Monday, April 05, 2010

Old Spiritual Disciplines in a New Networked World

Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent,

and discerning if he holds his tongue.

Proverbs 17:28

I am by nature an opinionated, hot-headed man. In my interpersonal relationships, it took several years to learn how to control my tongue. I still am not always good at it. For instance, I remember a dating relationship I had in college. My girlfriend would often express her opinions about people and in issues in a manner that I thought was judgmental and poorly-thought out. I would ask her if she had thought about the issue from a different particular perspective, or try and express how a person might come to the other point of view. It wasn't long before that relationship ended.

As a pastor, I had to learn quickly how to be diplomatic. Especially in a support staff position, my opinions were not always welcome. And unlike the role of a senior pastor, where support staff and congregation learn to adapt to overcome the leaders poor or often inartful communication, poorly chosen words of support staff often end up with the person being disciplined by both the congregation and the staff leader.

Now in the days of blogging, social networking and microblogging, I have found it is taking more intentionality to restrain myself from responding to statements made by persons that trigger an emotional response. Or, people who trigger a smart-alek response. For some reason I feel a need to rebutt a status update or a poorly informed blog post even more than a stupid statement. I am not sure why this is.

There are reasons why a decision to speak my mind in this way is a bad idea. It causes conflict between myself and others. It is even harder to do away with a written response than it is a verbal one. The real reason why I avoid these discussions though is that it does not relieve my anger, it just makes me angrier. There is little resolution in such discussion. Furthermore, my comments, often well-intentioned and in good humor, are not interpreted as such by the reader without my non-verbal cues.
Furthermore, although several people associated with the ministry I do read my blog, it is a relatively small group of people that I relate to that are regular devotees. When I discuss things on other folks' blogs, or even more on facebook, I end up having a greater number of people I work with that read what I write. Some people I communicate with more on facebook than in person.

So, more and more, I learn to learn about people without responding. I learn to keep my mouth shut. I take a deep breathe. After all, better to be thought a fool, than to open my mouth and be shown to be one.

1 comment:

Rebecca Lynn said...

I agree, I have the same impulse, when I know people are wrong. One of my profs at Seminary said that's the mark of an exhorter. He said that, like all Spiritual Gifts, exhortation is about the edification of the Body, so my need to show people the "right" way is partially a gift from God, and partially my own arrogance. The test, for me, is sorting out which is which, or at least letting the Spirit do it for me.

I have had several experiences with friends (and you are one of them) who have called me on something that I needed to be called on. And while it was not pleasant, (and in some cases, not well-handled), I am almost always better off for having the truth spoken to me.

So while there are definitely places where I learn to control my need to truth-speak (because they're inappropriate, or unimportant), I also have to learn that there are times when looking like a fool is the least of my problems, and I need to learn to speak with the abandon necessary to let God speak through me.