How to Believe Things or Have Opinions Without Being a Jerk

A few people have asked me to weigh in on some current events. So here goes. All in one blog post, because why not?

The Duggars and scandal! Bruce or Caitlyn Jenner depending on how soon you want to reveal your slant on transgenderism! The pope and global warming! Politics and gay marriage and every possible controversial thing I could possibly cram into the first paragraph!

We could also talk about Jon Stuart's facial expression in this photo. Good stuff.

We could also talk about Jon Stuart’s facial expression in this photo. Good stuff.

Okay, are you tired yet? I am.

Which is why I’m going to talk in a bit more general terms about Christians responding to controversy. (Most the principles apply to people in general, but I think Christians have a particular reason for taking care about these things because of how we want to represent Jesus.)

Before we move on to the general points, let’s take a look at both parts of this blog post title.

How to Believe Things or Have Opinions: This assumes that it is totally acceptable to have convictions, thoughts, and reactions to abstract questions, current events, and moral issues.

It’s fine to be 100% convinced you are right and think those who disagree with you are wrong. That’s kind of the nature of having a conviction about something. It does become a problem when you are 100% convinced that you are right and also convinced that everyone else in the entire world is stupid, or bigoted, or generally evil if they don’t agree with you.

(Depending on the issue, it’s also fine to be 50% sure you’re right about something, or 75%, or whatever arbitrary number you feel like assigning to your level of certainty. If you are 100% certain about everything…I really don’t know how that happens. You must just sit around all day researching, thinking about stuff, and being a genius expert on everything.)

Without Being a Jerk: This assumes that there is more to life than just being right about things. Being gracious takes a lot of effort, but I think we all instinctively know it’s worth it. Because if you really like listening to the angry, awkward silence after a family gathering explosion of opinion, if pointless Facebook wars are fun to you, if you live to see someone embarrassed or hurt or upset as long as you are declared the victor…there’s another conversation we need to have.

Wrong

(Actually, I don’t want to have it. If this is you, then please find another blog post full of angry people and start misrepresenting what they’re saying and throwing out baseless accusations. The rest of us will continue on.)

Okay, that aside, here are a few thoughts I’ve had during recent microbursts of opinion regarding current events:

Peacemakers Don’t Need Clickbait

Are you stating something in extremes just for shock value? Just to get attention? It probably isn’t the best choice. If you’re writing headlines or stating your opinion in the most sensational way possible, chances are you’re not being accurate even to your own position.

Do You Really Need To Be Funny?

I have heard the argument that satire can point out truth in ways that are uncomfortable but profound. That some people wouldn’t engage with an idea at all if it wasn’t put in an entertaining way. That humor can sometimes help us see things from a different perspective.

Fine, okay, that’s probably right. But textbook-true doesn’t always play out well in real life. Basically, it’s really hard to be funny about serious issues without being mean, particularly because in this generation we favor a dry, sarcastic humor that makes us look smart while making everyone who disagrees with us look ridiculous. Can it be done tastefully? Probably. But more often than not, I find biting satire offensive even when I agree with it, because it doesn’t show respect to the other side.

When in doubt, consider whether humor is absolutely necessary for you to make your point. If not, you probably just want to be funny because people like you better when you’re funny. I don’t think this is a good enough reason.

The Choir Has Already Heard This Sermon

By this, I mean it’s fine for a certain group to repeat what they believe about an issue and why. For example, I may know that I’m supposed to love my neighbor as myself, but I forget to actually, you know, do it, and I can always learn new things about what that looks like.

However, if you are posting an article or a status to impress people who already agree with you, consider not doing that. If you have something to say, make sure it will bring something new to the discussion or at least remind us of something important. Don’t recite back slogans, put out opinions you haven’t thought about for yourself, or leave no room for anyone to disagree.

It should go without saying that your opinion is not a rock. You don't need to bash people in the head with it.

It should go without saying that your opinion is not a rock. You don’t need to bash people in the head with it.

Facebook Is Probably Not the Place

Would I like to talk to you about the entire Caitlyn Jenner controversy, what I think of it, and what it might mean for our culture? Absolutely. Send me a private message, or, better, come over to my house. I just made cookies. It’ll be great.

What I would not like to do is join in a shouting match on your Facebook page. Why? Because if you don’t understand my comment, I don’t have a chance to apologize and clarify. Because even if we are trying to have a polite, deep discussion, it will be interrupted by trolls or time passing or the limits social media has on actually being social. Because if I insult you online, I can’t see that heartbreaking moment where you draw in a breath like I just punched you before you cover it over with a fake smile or anger or see-if-I-care apathy.

I could be wrong about this. There are probably thought-provoking conversations that happen on social media. But I’d prefer to stay out of them, for the most part.

Love People.

I’m pretty sure I haven’t said this for at least three whole blog posts, so I will say it again: love people. This does not mean agreeing with them. It’s harder than that. You can’t put it into a checklist, or say it always looks like this or never looks like that. It can coexist quite nicely with conviction. But it doesn’t always, not because we can’t have beliefs and opinions, but because we often make our beliefs and opinions less about this-is-true and more about I-am-awesome.

There you have it, people. This is hard stuff. It takes wisdom and humility and grace. It should be noted that I am not the best example of this, especially when I’m not writing things and can edit out some of my arrogance. But I’m trying.

Okay, your turn! Disagree with any of these points? Have any you’d like to add?

5 comments

  1. This reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite movies, Harvey (which for some reason almost nobody in my family likes except me 😉 ):
    “In this world, you must be oh so smart, or oh so pleasant. Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant.”

  2. Well said. Most things that people argue about do not resolve themselves to an either/or position if they are thought through in any manner. They are much more complex and our personal reactions to them vary as we vary from each other.

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