Thursday, May 21, 2009

It is possible to be too nice

Kevin DeYoung has his head on straight - by which I suppose I mean that I agree with almost everything of his that I've read. This time, at First Things [he also seems to be turning up at the sites I like], he discusses the quality of debate - especially on blogs.
.... The problem with our discourse—are you ready for this brilliant insight?—is that some people are jerks and some people are too nice.

Let’s start with the jerk problem. Sad but true, the internet was made for jerks. Every comment is more or less anonymous and every comment goes up whether the person has a clue or not. So we end up with a world of senseless blog fury where some anonymous clown with a name like “Spider86x” or “Cowgirl_B52” can rip you every which way but loose. Post something critical about Obama’s socks or point out that the Big East had more teams in the tournament than anyone else because there are, like, thirty-seven teams in the conference, and someone out there will curse the day you were born. Instead of responding to your arguments against inflationary monetary policy, “KeynesKid24” will mock your Blogger picture, lay down some none too subtle sexual innuendo, and call you a liar. Hell hath no fury like a scorned blogger with too much free time.

So the jerk problem is easy to see. But the nice problem can be just as bad. Think of all the work you have to do nowadays before you can disagree with someone. First, you have to do a lot of “I’m not saying ... I’m just saying.” Then you have to reassure everyone that so-and-so is probably a great guy. Next, you make clear that you appreciate that he doesn’t kill people and his family seems sweet. And finally you admit that you could be wrong about everything anyway. ....

The problem with the nice problem is twofold. First, we are all victims or want to be victims. .... We debate who has been hurt more or who was meaner, rather than who is right and who is wrong. If I can position myself as the one under attack and you as the attacker, then I’m more than halfway to winning in the court of public opinion. ....

Second, we are all proud. .... Because I’m proud I hedge my criticisms so that I won’t have to publicly repent and recant when I go too far and get something wrong. Because we’re proud, protectors of self more than lovers of truth, we often don’t discuss things with candor or with verve.

And yet, look at the model provided by Jesus in the gospels. Half of his sayings beg for qualifications. Come on Jesus, give us a little “I’m not saying ... I’m just saying” before you tell us to hate our parents (Luke 14:26). Issue a few caveats before you use the tragedy of the tower of Siloam to call people to repent of their sins (Luke 13:4–5). Tell us something about how the Pharisees really mean well before you lambaste them with woes (Luke 11). Of course, Jesus was Jesus and we are not. But judging from the example of Paul, Peter, John, the Church Fathers and the Reformers, the point still stands. It is possible to be too nice, especially when eternal truth is at stake.

Here, then, a little advice for the tough guys: Save the big guns for the big issues. Don’t try to die on every hill; the hills are crowded already and you only have so many lives to lose. Be courteous wherever possible (Col. 4:6). Drop the rhetorical bombs and launch the satire missiles only as a last resort. Be patient with those who really want to understand (2 Tim. 2:25). And remember, it’s ok to have an unarticulated thought (Prov. 18:2).

And for the tender ones: Dare to not qualify. Don’t pad your criticisms with fluff praise (Gal. 1:10). If you have affirmations of substances, go for it. But don’t be a self-protective flatterer. Don’t be afraid to be misunderstood. Don’t soften a needed jab of logic. And when you get an ad hominen right hook, don’t take it personally (1 Cor. 4:3–4).

And for everyone: please, please argue with actual arguments. Don’t just emote or dismiss the other side with labels. Explain why your side makes more sense. Try more persuasion, less pouting (2 Cor. 5:11). Give reasons, not just reactions (Acts 18:19). .... [more]
FIRST THINGS: On the Square » Blog Archive » Defining Discourse Down

1 comment:

  1. Yes. This post is fabulously correct, and nails the overall blogosphere exactly. Thanks for posting this.


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