License to shrill

I was involved in discussion on social media recently in which someone made a post that was somewhat questionable but well-intentioned. The first commenters were somewhat surprised and questioned the poster’s sincerity, but things escalated from there, getting increasingly heated and insulting.

At that point I weighed in, suggesting that the commenters weren’t really interested in explaining and advancing their cause, but punishing dissenting opinions. Understandably, someone took exception to that, and explained that they were all on the poster’s friend list for a reason and that as friends they were giving a little tough love.

I countered that considering how that commenter had taken offense at a particular word I’d used, did he really expect the original poster to be any more willing to listen after some of the insulting words he had used. To his credit, this young man recognized he was wrong and apologized (I suspect this was as much to someone else encouraging moderation as anything I said). Some other, calmer heads then waded in and the thread became more positive from that point.

But something stuck out in that exchange. Do we really believe that claiming friendship with someone gives us permission to insult them, even verbally abuse them, so long as we convince ourselves we’re doing it for their own good? Do we really think that claiming friendship will somehow obligate that friend to objectively weigh our criticism, however harsh, looking for truth and wisdom?

That doesn’t seem right to me.

I would think our friends deserve our patience and kindness, not to be treated as an enemy and raked over the coals. These days our discourse seems increasingly indistinguishable from our profanity: no one will recognize the depth of our passion unless we use harsh language.

But passion alone is insufficient to truly inspire someone to consider their thoughts and actions, let alone implement actual change. I’m reminded of the maxim; “they won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” We don’t demonstrate caring by treating people harshly.

I know I’m guilty of this, though I’ve been trying to improve. But if any of us are to have any hope of truly changing hearts and minds we really should consider gentler methods–especially with those we claim as friends. I’m trying to remember a time when someone helped me to truly change through insults and open attacks, and I can’t think of any. Heavens, I’m stubborn enough I have a hard time changing even when people are using kindness.

But I do know that those people who have had the most success in getting me to change my mind are those whose friendship and intentions I do not question because their words reflect genuine care and concern. Your mileage may vary, I suppose, but I suspect I’m not so weird as to be a unique case. At least in this.

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