HEY EVERYBODY: Try To Be Nice

Have you ever noticed that I, Steve Goold the Dos, am listed as a contributing author to this blog? But I stopped contributing a while ago. Isn’t that weird? Boy. So weird.

The situation is thus: I had a series of posts about my year-long Bible reading thing (which I still do) and I got behind on the posts (not the readings, just the posts) and then I felt like I couldn’t post anything else on the blog until I finished the series (and I still haven’t finished it) and now I don’t want to finish the series at all (because I so massively dropped the ball on it).

SOOOOO… Bryan, I am sorry to massively drop the ball. Is it ok if I just post on other topics now instead of finishing the year-long Bible series? I’m not going to wait for you to respond. I’m just gonna start posting about other stuff and I probably won’t finish the year-long series.

What I want to say in this post is simple and basic and easy and not new and doesn’t need a long explanation, so I’ll just post it and that will be that. Easy. (But I like long explanations so things might go that direction.)

Here we go.

There is a way to make a point while also taking a shot at someone, and then there is a way to make a point without taking the shot. There is a way to communicate a truth while also being snide and condescending, and then there’s a way to communicate the same truth without being snide or condescending. One can express a viewpoint or perspective in a demeaning or insulting way, or one can express themselves in a respectful way.

My suggestion: We – the people of God, the followers of Jesus, the messengers of the Kingdom, those who are charged with making disciples of all the nations – we should diligently choose the latter options listed above rather than the former.

That’s it.

The rest of the post is the part where I do the long explanation thing, so bail out now if that’s something you’re not interested in.

At the Goold house we don’t allow Betty (age 8) and Suzy (age 4) to watch the modern Disney shows. This is frustrating to my kids because the shows are funny and fun to watch, but our house rule exists because the nature of the comedy is so disrespectful. All of the characters constantly speak to one another in very sarcastic and mocking ways, and the studio audience laughs and so do I. Being unkind is funny in these sitcoms, and that’s not a concept that I want my kids soaking up.

Because it’s not true. Being unkind is not, in the end, funny. It’s hurtful and unhelpful and unnecessary. At least I have observed this to be the case.

I have also observed, over recent years, that being unkind for comedic purposes has reached an almost epidemic level in our culture. Making a point while simultaneously making a joke at someone’s expense is now the standard currency of discussion/debate, and this seems to be especially the case in the blogging and social networking worlds. I imagine this is so because of the pronounced instinct (that we all feel) to “win” a discussion/debate, combined with the instinct to cheer for our fellow “teammates” when they are “winning” a discussion/debate. Verbally stabbing one’s “opponent” while also getting a laugh from potential onlookers is perceived as a way to gain more points in the discussion/debate “contest.” And then this phenomenon also applies outside of discussions/debates, spilling into situations like under-my-breath comments while waiting in line for an extra slow gas station clerk, a sharp exchange with an airline representative during a disagreement on baggage fees, or lashing out at a traffic officer during a busy rush hour.

I’m as guilty as anyone. There is a particularly pleasing sensation that accompanies delivering a verbal kick-in-the-teeth to my discussion/debate “adversary.” I know this sensation well. When I’m tempted to try this, and then find myself succeeding, it usually makes me want to do it again. And the onlookers cheer and laugh and pat me on the back, which makes me want to do it yet again.

But I don’t think I have biblical permission to do this. (Sidenote: Do I? Is there a biblical precedent one way or the other on this issue? Those aren’t rhetorical questions. Chime in on the comments if you think there’s something in God’s Word to bring to bear here.)

I mean, we are talking about people here. They have feelings. Their Creator loves them. And we, as followers of Jesus, are told to love them too.

Then there’s the angle of effectiveness to consider. A personal attack is the easiest thing to be dismissive toward. I mean, right? Haven’t we all seen it to be true that disrespectful and demeaning tones cause the person I’m talking with to immediately become defensive and argumentative? I want the folks I’m talking with to hear what I have to say. I actually want to make a point. Or… do I? I admit that, for me, sometimes the answer is no. Sometimes I don’t want to love people, and I don’t want to make a point. Instead I just want to “win.”

Let me be clear as to what I’m talking about right now and what I’m NOT talking about. I can and should represent my beliefs and my convictions. I can and should speak what I know to be truth into social situations that are suffering from a lack of moral compass. I can and should disagree with someone who engages me in a conversation about sin or scripture or doctrine (or anything else) and puts forth a perspective that I feel is incorrect or misleading. And… I can and I should do all of these things without the common point-making tools of crassness, personal attacks, mockery, belittling, condescension, or sarcasm. 

Nothing is lost in my argument if I present my argument in a loving way. Nothing is sacrificed in my logic if I lay out my logic in a loving way. Nothing in my point will be missed, nothing in my assertion will be weak, and nothing in my message will be lost. I can and I should handle myself in a loving way, and there is no downside when I do (that I’m aware of).

Some context: This stuff has been on my mind for a while now, but I’m taking the time to write this post today because of some internet articles I just read. Good articles. I’m not going to name names, but these are good articles written by good people who have good things to say. And then they say it with words that cut and stab instead of words that convince and persuade.

Whaaaaaat a bummer.

I mean, Internet articles really are a big thing right now – maybe even the primary platform for the market of ideas. And I want to have my mind affected by the thoughts and messages of these godly and wise bloggers/authors/thinkers! I want to read these articles and benefit from their content, which is I’m sure what the authors also want. But I find more disrespectful joking and jabbing than any Disney show, and I do not want to be influenced by that. I very strongly do not wish to further sharpen my already innate instinct to use low blows as a means of “winning.”

And then the harsh words make me lose respect for the authors. Shoot. I don’t want that to happen! Ummm… let’s quick just all agree to not do that. Don’t lose respect for good people with good things to say just because they choose to use low blows in their speech. “He who is without sin…” right?

Blah blah blah Steve… why don’t you say something about how we can make the situation better instead of just complaining about the articles/authors that you’re not even naming? Ok.

My suggestion: Every time you read a Facebook article or blog post or whatever (including this one or anything else), try to detect any and all harshness or meanness or rudeness or unkindness or lack of love. Then, try to imagine a way to make the same points but without all of that negative stuff. And resist the instinct to lose respect for the authors while you do this.

When I follow my suggestion here a couple cool things happen. The concepts/ideas that I’m reading about tend to solidify in my mind in a more convincing yet less aggressive way, which feels really productive. And this habit also sharpens my ability to detect unnecessary negativity, which is a microscope I can turn back around to myself and my own conversations. So far it’s working pretty well for me, I think. But I suppose I should let others determine that. :)

John 13:35, ya’ll. Thanks for reading.

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10 thoughts on “HEY EVERYBODY: Try To Be Nice”

  1. Well said. I agree that usually, charitable debate is the way to go. However, I do think there is strong Biblical warrant for occasional “crassness, personal attacks, mockery, belittling, condescension, or sarcasm.” For one, our Savior used it a TON. And so did most of the prophets. And these are the men held up in the Bible as those we should want to emulate most. But elsewhere they were kind and gentle too. So what gives?

    Clearly, if Christ used sarcasm and mockery and condescension, none of those are inherently wrong in themselves, otherwise he was obviously not without sin. If we look at Scripture, what we see is that it matters who the target is of that sarcasm, and what the goal is for the mockery. Is the person a lost sheep, a woman caught in adultery, a confused and searching wanderer? Then grace is demanded. Or is the person a teacher of falsehoods, someone who claims the name of Christ while denying everything He stood for, a wolf posing as a shepherd? Then a harsh bluntness may be required… an Elijah mocking the Baal prophets, a Jesus belittling the Pharisees. And, most importantly, that was all done in love. Jesus was being just as loving when he called the Pharisees a bunch of snakes as when he washed the disciples’ feet.

    I think believers struggle with both categories… many don’t acknowledge that the latter category exists, so they treat everyone like sheep, while many others who do recognize that wolves exist, end up shooting the sheep rather than the wolf. It becomes tricky because, like you mentioned, we enjoy winning so much that we lose sight of the end goal. Our motives are rarely pure. Which, I think, is not an argument against using sarcasm as a weapon, but rather an argument for proper weapon safety training. “Never point your gun at something you don’t intend to kill.”

  2. Steve: Man. Great post. Yes. Please write stuff. You are hereby not required to finish the year-long Bible thing before you write about other stuff.

    Darius: I don’t entirely disagree with you. Which is to say I don’t entirely agree with Steve. Steve’s post doesn’t seem to allow there to be any occasions in which humor, condescension or unkindness are used rightly in making a point.

    However, I think it’s worth pointing out, first of all, that when biblical characters use particularly sharp words or tones they are almost always (maybe always, I’m not 100% sure) speaking to a person or people they deem to be nearly irredeemable. They seem to know absolutely that they’re not going to convince the people in the wrong of their wrongness. Therefore they ratchet up the course language either as a last resort to try to break through the hardness of heart, or to prophetically denounce them before an audience that needs to hear the harshness as a strong warning to themselves. Second, when sharp words or tones are used, they’re always (or at least almost always) used only when the target of the words is present.

    I really doubt that that’s the case with people–particularly Christians–on blogs and Facebook. The vast majority fail on both of these. They’re neither talking to the person directly, in which case they’re just chicken shit (see my post:http://twog.wordpress.com/2013/12/20/are-you-prophetic-or-just-grumpy/). Or they’re speaking to an audience that could very well be convinced if more charitable words and more compelling arguments were used.

    I think Steve nails it when he says:
    “Then there’s the angle of effectiveness to consider. A personal attack is the easiest thing to be dismissive toward. I mean, right? Haven’t we all seen it to be true that disrespectful and demeaning tones cause the person I’m talking with to immediately become defensive and argumentative? I want the folks I’m talking with to hear what I have to say. I actually want to make a point.”

    I can’t say that I’ve ever seen or even heard about someone genuinely changing their mind for the better as a result of being mocked or ridiculed. So then the question is: What are we after? Changing minds? Or just mocking and ridiculing?

    1. Exactly. Such language should be reserved for the wolves, the “irredeemable”, as you put it. For the sake of the lost sheep, harshness toward the wolf is a necessity. But sometimes it’s messy and complex, cause some wolves are really misled sheep, and some sheep are curiously-dressed wolves. And it’s not always easy to tell. And as you said, such harshness is not used to further an argument, but as a denunciation, a warning to those who might be tempted to think or do likewise. I don’t think it has to be spoken directly to the person, since Paul calls out false teachers on several occasions in his letters, and, I think, Jesus talks about the Pharisees “behind their back.” I think a big key is to determine if someone is a hater of God from the inside of the Church or from the outside. God shows little patience for those who would lead others astray while claiming to speak for Him, but he is long-suffering in His forbearance with the lost.

      In my opinion, I think whichever way we tend to lean personally in our “natural” state, we should try to lean the other direction. If we are gracious by default (and to a fault) to every person regardless, we should lean toward the “nuclear option” sometimes, recognizing that some people need the stick. Or, if we tend to rely too much on “point-winning” and sarcasm, it would do us good to extend excessive grace, even to a Pharisee. By doing so, we avoid the trap of following our natural inclinations.

  3. P.S. I meant to give an example of an occasion in which I think strong, ridiculing, even mocking language might be appropriate: Recently I had, or was a part of, several conversations in which I (and others) were trying to convince a friend and brother not to leave his wife. He had zero good reasons to leave her. She is an unbelievable, faithful, devoted woman. He was just being an immature, self-centered asshole.

    We had conversations on my back porch, on his front porch, on my front lawn, in my living room, over coffee, on the phone, whole conversations via text, and while some of them were stern and aggressive (and some of them were tearful and pleading), the conversations were always deeply respectful.

    Until, after a dozen or more conversations, it became clear that he was just set on being an immature, self-centered asshole. So I told him that I loved him, but that he was being an immature, self-centered asshole, and that God should abandon him the way he’s abandoning his wife–except God won’t. Because “God’s not an immature, self-centered asshole, like you. He stays with his bride no matter what. No matter the cost.”

    And I don’t know if my words did anything. Maybe they did nothing. But they seemed right and warranted at that point. And now he’s back with his wife and trying to work through his heart-issues.

    My words were unkind, condescending and crass, but they came at the end of a very long attempt to persuade and convince him with kindness and reason, I said them to a person who seemed almost beyond repentance, and I said them to his face. If it’s not a possibility that the guy you’re saying unkind, condescending and crass things to might punch you, I don’t think you get to say them.

    1. Amen to that. I think you have in view a more personal connection/situation and I was more thinking about people talking about a Joel Osteen/Rob Bell/Rachel Held Evans type, a false teacher in short. Paul called out those people in his letters (though he probably also called out many of them to their faces). The situation you’re talking about, that definitely calls for doing so to their face (and privately, more often than not).

      I’d also add as a side note that internet discussions tend to give people a LOT more balls than if they were talking face-to-face. I know I struggle with that at times. So Christians need to pause and consider if they would still say what they are about to say if they were in person with that person or if they had someone whom they look up to listening to the conversation.

  4. Great thoughts, guys… making me wish I had discussed this with you before posting so I could just include these thoughts in the actual post. Who wants to read 7 lengthy comments? Shoot. I don’t. But I just did.

    Anyway… I think the message I was trying to send was to take every ridiculing and condescending thought captive before it turns into a ridiculing and condescending word. Kind of a “guard your tongue thing.” If this post had been one of my college papers then I would have done a broad sweep of Scripture for relevant texts… and I probably wouldn’t have gone to the Jesus vs Pharisees or Paul calling out false teachers stuff. I mean, those don’t seem relevant to me because they don’t feel like precedents. I basically give Jesus, in his fully-God-ness, a pass to do whatever (so to speak). He gets to see hearts, know thoughts, know intentions, and know the end game. So he gets to say what he wants to the Pharisees. I don’t know that I in turn should also say whatever I want to “the Pharisees.” And Paul’s condemnation of false teachers feels like just that: a condemnation. He’s concerned with showing the teaching to be false and maybe not so concerned with laying down a methodology for how to insult someone who is a false teacher. “Hey kids… pay attention to my words because this is a situation where it’s ok to be snide toward another person, and I don’t want you to feel bad about cutting somebody down when you’re in a similar situation to this one.” Taking Jesus and Paul as examples of where to draw the line on when and where I’m allowed to be a dick just feels like a legal exercise that I wasn’t at all thinking about when I wrote the original post.

    That said, I think you guys are probably right about recoiling from a sweeping prohibition of strong language. That was also not really on my radar while writing. I am trying to be more careful than I used to be about what flows from my heart and out of my mouth. So I should have brought up James and Matthew 12 because those are the texts that seem relevant to the point I’m trying to make.

  5. Let me know if I’m taking these out of context- but let me “story-button” or cheaply cite some verses for the sake of time. Don’t let vile words come out of your mouth. Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. From a saltwater spring fresh water can’t flow. Love your neighbor as yourself.
    If you use your neighbor as a dartboard- thinking, Yes! This can be productive- this can be a healing lesson- think again. Would you want the rebuke? Yes. absolutely. How do you know you’re loved at all if people never tell you you’ve got a booger on your face? But, which is better- to speak it privately first, or to draw attention to it?
    My perspective comes from this: my family’s love language is sarcasm. In that- I’m not being sarcastic. I’ve had an iffy relationship with the dialect my entire life. Sure, I developed a thick skin- but now I’m rarely sure when to take an honest compliment at face value. For real.
    Finally bringing this subject up to one of my family members in the car at Christmas, there was remittance. A quote from that conversation still rings in my thoughts: Sarcasm is a cheap way to make a point. It’s a loving rebuke without any investment of the love.
    If you want to be an example of the Gospel- then speak peace. An honest answer should be like a kiss on the lips. Jesus healed the world of its sin by absorbing its harshness while fulfilling the law which calls it out. If the Gospel i to be good news, then it should be peaceful in every moment.
    I believe people and muscles are a lot alike. I’m a massage therapist- so go with me on this one. People and muscles are all open to good suggestion, and will respond in kind with as much progress as the have support for that direction. On the flip-side, if you make even the most perfect suggestion (flawless in direction and purpose)- you push too hard, too fast- you get an adverse reaction which entails pain. That situation is then placed in contempt. Nothing wants to move or trust suggestion again until peace is felt.
    I believe this is an account of our mental-emotional-spiritual experience of relating to the Gospel. If you’re a messenger of it- let your words be understood with purity of intent so that your patience and support is felt.

  6. Steve, your reference to James is exactly what I was thinking, too. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praises and cursing. My brothers, this should not be! (3:9-10)

    That person you are about to call an a-hole is an image bearer of the most high God, whether he/she acts like it or even knows it. Be careful, little mouth, what you say.

  7. Yes. I’m too lazy to look up the verses, but we are to speak the truth in love. MOST the time, sarcasm is not the way to do this. I don’t know if Walt Disney was a saint, but I’m sure he would be turning over in his grave to see what his name is attached to today. I’m sad that children grow up in a world today where there are no children. Steve keep your children as innocent as you can. I don’t think you can keep them innocent in this world, but as least they will grow up in an environment where they know there is another way – His way!

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