The sweet, addicting dopamine drip of performative moralizing is a hard habit to kick, and one that I need to work on. Here’s why.
When communicating with someone else, style and tone affect information delivery. As the saying goes, “You can be right, but wrong at the top of your voice.” In essence, the person doing the talking/writing needs to construct their wording in such a way that the receiver accurately processes the information.
Note: sometimes the goal is not to persuade someone, in which case this may not be true for the person doing the speaking.
Failure to do this is known broadly as “incompetent communication,” because valuable information was not delivered successfully due to the method of presentation.
Failure to communicate competently can take many forms, but one error is communicating not simply aggressively (which can at times be necessary), but with a tone of hostility, combativeness, or condescension. As an example, a man posted that he objected to false information being shared, as we all should, with an emphasis on lude memes. Yes sir! Amen!
He appended to the thought that he “wonder[ed] if you think at all.” The post received incredible amounts of positive feedback, but I found myself turned off by it. Why? I agreed with what he was saying. I know he’s a caring man. So why?
In the end, I think it came across to me as very condescending; the sort of thing wouldn’t say to anyone in person, but would to those online, as it will garner much sympathy from those who already agree. I’m not convinced that it’s a great approach, because it encourages this dopamine-drip type of online interaction, wherein one knows that one’s going to get blowback, and one’s brain gives that sweet chemical cocktail as soon as there’s a pull on the line.
And to make it simple, being bellicose or condescending can undermine one’s attempt to, say, convey an idea about a needed change to those who need to make the change.
When we as humans feel that we are being attacked, whether it is subtle or not, the fight-or-flight response often kicks in. Catecholamine hormones, such as adrenaline or noradrenaline, are secreted and facilitate immediate physical reactions associated with a preparation for violent muscular action. Our digestive systems actually shut down, along with the parts of our brain associated with cognitive deliberation. We lose the ability to calmly reason. In effect, we truly lose our senses. We lose our minds.
People from ancient times realized this; it’s not just a modern understanding. The epistle of second Timothy, which is estimated to be written around AD 67, says the following about interpersonal communication,
“With gentleness correcting those who are in opposition…that they may come to their senses and escape from…”2 Timothy 2
Even stripped of a religious context, there is valuable insight in that passage. Gentle words (which are not necessarily soft, as one can be gentle but also firm) often facilitate our ability to communicate and affect needed change.
I’m often sarcastic, but I’ve been trying to limit that when I’m directly referencing people, and especially if they know that they’re the ones being referenced (yes, this present article is a big jump from that). I find that it’s not very angering to others when one instead uses a barb on an idea, whereas against the person it feels rather rough.
So with the above all said, I am not convinced of the value of attacking identities. It seems better to me to explore ideas. As much as I can, I try to avoid sweeping labels—the liberals, the neocons, the unbiblical Baptist heathens, etc.—and instead examine thoughts.
Having one’s identity not only assumed, but attacked, quickly engages that fight-or-flight response, which fairly literally makes people lose their minds.
If we want to have the mind of Christ, we should tear down the arguments, not the people. As Paul said,
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”2 Corinthians 10:5
So we attack the argument, but not its proponent. We show charity and grace in our convictions, that we might persuade all the more.
And when we’re posting memes, especially as Christians, we should research first and make sure that they’re appropriate for consumption. We don’t need to be the crowd that spreads lies, nor should we embrace hypocrisy.
Mostly, though, I need to learn how to communicate more effectively, more graciously, and be less prone to attacking with snarkiness.
And I probably need people to inbox me gently, even though I’ll be ticked with you when you do!