusion, I considered asking that we make it our New Year’s resolution to avoid social drama. But the thought occurred to me that this approach will not work. If the root cause of drama is personal insecurity, then simply resolving to avoid drama can’t possibly be effective. We must each address the insecurity that we feel as broken and fallen people in a broken and fallen world. Or rather, I should say we must each allow God to address the insecurity in us. As the theologian St. Augustine writes in Confessions, “Our souls are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”