Conversing with people has become a challenge, whether it’s in person or online. If you have no challenges communicating with others, you might not be doing much communicating or might be limited your chats to a pretty tight circle of people who agree with you on most things. But just because it’s challenging to converse with others doesn’t make it impossible. Regardless of our values, I hope we value people enough to make an effort to engage and influence and listen and learn. As I’ve said in multiple posts, I’m going to hold my Christian friends to a high standard, because it’s not about us. Our influence is really not about us. Our words really aren’t about us. More of God, less of us.
Here are a few phrases I commonly hear among people:
- Oh, you can’t say that anymore (not in a rude tone and often with gentle explanations of why a word or phrase or expression might be perceived in the context of today).
- Oh, I can say anything I want. I don’t care who it offends, because I have rights.
- That attitude and behavior is inappropriate, especially now (and, if we’re honest, perhaps always).
- I can have whatever attitude I want. I’m tired of everyone being so wishy washy and not wanting to stand up and speak out. (Really? But you’re irritated and angered at what others have to say—if they don’t agree with you? How exactly does that dynamic work in relationships and community?)
A lot about how these sentiments are received is based on the tone. I have heard many people try to explain why certain phrases and words are not good choices right now, not out of policing others but out of concern for the conversation. We want others to know what triggers might be out there for some. And that doesn’t mean we can avoid them all. It doesn’t even mean that we should. But we can be aware. Sometimes we need to talk about those really uncomfortable situations and phrases that make us squirm but not because we’re trying to blame someone or get them to agree with everything we say in one swift conversation. It’s unrealistic and disrespectful to not engage in the process that considers the impact we have on one another—in a specific situation and beyond. What if, instead of the outcome, we were more focused on encouraging authentic conversations, helping people share their concerns, questions, doubts, and fears and simultaneously finding a safe place to do the same? I know it’s difficult and, in some cases, not possible, but I think it could be more common than we assume.
We are out of practice, and we’ve had some negative interactions. It’s going to take patience and humility, but we can have an impact one conversation at a time. If we want to engage with others—and I hope we do—we need to be honest with ourselves about our motivations. I don’t think we are inviting conversations just to shut people down and tell them how they’re doing things wrong. I know it comes off that way at times, but even when we are on the receiving end of an interaction like that, we can handle it with grace and maturity and respond well. We can learn what it’s like to be on the receiving end so that we change how we behave on the giving end. Each of us is on a journey. Even if we think we know the right terms, we might not get it right. We might have skipped over part of the process; just saying what is right can take the wrong approach and timing. As uncomfortable as it might be, it’s better to be in the muck and wrestle with the hard stuff as we develop bonds with people than to skim over the discomfort and excuse our behavior. Our unwillingness to do the hard work of humility and change is making the kind of difference I don’t think any of us wants. Let’s be better.