When Adults Sound Like Preschoolers, Nobody Wins

temper tantrum goodLucy, 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.

anger goodI 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.

thumb sucking

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.

Stock Photo of the Consitution of the United States and Feather Quill5. 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 tospeak 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.

Sign Whining




8 responses to “When Adults Sound Like Preschoolers, Nobody Wins

  1. Can I really, really, really like this one? Here, you do not seem to have a problem with widely different opinions but, Facebook is another story. I need to remember your eight points when I respond to others with different views than mine.

  2. livinrightinpgh

    But this (whining, acting offended, etc.) is how far too many are taught, or have learned, to respond when they are confronted with facts or a contrary opinion. If I don’t agree with you, I MUST hate you, right? If I don’t go along with your position that disagrees with MY moral outlook, I MUST be “old-fashioned” or “out of touch”, or just downright “mean-spirited”, right? Worse, when confronted with facts, rather than having the INTEGRITY to acknowledge one’s LACK of knowledge on a subject, the REAL vitriolic attacks come out.

    Look, we all have a right to free speech. What we DON’T have is a right for others to be forced to listen. An “opinion” is just that, an OPINION. Frankly, all would be better served by a rational conversation, based on facts and logic, but in that arena, the inane comments of far too many would be revealed for exactly what they are.

    Frankly, if being confronted with reality and facts is offensive to someone, and they are unwilling to honestly assess a situation, I can’t be all that concerned….See, I have right to hold my opinions, standards, and beliefs, too. Understand that or get over it, or don’t…

    • godsbooklover

      “…we all have a right to free speech. What we DON’T have is a right for others to be forced to listen.” Great points, PGH! At any given time, there are far more messages out there than any of us can ever hope to listen to. We tend to choose what we already agree with, but when we don’t, or when we happen to read/hear something which doesn’t jive with our own worldview, we really have only two responsible options: listen carefully, thinking about the point of view being expressed; or tune out. Listening for the express intent of heckling is just mean-spirited and says nothing good about the one who does so. Being reduced to rage and venting publicly is also irresponsible and counter-productive. And you’re right, if that’s the only way someone can respond to me, then it really isn’t my problem. (But oh, it bothers me anyway…)

      • livinrightinpgh

        Exactly. My problem with Facebook, Twitter, et al, is that far too many hide behind the safety of a computer screen. Things are said from the comfort of sitting behind their electronics that they would most likely NOT say face to face. And yes, I get the irony of typing this comment, but for those who know me, my PREFERRED and most-used method of communication is face to face. It just so happens that I ENJOY our forum here.

  3. But why think when you can feel?

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