Got your attention? Good.
Does name calling sound familiar, especially on social media? I’m sure it does. I’m sure the word “moron” actually sounds fairly tame compared to other insults you’ve read online. I’ve been listening to and reading a lot of political dialog lately. And I often find the tone we take with each other to be inappropriate at best, and devastatingly inhumane at its worst.
I’ve seen a lot of insulting, name calling, cursing out … you name it, it’s out there. On Facebook the other day, I saw a conversation devolve into sheer ugly insults, where no one managed to refrain from getting mean (and no one was hearing to the core of the arguments trying to be made, it was all anger and name calling). In an in-person conversation recently I heard someone say, “Libertarians are f********,” and it was just one example I’ve heard of someone insulting those with beliefs other than their own. On Twitter, I regularly see things like: “Trump says racist, terrible things. He’s horrible. F*** Trump.”
Disclaimer: While we let that settle, let me inject this: This post is not about whether libertarians are right or wrong, whether what Trump says is racist, or what is or isn’t biblical in our policies and political leanings, how to evaluate Democratic or Republican politicians. This is about the tone we take. And it doesn’t matter what I believe or what you believe, or what the person across the aisle believes, ALL of us can be civil and careful in our words.
I’m sure what I’ve outlined above sounds familiar. These tone we take… they break my heart, and they make me angry. The tones in which we speak… they are not wise and good. They does not solve things, do not draw us closer and build community, do not build a healthy future for our country. When I hear these aggressive, terrible ways we talk, I wonder, what have we become? How did we get here? Can’t we do better?
And the kicker is… this horrible way of speaking… it’s true of those of us who confess to be Christ-followers. Because, guess what…the examples above? Some of them came from Christians engaging in political dialog. Some of them came from Christian leaders, Christian thinkers, pastors…
Let’s pause and let that sink in. We as professing Christians are name calling, insulting, and using the worst kind of aggressive, demeaning language when we speak to each other about politics.
What on earth are we doing??? Let’s look at some verses to put this into perspective:
“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”—Colossians 4:6
“Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech.” —1 Peter 3:10
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”—Ephesians 4:29
“The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.”—Proverbs 15:4
“The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.”—Proverbs 15:28
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. … Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.”—James 1:19-20, 26
Whew. Feeling convicted? I know I am.
I can get so frustrated and angry when I’m not being heard, or when someone is saying something political that I feel is completely off-base and dangerous, or simply when my ego is getting bruised … and I can lash out. I admit, this post doesn’t come from having never let my tongue gush evil. I’ve done it. And I’m ashamed.
I also know I want to contribute to a different dialog. I want this landscape to change. I want to see civil discourse and kindness (or at least carefulness) in how we speak.
So what do we do? A few suggestions from what I’ve been trying to do:
- Confess you’ve done it. If you have been guilty of harsh tones and speaking, at the very least admit it to yourself and confess it to God in prayer. Own it. Be willing to say you are part of the problem; then you can start being part of the solution. If you’re comfortable, start owning it to others, so that we can start naming this type of dialog as a problem.
- Meditate on what Scripture says about how we should speak. The few verses I’ve posted above are great reminders of the kind of speech to which God calls us, and there are lots more! The more time we spend grounded in these verses, the more likely we are to being open to the Holy Spirit convicting us in the moment of our heated anger, and the more we might practice the kind of speech we are called to—slow to speak, full of grace, weighing our words, building up others, keeping our tongues from evil.
- Walk away if you need to. If you feel insults and rage coming on in a political dialog and you don’t know if you can stop it—it’s better to walk away. Leave the conversation. Stop posting. Close the web page. It’s better to say, “I’m so sorry, I feel myself getting angry, I think I need to not be a part of this conversation right now,” than it is to spew insults and anger.
- Practice charitable dialog with someone from ‘the other side’. Find a conversation partner with political beliefs different from yours who is committed to kind, wise, civil dialog, and spend time in person talking! We often spend far more time on social media engaged in consuming unhealthy dialog that we do in person. Find someone willing to practice with you, and learn together (more on that in future posts).
- Consume media that has a balanced, civil tone. When we are listening to name calling, yelling, insulting… we are more likely to follow suit. Pay attention to the kind of media you are taking in—is it fair, careful, balanced in tone? Is it well researched, civil, and open to multiple perspectives? The better media we consume, the better our own dialog becomes.
- Bring empathy to the table. When you get angry and want to lash out (or are completely frustrated with what you are hearing), ask yourself three things:
a) How would I want to be spoken to (or, how would I want someone to speak to my mom/dad/husband/wife/sister/brother/best friend)?
b) What might be leading this person to say this, how can I understand their perspective?
c) What can I learn from this person and their different perspective? [Yep, this one takes a heap of humility, more in a future post.]
- [Note: I’m not telling you have to agree to the other side’s views. This is key: civil dialog does not require agreeing.* Civil dialog, kindness, good listening, empathy…. They can happen even when you completely disagree with someone. We can be kind, civil, careful, encouraging, wise, and empathic with those we don’t agree with. We can even say, “I don’t agree with the content of what you are saying, but I respect you as a person, as God’s creation, as someone of infinite worth. Let’s talk more.”** You don’t have to agree in order to make room for someone else.]
What do you think? Can we do this? Can you do this? Can you imagine the change that would come over our country if we started to have charitable, empathic, careful dialog? Imagine how much the social media landscape, our personal conversations, our political landscape changed if we talked to each other carefully and with care?
I want to challenge you to see if you can do your part, and I’ll try to do mine. The next time you come across a political conversation, will you try to be the voice of wisdom, civility, kindness? Will you try to listen and empathize? And will you watch the words that come out of your mouth and keyboards, trying to bring the kind of speech Scripture calls us to to the table? I’m committed to it, I hope you’ll join me.
P.S. I don’t think you’re a moron. 😉
*There will be disagreements, and some of them are important. We need to disagree with falsehoods or unbiblical behavior or policies. However, these disagreement can be civil and respectful.
**None of this is to say you shouldn’t be open to having your views swayed in the face of good evidence. Sometimes our minds need to be changed. But whatever is going on, we can stay kind and civil.
All Bible verses are taken from the NIV on biblegateway.com.