Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Art of Not Being a Jerk

This week, in my school newspaper, the Echo, there was a particularly critical opinions piece. Actually, I think it’s safe to say that it was critical to the point of being mean-spirited. I actually gasped a few times. There have been a few articles this year that have taken this tone.

My first instinct is to reply to this opinions piece, saying something along the lines of, “It doesn’t matter how well-reasoned your opinion is, if you’re being mean, I don’t respect it.” But telling college students to be nice, think of other people as people, and show grace seems a little elementary, a little too basic of a topic to write about.

And then I realize I’ve already written about it.

The two opinions pieces I’ve submitted to the Echo are both humorous variations on the theme of loving others. So are the three articles I have in my files that I might submit later this year. All of them are about different issues on campus, but they have the same general takeaway: be gracious to others.

It’s not like those are the only things I have opinions about. In one class, when discussion was dying down, my friend turned to me and said, “Amy, say something controversial.” I participate in a weekly holiday called Be a Heretic Monday. I routinely disagree with other people, my college and its decisions, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (and other authors of textbooks I’ve used in my classes).

I could write an opinions piece about how I think short-term mission trips aren’t always helpful, or why the way students handle the poverty-awareness-raising events bothers me, or why I hold Bible and Christian Education majors to a higher standard than the general student population.

Then, I could take those base opinions and exaggerate them:

“This is why ALL Spring Break mission trips are selfish and hurt the people you think you’re ministering to in your narrow-minded, self-righteous way.” 

“We have this thing called Skip-a-Meal…not Donate-money-for-a-meal-and-then-go-to-IHOP-with-your-friends. Do you even get the fact that people are starving out there while you’re complaining that the salad in the DC is a little wilted?”

“If your major has to do with God, stop being a stupid college student, because when I look at you, I think, ‘That half-naked heathen is going to be my kids’ youth pastor someday.’”

That would make a great, entertaining, conversation-starting article. Most of my actual opinions, stated in their mild, qualified, “but-don’t-forget-about-this-other-point” form wouldn’t be worth writing down and submitting.

But I don’t want to write those opinions pieces. They say more about me than they do the topic I’m addressing.

Because, guess what? If I can write blistering, intelligent critiques of society and the idiots who inhabit it, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

Trust me on this one. Because the “I” in that semi-translation of 1 Corinthians 13:1 is actually me, not a thinly veiled attempt to attack someone else.

I have a lot of opinions. I can sometimes be entirely too biting with my sarcasm. I sometimes participate in Be a Heretic Monday to show off my vast knowledge of stuff. I love being right, convincing others to agree with me, and arguing to the death like we’re gladiators and the last man standing gets the chance to fight another day.

One of three things that I pray for nearly every day is that God would make me gracious. Because I’m not. None of us are.

Telling college students (or Facebook posters, or people in the comments section of online articles, or employees who have an issue with a coworker, or anyone anywhere talking about any aspect of politics) to be nice, to think of other people as people, and to show grace is not basic at all. It’s something that’s very, very hard for us to do.

For me to do.

It’s not truth vs. love. It’s speaking the truth in love.

What’s Up Next: On Monday, it’s “Be Nice to Someone on the Internet Day.” Don’t know what that is? Think I made it up? I didn’t, but I’ll post about it on Monday so you can join me in celebrating. Then, on Wednesday, I’ll follow up on the topic of not being a jerk by giving tips I’ve learned from others about how to have debates, discuss controversial topics, and write satire without being mean.

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