Let’s Talk About Tone
Over the past few months my social media channels have become more and more saturated with social debates on a broad range of topics. As I have sought to engage these topics effectively, I have become more and more combative in my engagements. This is not due to an intention but to a lack thereof.
Let me explain.
It has always been my purpose in any such debate to advocate for my position with a particular tone: that of gentleness, respect, and love. But over time, this intention became over shadowed by a desire for my voice to be heard. This desire to be heard resulted in an increase in volume, and a decrease in the nuance of my tone.
Think of it like a guitar amplifier.
Many guitar amps sound great turned all the way up. But when I say they sound great, I mean in terms of distortion. I personally LOVE distortion in my guitar amp–a modded 100w Marshall half stack–but the tone emitted from the speakers when cranked and distorted is only appropriate for certain functions. When accompanying a jazz crooner my distorted guitar amp is completely the wrong tone.
It is the same with conversations about justice and equality.
What I or anyone else has to say on those topics may well be valid, needed–even right. But if the mode of purveying that perspective is a cranked up Marshall in an intimate gathering then the beauty of both the gathering and the Marshall is completely lost.
How do you know if it’s the right tone?
Does it build up or tear down? Does it belittle or encourage? That is how you know whether the tone of your argument is right. Even if the other party is wrong, you will not be right if your tone is combative and devaluing of their perspective. And from a purely practical perspective, you will never achieve you true aims through combative dialogue.
And friends, I’ve been combative. And I’m here to tell you I’ve been wrong.
Not about my positions. I will continue to advocate for the marginalized and the oppressed, because that is what Jesus did and what he clearly expects from his followers. But the way I do so must always be in love. This love does not mean that I silently allow evil to be carried out, but that by my words and actions I expose that evil for what it is without becoming evil myself. And I become evil myself when I fight evil with evil.
And do you know why I fight evil with evil?
Because I am afraid. Afraid of not sticking up for the right cause. Afraid of losing an argument. Afraid of losing face after losing an argument. But fear is always the wrong reason to engage. Fear creates more fear; creates more enemies. But love makes enemies less so. Not by allowing them to do evil uncontested, but by contesting it in such a way as to reveal its depravity without becoming evil in the process.
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Mt. 5:44-48.
Hey Nate great post! As one who can get carried away in the long FB arguments, generally over politics, it is a good reminder to keep the big picture in play rather than looking at the thread as an isolated battle constrained to the web.
I also wanted to comment that though I disagree with you on many of your opinions of a Christian's role in governement and law making, I have always found you to be respectful in your discourse and never belittling to the others on the thread. For some it seems proving their intellectual prowess over others is the main motivation for posting on the threads but I don't get that sense from you. The main motivation appears to be truth seeking. So I guess I was surprised when you said you'd been "an ass," but thought I would see what you had to write before commenting on it. Hopefully a little encouragement…
Thanks Alex, I really appreciate that. And I also appreciate your perspective on politics-even though it is true we disagree-as you know much more about it than I do!
I'm quite glad that you were surprised I'd been an ass, but I had been. I had made some comments where I, like Grant at Cold Harbor, lost my nerve and gave in to the rhetorical artillery barrage. Some people had been on the receiving end of those comments, and they deserved an apology.
And here's to respectful discourse that moves all of us towards love and justice-whatever that will eventually look like!