In her newspaper advice column, Miss Manners famously frames her responses to all inquiries with the opening salutation “Gentle Reader”. Routinely, she calmly and reasonably unfolds her responses to the ludicrous, the awkward, and the just-plain-rude questions and opinions that populate her inbox. One begins to understand that her readers are not, in fact gentle at all: they are almost uniformly angry, hurt or confused. Yet she addresses them with the very tone she assigns to them in her salutation: gentleness.
Why? Because gentle is as gentle does. Miss Manners knows that the Golden Rule is nowhere more applicable than in the sphere of gentility, and that civil speech is more likely to beget civil manners than a harsh word ever will.
Surely there is a lesson here for those of us blogging in the name of the Lord. The Christian blogosphere is a sea of clamoring voices, all appealing to the authority of Scripture to support their (often contradicting) views. There is no lack of bold fervor, bullet points or Bible-quoting. What tends to be lacking is mutual respect.
The day of the soft answer has apparently passed into twilight. Rather than seeking to turn away wrath, we invite it – feeding on its negative energy and multiplying words in just the way our sacred text has warned against. We, of all people, ought to value the power of words. Yet we display a tendency to trade contempt for common courtesy. In doing so, we risk invalidating our most convincing arguments by inadvertently revealing the motives behind them: verbal domination aimed at silencing all opposition. If we are to be known by our love for one another, hadn’t we better change our tone?
One has only to glance at the comment threads on prominent blogs to know that many readers are by no means gentle. We have long battled intolerance from unbelievers, but increasingly, intolerance from fellow believers over non-essential positions has created an us-against-us mentality within the very walls of the church. What if, as we fight for our own high ground, the common ground becomes harder and harder for our readers to find?
A piece of advice frequently offered to writers is to “write about what bothers you”. I wonder if some of us have misunderstood this advice to mean “write about what will bother others”. We must have a higher goal than inciting controversy when we sit down at the keyboard. The examples of Paul, Peter, and even Christ himself tell us that there are certainly times to thunder away, but they also point us to gentle speech. I wonder if we bloggers have not preferred one over the other, to our detriment.
So as a blogger with a platform, here is my commitment to you, Gentle Reader: I will strive to be a Gentle Writer. I will not belittle your opinions and choices to validate my own. I will not ask or expect you to agree with me on every point. I will cling to winsomeness and kind speech. I will not pick fights, and I will fight the battles I must with honor. I will stay mindful that hurtful comments come from hurting people.
In short, I will ask more of myself and assume the best about you. Gentle Reader, would you do the same for me?
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. James 3:17