Deciding whether to hit the "send" button when using social media can be a life-changer. Most of the time the split decision is made without thinking about the potential consequences. When the other party involves former employment, a community member, friend, family member, or enemy, a quick finger on the “enter” button can be one we regret. How we treat others when they are not standing next to us reflects on our character.

It is critical to the Mecosta Osceola Intermediate School District that we treat everyone with respect, whether a community member, school, or business person is complaining or praising our K-12 educational systems. Since the MOISD handles professional development of local staff members, K-12 vocational education, and supporting the most costly special needs students, it is not uncommon to have discussions that contain disagreement, but our deliberations should always be respectful.

True character is also not what you say, but it’s how you treat people whether they are deemed important by society or not. Albert Einstein once said, "I speak to everyone the same way, whether he or she is the garbage man or president of the university." With the explosion of social media, this same advice should apply, times 10! Social media now provides an easy access platform to spread negativity quite easily; seemingly without consequences...

Character assassination is much easier while you are anonymous. Much like toothpaste, you can’t put hurtful words back into the tube. With the increase in the use of social media, it’s easier now more than ever to negatively text about others who are not present, bash your former employer on Facebook, or cut down others through Twitter, Snapchat, Blab, Periscope or Instagram. The problem with an electronic method to bashing others is that it is ALWAYS discovered, and the offender usually regrets it once the send button is pushed; the offense is too late to put the toothpaste back into the tube, especially if others comment on your thoughts — the negativity can spread out of your control and your true character is now revealed to the world. Likewise, you can assume that if your "friend" is including you in the trashing of others, they are more than likely trashing you when you are not present!

So what’s the solution? There are three key ingredients for words when a person is not present that I learned from a friend. Whatever you say must: 1) be true; 2) build the other person up; and 3) be fitting and appropriate. If the three ingredients aren’t present, whether electronically or verbally, it shouldn’t be said or typed. If you wouldn’t say it with the person standing there next to you, you shouldn’t say it or type it. American Revolutionary Founder Thomas Paine, once said: "Character is much easier kept than recovered." Be smart, think twice before speaking about others who are not present, and save yourself some trouble; select the "delete" button!

Dr. Finch can be reached at cfinch@moisd.org and followed on Twitter @CFinchMOISD