How We Speak

Facebook can be a remarkable place of learning. Posts are instructive to analyze. It is instructive to see how often worthy arguments regarding an important subject only preach to other people who already feel the same way that the writer does. Often this happens because the social issue or political issue they post or link to is inflammatory to some group of people.

If you are writing about something that is important to you then you need to consider what you hope to accomplish by your argument. Do you want to insult or destroy the people who disagree with you or do you want them to open their hearts and minds and listen to you? Do you want to “fire up the base” or do you want to keep communications open in such a way that others might be swayed by your arguments?

I once had a young Protestant seminarian come into my office and tell me, quite innocently, that a particular group of people were stupid. So that we could continue the conversation, I told him that perhaps he ought to know that I was one of that particular group he was labeling as stupid. He was stunned. He stuttered and apologized all over the place. I put him at his ease by saying I was not offended but suggested that perhaps he shouldn’t make assumptions about his audience.

Often we make assumptions about others that are ill-founded. I was once unfriended on FB by a school friend who is living in a committed gay relationship. I sent my friend a private message and asked if I had said something to give offense. The reply was that they had unfriended everyone that they didn’t think could whole-keep calm and play niceheartedly support their lifestyle. Since it was clear from things I had posted that I was a Christian they assumed that I had views about gay issues. I responded that I did have views on that subject as well as many other subjects but that we had been friends for years and that I do not feel it is my place to judge. I went on to say that I have my hands full dealing with my own life – or as the Bible says, dealing with the log in my own eye.

I read a book recently that was very helpful on this subject. It drove home the point that people of goodwill often hold totally divergent views. If you are the reader of something that is bothersome or offensive to you – talk privately to the person who wrote it. Ask about it.

If you are writing something consider whether you want to slander the other side or invite people of differing views to talk and think about what you have said.

Freedom of speech works best when we converse with each other. Give and take, asking and answering, first one then the other. Maybe one of these days I will write specifically about the book I mentioned in the last paragraph. It was a remarkable read – but not only because of the subject of the book.

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2 Responses to How We Speak

  1. This is a BIG problem of mine. You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I am a short-tempered, firry-tongued person in matters of theology (and some others of a more personal nature) who seldom if ever thinks twice before writing once — and always writing in public. Often I don’t know I’m doing it; I think I am simply making clarifying observations to an ongoing debate, when in fact the language I use is arrogant and assertive and ends up beating the other writer over the head with a literary baseball bat. I have greatly offended many people this way, and lost some dear friends because I could not keep my fingers from typing. I hope I have learned from my mistakes, but every now and then I fire some blast on the “comments” section of a website for no other reason than to put down and “correct” some stupid sob . . . . I think I only have hurt myself in doing this, and am paying the price now — with interest.

  2. AECRM says:

    Mark, thank you for writing. You don’t need to answer people with whom you disagree. Take a lesson from childhood — I’ve had to relearn many such lessons. “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.”

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