It’s pretty clear that discourse is hard in our modern times. Email and social media allow us to hide behind a screen and spew verbal poison that would make us blush if we spoke it in person.
Just glance over the comments section on a social media post on abortion, LGBTQ issues, the priesthood, or any other controversial topic, and you’ll see sometimes even 50- or 60-year-old toddlers who seem to think insulting other people’s intelligence constitutes an actual argument.
If you’re on the receiving end of a litany of online insults, you may feel a strong temptation to respond in a similar manner.
Here are four more constructive ways to respond to angry online messages.
1. Give the message a sympathetic first read.
So hard to do, right? But here’s the thing: While the messenger may truly be saying something uncharitable or evil, you’re probably going to exaggerate the rhetoric such that it initially appears worse than it actually is.
Few people are so evil that they want to burn the whole world down. Everyone is motivated by what they perceive as good. Try to figure out what “good” is driving them to attack you.
How do you do this? First, read their message. Then, set it down for a while. Come back to it again and try to reiterate the message in your own words. You may just discover the driving force of their message!
By the way, St. Thomas Aquinas was so good at this that people said he phrased the arguments of his opponents better than they could themselves.
2. Draft a response.
The emphasis here is on the word draft. Don’t start pecking away at your keyboard like an angry bird and hit “send.” Revisit the response after you’ve calmed down a bit. You may be shocked by how harsh you sound!
Also, choose a good time to send your response. Generally, it’s not wise to post or send responses when you’re tired or lonely.
3. Shape the reception of the thing you’re trying to communicate.
People don’t hear your voice on social media posts or through email. This means you may sound more aggressive and haughty than you realize. The written word can be ambiguous.
So how can you help people be more receptive to your response? Revisit your post or email and edit out anything that can come off as smug, self-serving or condescending. Also, if you have the person’s phone number, consider calling them so they can hear your voice.
4. Just be prepared for no results.
You probably just groaned. But, the fact is, we need to be prepared for disappointment. We need to readjust our attitude according to the words of St. Teresa of Calcutta: “God has not called me to be successful. He called me to be faithful.”
We are only God’s instruments, called to share His love and truth with people whether they respond or not. Ultimately, it’s between them and God whether they’re going to change their views. Don’t stake your sanity on changing people’s minds.
Put these four tips into practice next time an angry online message comes your way. You may not make the messenger a better person, but you’ll become one. At the end of the day, that’s what matters most.