An Internet Search for Civility

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IMG_0937I for one love the manners in the South.  What do you think it means to be Civil and Gentle in the internet age? What does it mean to express your opinion while still using appropriate manners?  To be quite honest, nothing ruffles my feathers more than a judgmental, ranty post. So, without further ado, I’m going to share my five principles for avoiding online rants.

1.  Use good judgment. If you started writing a long, frustrated post on Facebook, and decide to make it a blogpost, think about your intentions for writing.  If many of your posts tend to be provocative, think twice about the purpose of blogging/posting and the benefits for you. Is it a healthy outlet for you, or could it be creating more anger, worry, and frustration? Could you be stirring up anger or discontentment in others? Sometimes anger is healthy, but rarely does it lead to healthy interaction.  Are you helping others to get closer to the truth, and to see the truth more clearly?

2.  Don’t make off-hand comments that you can’t – or don’t– back up with truth.

Often the silliest claims are offered without explanation. Again, you might accuse an innocent bystander. Give an idea of what you mean.  Oftentimes the most opinionated posts are not  taken seriously, (and yes, I’ve had this happen to me), because people- especially strangers- can’t tell your tone from what you’ve written.  The best way to receive mixed up responses is to throw off-hand comments to the www. Examples and/or clarification will make everything kinder and clearer.

3. If you want to manifest a polite demeanor, coat your opinion in sugar. (i.e. Kindness. Nothing hurts worse than an unpadded bomb.) Before you give an opinion, offer a few disclaimers. After you give an opinion, offer a few disclaimers or an equivocation. If you purposefully ruffle feathers or provoke people to wrath, reconsider the purpose of writing a certain post. For example,  this article rubs me the wrong way.  You could say, “I know many people love Christian music//a song on the radio, but they’re/it’s not for me. However, I am / am not that type of person.” RATHER THAN: “UGH….I hate/want to kill Christian music/a song on the radio, it’s/they’re so vain/obnoxious/etc.” Don’t accuse people who aren’t guilty by using broad generalizations or stereotypes. 

4. Try not to complain, but rather, express truth in a (if possible!) kind and (perhaps even!) a content or peaceful tone. Maybe wait until you’re not feeling the internal rage to pen a post about how your child has fallen out of love with bath time.  Maybe stop and read scripture and meditate before posting your thoughts on the world wide web. It might end up comical or perhaps a what-you’re-learning-through-the-storm/difficulty type post rather than a I-stayed-up-too-late-and-I-have-to-get-this-out type post. What is good about it?

5.  Ask questions, and seek to understand where others may be coming from. When speaking about something sensitive like losing weight, battling an illness, or going through a divorce, stop to see what others think, and show genuine interest in where people are at. Waiting a while to post your thoughts is usually a good idea. Asking questions in the first place, rather than seeking to be heard and understood, is always a wise move.  “Fools find no pleasure in understanding, but delight in airing their own opinions.” Proverbs 18:2

All of these points can be boiled to this: express your opinion with grace. Rather than using words that provoke anger, how can graciousness coat your meaning? Yes, this is where you stand…however… give others the right to their opinion. Thank them for their opinion.  Take them at their word, and if you get a sour response, move on. Don’t judge.  It can be hurtful and may even leave scars to air your opinion in a rude way. Think twice, and save a heart from being wounded.  It is important that we not seek to change others, but rather, understand them, and speak gently into whatever they are going through.

I am an INFP (if you don’t know what that means, see this) and I can be too sensitive, not to mention online communication can be mighty impersonal and often comes across incorrectly. And wow, things get misinterpreted all the time. However, maybe we can all benefit from examining and cross-examining our words and our motives, and if so… then I hope my thoughts will help.

Copyright 2013 Tacy Beck

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1 Comment

  1. Great article, Tacy! Manners really are a way of forming us in the habit of being charitable toward others.

    One thing I find difficult – and it’s something you point out in the lede of your article – is how different regions have different manners and expectations. Having grown up in Oregon, but with plenty of Southern relatives, then living for years in Maryland and D.C., and marrying into a NY family, and now living in western Michigan, I find myself navigating (or attempting to navigate) a wide variety of manners and expectations that exist on a broader cultural basis.

    But, as you point out, by rooting our manners in our internal dispositions – through conversion of heart first, then conversion of external habits – we’re more likely to show the courtesy and respect other people deserve. I like that.

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