Lucy, the three-and-a-half year old granddaughter whom we are raising, has entered another willful phase. She tests (“NO!”), she wheedles “PLEEEEZ?”), and she whines (“MA-ma, I want a COOK-ie”). It is exhausting to be her parent right now, but we see progress, and we know that the goal of forming her character is worth the inconvenience of disciplining her on the spot.
Impulse control is hard for preschoolers. Disappointment is tough for them to handle. They say what they think without editing. They lash out in anger when they are thwarted. I understand that–it’s partly the age, and partly raw human nature which simply needs to be tamed and taught.
But what is only to be expected in a three-year-old is singularly unattractive in a twenty-something. I found that out this week.
I had an unexpected “altercation” on social media with a young woman whom I’ve known for years. She didn’t like an article I’d posted on that site, and she let me know it, with heavy sarcasm. Feeling that her generation had been called “dumb,” she lashed out, painting an entire previous generation (mine) as villains who have brought the world to the state we’re in. Since I knew that the article had not called her peer group “dumb” nor had it dealt in such mean-spirited generalization, her tone felt like a personal, and rather vicious, attack.
Welcome to the world of social media communication.
What ensued was:
- an exchange of less-than-cordial comments (mine dispassionate, refusing to engage with her tone, but not–to my shame–conciliatory or especially helpful);
- two other adults entering the conversation, one publicly and one privately;
- some extremely lengthy private messages with the young woman and her mother (apologies and explanations were exchanged);
- my removal of the entire thing from my site.
It was emotionally exhausting, and completely unnecessary.
All I wanted–and what I said repeatedly, from my first response onward–was for everyone to engage with the actual information presented, rather than their emotional response to what they “thought” they had read. The article was not so much an opinion piece as it was a reaction to statistics. But those who took offense found it highly critical and said, in effect, that they could not be blamed for their words, because they are “passionate” and “when people are criticized they lash out.” I was told that “everyone” picks on that generation, which causes them to perform badly and become disheartened.
Forgive me while I vent.
As communicators, the Two Heads of this blog seek to inform, convince and inspire readers to be change-agents in our very messy world. At times the tone is edgy or sarcastic. But the underlying motivation is always to provoke deeper thought, and to promote action. While we often spend more time than we’d like spelling out the problems, what we really want is to be part of the solution. At times we will fall short of that goal, but we will continue to try harder.
In that spirit, I’d like to offer some suggested guidelines for engagement (and some thoughts to consider in that regard), whether here or elsewhere:
1. If an article seems to be critical of a particular group, look for words which give you hints as to what part of that group is actually under fire. If we’re reporting on teenage thumb-suckers, and you are a teen who does not suck his or her thumb, then the post is not about you, nor is the post about all teenagers.
2. If you disagree with something we’ve written, feel free to say so. It will be most helpful if you can include the quote from the post to which you are responding.
3. If there are links in the post to material which is being referenced, it would be a great idea to give at least a skim-read to that material. Check to see whether we have interpreted the source material accurately, and represented it fairly. If we haven’t, it’s valid to point it out.
4. If you’re offended because you feel that we are saying all teenagers are thumb-suckers, it’s not terribly helpful if you retort that all septuagenarians are bed-wetters. If we were making a ridiculous blanket statement of that kind, you could probably get away with such a juvenile piece of sarcasm in return…but in the communications sphere, taking the moral high ground by not retaliating in kind is a sign of civility and maturity–good goals for all of us.
5. If you are offended by anything we write, please know that it is not our job nor our purpose to offend. However, we are not bending over backwards not to offend either. As we’ve said often, there is no Constitutional right to NOT be offended.
6. It is actually possible to disagree with people whom you respect and even like. George Bernard Shaw and G.K. Chesterton were friends…but on paper and in ideology they were bitter enemies.
7. Truth will always be offensive to someone. Peter referred to Jesus as “a rock of offense” to those who did not believe (see I Peter 2:4-8). Jesus was not afraid of offending people: He called the Pharisees ‘snakes’ and ‘white-washed tombs’ because they purposely obscured the truth. Jesus’ message was Truth. “And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me,” He said. And today, even when Christians are as careful as we should be to “speak the truth in love,” someone is quite likely to be offended–most likely, those who do not agree with us.
8. Just because you disagree with something does not make you right and the other person wrong. Civil discourse may move both parties to a more nuanced position where they find common ground. But if disagreement only results in name-calling, character assassination and threats, then our culture is headed for a communal burial ground.
Please, please, please: let’s leave the tantrums to the three-year-olds. No more allowing ourselves to be ruled by our “passions”! Restraint, respect and careful reflection will go further toward solving 21st century problems than all the whining in the world.