Yesterday a friend of mine wrote a piece about what it’s like to be single on Valentine’s day and to hear stories about “God’s plan” for her life from married folks. It was a great post and addressed beautifully the whole problem of treating our lives like they’re on some kind of path that has a happy end result (apparently marriage, in this case). It was thoughtful, well-written, and clear.
One of the earliest comments just completely ignored all of that and gave basically the same advice that Emily was addressing in her post, while also calling her bitter.
I shook my head, partly because it was kind of obnoxious, but mostly because this seems to be pretty par for the course. People talk while other people just wait for their turn to talk. What the first person has to say is of little importance – it is just an opportunity to collect thoughts about the topic. What is said is not nearly as crucial as just saying it.
Just because someone speaks after the first person, it doesn’t automatically make that a response.
I’m aware of the old adage, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”
But sometimes we aren’t going to say something nice. We’re going to disagree and we might even disagree with vehemence. We can do this without cruelty, but I’m also aware that sometimes these won’t be conversations that could be classified as nice.
This is okay. It can be good, even. A lively debate where people are hashing out differing opinions can be beneficial, not just for the participants, but for those who are listening or reading along. I’ve seen conversations that have been civil but heated get shut down and it’s always disappointing to me because I think we miss a chance to stretch our worldviews in those instances.
What is frustrating is when what is happening is not actually a conversation.
Instead of worrying about being nice in our responses, I would like to see us focus more on responding to what is being said. My statement would be something more along the lines of, “If you can’t listen to what the person is saying, shut your mouth.” It’s not nearly as catchy, but I think it sums up a lot of our communication problems a bit more succinctly.
The commenter on Emily’s post wasn’t responding to what she wrote, they were simply responding to every person who has disagreed with their view on the issue about God’s sovereignty. Any salient points that they may have had got lost because the comment was so reactionary that it stopped the conversation cold.
As the world shrinks, we are exposed to more viewpoints than at any other time, and this means that we have more opportunities for conversations. We can choose “nice” and just shut them down at the first hint of disagreement. We can just use them as a space to share our opinions regardless of what the others involved have to say about it.
Or we can use them as an opportunity to listen and learn and interact with people who have different thoughts than we do about various topics. Opening our mouths and sharing our views can be helpful, but only if we shut our mouths and open our ears first.