Last night someone accused me of being dishonest. On the internet. That stings. I know that I’m guilty of some things in my online postings and conversations. I’ve certainly been pompous. I’ve had the internet version of “the vapors”. I’ve been more sarcastic than was strictly necessary. But I have deep commitment to always being truthful. If I’m ever dishonest, I have to start by being dishonest with myself, just to get around my ethical boundaries. Of course, that’s possible, but it’s not the point of this post.
The point is, there is no point. In all the energy I pour into making a particular position understood, in the comment threads where I argue passionately for one conviction or another – no point. I walked in on a conversation yesterday just as a friend was saying that debate only results in people being more entrenched in their own positions. The more you have to defend your side, the more deeply you hold to it. I remember hearing about a study that found exactly the same thing to be true. And this week, it’s certainly been supported by my experience.
I did the stupid thing. I commented on someone else’s blog. They had a post up in support of Mark Driscoll, or rather, in opposition to his opposition. It seemed to me that the author was misunderstanding what drives some of the public criticism of Driscoll, and having just posted about him myself, I thought, “Well, I can speak to this. I know what my own motives and concerns are.” So, so stupid. It’s almost a week later, and I’m still tangled up in this conversation, trying to explain myself, trying to correct misunderstanding. And it’s a giant, fetid, maggoty pile of wasted time.
Give me a minute to get rid of the vapors.
I’m tempted, even now, to explain the heart of the argument just so that I can defend myself. But of course, the “other side” feels misunderstood, too. That’s the nature of these exchanges. Nuance is lost, motives are questions, camps are formed. Opinions only carry weight if they come from someone on your team – and I don’t mean Team Jesus. What starts as a difference of opinions quickly turns ugly. It’s about as useful as this:
So I guess I should quit commenting on other people’s blog, unless it’s to say, “Right on! I agree with you 110%, and I think you’re brilliant and awesome and I wish I was you!”
There’s that sarcasm again. I’m gonna need another minute.
Of course, if debate is not only pointless but destructive – deepening divides that already exist – much of what takes place on the internet is….pointless and destructive. We need to stick to recipes and funny animals and stories about our delightful children, I guess. I wish such things came more naturally to me. Perhaps there’s a Lenten vow I could make that would help; perhaps I need to cultivate the discipline of silence.
This realization, that our online “discussions” usually get us nowhere, doesn’t come as a relief. I don’t find myself thinking, “Well, now I’ll have time to take up knitting!” (a perfectly good pastime, by the way). It makes me sad. Must we stay in our echo chambers and affirm the people we already agree with, in order to have peace? Isn’t there a way to hear each other, I mean really hear each other, giving each other the benefit of the doubt in conversation, even if we’ll still ultimately disagree? Shouldn’t Christians be able to do better?
Maybe it’s the medium. Maybe it’s human nature. Maybe it’s me.