As I’ve shared before, I am a journalist, and I have a side-hobby of debating and writing about political issues. When I first started doing this, I would usually simply jump into any discussion with abandon, often with disastrous results.
One time, I remember trying to convince a coworker of the importance of a particular issue. I pleaded, I made an impassioned argument and I delivered my points with what I thought was blinding clarity. When I finished, I looked at her expectantly, thinking she would be completely won over by my dazzling display of the facts and cohesive argument. Instead, she shrugged and said, “I don’t get it. I don’t really know why I should care about this issue, and honestly, I don’t want to.” I was surprised by her reaction – luckily, I’d only caused her to feel ambivalent about the topic and hadn’t sabotaged our relationship, and she was a close enough acquaintance that she felt comfortable telling me that my argument hadn’t worked.
But why didn’t it work?
I was clearly passionate and believed that my position was right, and, additionally, I had the facts and education on my side. However, a big part of my failure was that I hadn’t bothered to consider my audience or my delivery – she was a soft-spoken moderate who had no desire to learn about partisan ins and outs, and my passionate delivery set her on edge. Also, I hadn’t taken the time to plug the logical and hyperbolic holes in my arguments. Because I was very educated on the topic, I jumped to conclusions and assumed that I’d communicated clearly, when all I’d really done was confuse her with wandering asides and logical leaps. Finally, I didn’t try to bring her along and welcome her into the topic – I simply took off and expected her to keep up with my internal (and now external) dialogue.
I was expecting a lot of her, wasn’t I? She would have had to have been a mind-reader, or at the very least, an extremely close friend in order to have understood all I was trying to say – and even then, because of my lack of winsomeness, she still might have been turned off by my manner.
I want to suggest that we often make exactly this mistake in our online life. I’ve been writing about our need to “shine like stars” online throughout this series, but I think there’s more to this call to shine than simply good grammar (although that is dear to my heart) or other more literary-centric quibbles.
Sometimes, the biggest obstacle to our influence is us. We fail to recognize who our audience is, or perhaps more critically, we fail to fully think through our own arguments. Perhaps your audience is small, and maybe you’re just sharing a note with a friend. But as I wrote in my first post in the series, we are all called to shine like stars wherever we are, and that means we need to think about our words – whether we are writing a New York Times bestseller, a small blog or simply a status update.
I see this all-too-frequently as an editor: really well-educated people often leave huge holes in their reasoning, or succumb to hyperbole (thinking it adds drama) instead of simply speaking truth. Compounding this difficulty is that many of us are insulated in a Christian “bubble” that can keep us from realizing just how cryptic our jargon can be, or how poorly we’ve articulated our views. We might think that we are making a dramatic point, but if our view is badly explained or hyperbolic we can often trade our influence for derision.
The good news is that these problems are easily fixed, with just a little humility on our part. After I very nearly alienated my aforementioned apolitical friend, I had to swallow my pride and ask her for advice on what I should have said. She graciously gave me some pointers: how I could have lined out my logic in a more linear way, what questions I should have asked myself and how to change my tone to be more attractive. I can’t guarantee that I would have changed her mind had I done those things the first time, but I certainly wouldn’t have risked damage to our relationship with my brashness.
Galatians 6:1-4 says: “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions.”
An editor (whether a professional or just a confidante you can trust) serves as a brother or sister in Christ who helps the communicator to carry the burden of articulating biblical messages to a hurting world. We know that every one of us has unique giftedness and a unique experience, and through sharing with each other we can see a more perfect picture of God’s kingdom. Not only are we to carry each other’s burdens, but we are also called to bear our own responsibility to God for what we say and how we say it, even online.
In our humanness, we all assume that our positions are the “right” one and we all prefer our own perspectives. This is why the Bible tells us to “test our actions” and make sure that we are truly communicating and living our faith in the best way possible. As a writer, I’ve realized that just like I asked my friend in person for tips on how to communicate better, anyone who writes anything needs feedback on how it comes across. When you write, we can’t see your facial expressions or hear your inflections, so it’s especially important that writers be open to feedback on how their writing is received, not just how they intend it. That’s where a trusted friend or editing comes in handy, helping writers to make sure their message shines through, and not their mannerisms. Professional writers, casual bloggers and occasional facebookers alike can all benefit from a little constructive criticism and an outside perspective.
Proverbs 13:10 says: “Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.” The Bible doesn’t spend time telling us to ask for advice because it’s an easy thing to do, but precisely because it is so tough for us to humble ourselves and receive constructive criticism. However, this difficult process will make us into better communicators, better ambassadors for Christ, and better agents of His love in the world, both online and off.
Check out an earlier post in this series about Avoiding Jargon