Any given week you choose among two or three of the latest controversies. At this point, it’s no longer worth discussing which ones are warranted because there’s too many to keep up with. Rage fatigue is now a thing. Companies lose millions of dollars in stock value because of tweets deemed to be bigoted. Spend a few minutes on social media and you’ll quickly realize EVERYTHING IS WRONG.
The issue with this is, of course, if everything is wrong, nothing is wrong.
But what’s the outcome of this rage against the opposition? Back in the early days of online rage Joseph Kony was the object of scorn (just 5 years ago, but you get the point), for plenty of valid reasons. But I bet you haven’t heard that name in years. Did you know he’s still at large despite an ongoing international manhunt?
Our attention spans for online rage are short. Often our rage produces little to no recognizable difference. But in a partisan society, where middle ground is a wasteland, it seems our rage is increasing not decreasing. I find this quite troubling.
I’ve been thinking a lot about online rage. You have to live under a rock to avoid it. In my decade of online writing I’ve been blindsided by a few controversies, all from things I’ve said.
Was the rage warranted? Depending on your own perspective, I would say yes, it was.
Did the rage do any good? No. Simply, no.
What rage against the opposition misses is that it leaves no room for conversation, charity, or learning opportunities.
The key to discourse among opponents in an increasingly online society to space for understanding.
So how do you go about allowing your disagreement to lead toward conversation, charity, and learning opportunities rather than rage? A few ideas:
Tell Your Story
John 9 tells the story of a blind man who was healed by Jesus. After the healing the religious leaders go after the previously blind man, sensing the whole thing was a farce. The man simply replies by telling his story, over and over again, because the religious leaders do not relent in their questioning. His reply is consistently just telling the story from his perspective.
In the face of great opposition, or when facing great opposition one of the best things you can do is teach your own context. This is different than a “what is true for you must be true” mantra. This is simply setting the scene for why you have a certain perspective.
One recent online rage storm has been about changing health care coverage in the United States. As with much of the rage, there’s been a lot of noise, but one thing that broke through the noise was Preston Yancey’s Washington Post article describing how the proposed changes would dramatically affect the life of his son. In the middle of a rage storm, a personal story provides the opportunity for continued conversation.
Ask Good Questions
Online rage is fueled by those who wish to pile on. Pointing fingers is always easier than extending a hand. Questions extend a hand because they continue the conversation. Sure you can ask accusatory questions, or overly simplistic questions, but good questions benefit both parties involved.
Ask open-ended questions that force others to provide something beyond yes or no.
Ask clarifying questions if you think there’s something ambiguous about the other perspective.
Good questions help people of all perspectives think critically about the subject at hand. Good questions force people to reflect in unpredictable ways (“why would your perspective work best?” is one way to get at this). Good questions challenge the preconceived notion of the opposition. Good questions de-escalate the rising pulse of rage, something easily missed as things ramp up.
More than likely you will find plenty of opportunities to rage against the opposition this week (or even today), but I hope you’ll consider your own place in the story and I hope you’ll utilize thoughtful questions as a way to prompt conversation instead of an argument.
We can do better.