When Having an Opinion is a Weary Endeavor

January 26, 2014 — 29 Comments

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Recently, I have been having a lot of conversations with other bloggers about burnout and weariness. It seems that a number of us are feeling tired when it comes to churning out content. In one conversation it became clear to me that, for me, part of the exhaustion is that having an opinion has become a weary endeavor.

That’s not just true on the internet. It’s true every where.

It seems that we as a society are plagued by a tyranny of the emotionally reactive and immature. Emotional maturity can be described as the ability to manage one’s emotions and maintaining relational connection in the midst of conflict and differing opinions. The emotionally mature person is able to differentiate themselves by expressing their opinions, staying relationally connected when others disagree, and not demand others to share their beliefs. Unfortunately, we are living in a day and age where those who have that ability are endangered species. Very few people can disagree and remain relationally connected.

Society has regressed and become a highly reactive system where there is a ‘vicious cycle of intense reactions of each member to events and to one another’. (Edwin Friedman, A Failure of Nerve, pg 53). The 24 hour news cycle, social media, tribalism, and hyperbolic headlines designed to grab attention rather than inform contribute to an increasingly reactive discourse making it nearly impossible to have a conversation.

Online and in real life.

Not long ago I was having a conversation about politics (first mistake) with someone close to me. During the course of the conversation I made the comment that I believe some regulation by the government is good for society. That unleashed hell. Had I known a 3 hour cross-examination into all my political opinions was to ensue just to sniff out whether or not I was a totalitarian (yes, that word and accusation did arise), I would not have made that comment. And this is the point. When sharing your thoughts and opinions causes a reaction that feels less like a conversation and more like a Guantanamo Bay interrogation, you tend hold back.

The results of this are disastrous. Rather than sharing thoughts, people are silenced by the fear of being shunned. Rather than dialoguing with those who think differently, we lob verbal bombs across party lines. We entrench ourselves in ideology and tribes and hyperbole to find protection from the dysfunction of society. But our regression behind these false barriers are only furthering the inability of individuals and society to dialogue towards real solutions.

I am coming to believe this reactivity stems from a deep anxiety arising from the cultural shifts. Globalization, financial instability, terrorism, the erosion of Christendom, and the success of Justin Bieber all contribute to a growing sense of uncertainty (if Bieber’s success doesn’t affect your certainty that goodness and beauty and art will win the day, I don’t know what will). Uncertainty breeds a desire for, well…certainty. And it doesn’t have to be real certainty. We just need to feel certain. So we yell and scream and call those who make us feel uncertain heretics. Socialists. Bible-haters. Unpatriotic.

Which makes it very unsafe to question the status quo.

And tiring when you do.

It’s tiring to write about the shame associated with infertility and be told that you stand condemned before God for what you wrote.

It’s tiring to write about teaching your son responsibility in looking at women and be told you are a eunuch and your son will never get a girlfriend if you teach him these things.

Writing becomes exhausting when you are constantly expending emotional and mental energy to disregard personal attacks. And that’s what they are, personal attacks. The blogosphere – and society in general – has become a place where the exchange of ideas has been replaced by the attacking the holder of ideas. Ideas are not put under scrutiny, the person is. 

If we want to be a society where real dialogue can occur, then it begins with us. We need to be willing to listen to the opinions others – even if we disagree with them. And when I say listen, I should clarify that and say we need to listen differently. Too often we listen to another person with a posture of “agree/disagree” or “right/wrong” or “how can I respond and look good.” If that is our posture, then we are not listening to understand, we are listening from a posture of discussion. The kind of discussion that shares its roots with the words “concussion” and “percussion,” and most of us know first-hand what it is like to be in a discussion like that. It is why we say, “I’m banging my head against the wall!

I’ve often wondered how the conversations on Twitter and blogs would be different if we were sitting around a table with bread and wine. I have to imagine they would be a little kinder. A little slower. More generous.

Gracious.

Graciousness begins with me. I need to learn to appreciate the opinion and views of another person if I don’t agree with them. I need to learn to be comfort in the midst of tension. I need to learn to be quiet when I want to yell. I need to learn to speak when I want to be quiet. It begins with me.

It begins with you.

Making the world a place where it is safe for differing opinions and thoughts to co-exist is our responsibility. It is my responsibility. Safe space begins when I make the space around me safe for others to be themselves and share themselves.

Jesus had the ability to make this space around himself. It is the only way he could sit at the table with Pharisees who judged him, cross-examined him, and were suspicious of him and, while still at their table, make space for a prostitute to anoint his feet with oil and tears. It is the space that made it possible for fisherman, tax collectors, zealots and hot heads to be a part of his chosen group of twelve. Jesus was comfortable creating space for the other in his midst.

This is the kind of space we all want the church to be. There is no shortage of criticism for the lack of safe space in the church. But the reality is that space for differing opinions and ideas will exist in the church only when safe space exists around individuals. And its existence is dependent on me. On you. On us.

In a Christian context we might call this a community of grace and truth. A place where truth can be found while exercising grace toward one another.

Maybe it wouldn’t be so weary to hold an opinion when surrounded by grace and truth.

We may actually find it life-giving.

photo credit: 2thin2swim via photopin cc

Nate Pyle

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I'm being transformed from one degree to another. Sometimes it is a joyful process. Many times it's a painful one. I'm finding that as I follow Jesus I need to unlearn a way of being in the world and learn a new way of being. This blog is a place where I am working out that process.
  • Melissa

    Oh my gosh! I truly love this post! My coworker and I talk often about the societal lack of civil discourse (we are advocates for survivors of sexual and domestic violence). I am so sorry that you have been subjected to the crass comments made by insensitive people. There are many of us that appreciate writers that have the courage to tackle difficult subjects with dignity and grace. I think we just need to be more vocal about our feelings. I’ve only been following your blog for a very short time but have appreciated every post I have read. Thank you and please keep at it. The world needs more courageous people.

    • http://www.natepyle.com/ Nate Pyle

      Thank you so much, Melissa!

  • Brittany

    well said. Thank you, Mr. Pyle!

  • Anna Schoon

    I haven’t been reading long either but, I too, enjoy your blog. I know I am guilty of posturing during a discussion, particularly when it’s an issue that I care deeply about. I have recently been thinking about the fact that I don’t have relationships where it’s safe to challenge and be challenged without fearing the loss of the relationship. I’d like to change that, I appreciate your admonition to listen for the sake of understanding instead of rebutting and I will make that effort.

  • jfkaess

    I agree. This was brought home to me last week after reading: 2 Timothy 2:24-25 ESV
    [24] And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, [25] correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth

    • http://www.natepyle.com/ Nate Pyle

      That’s a great verse for this conversation.

  • Tim

    Thank you, Nate. I have much to think about here… Thank you.

    • http://www.natepyle.com/ Nate Pyle

      So glad it has given things think on. Thanks for being willing to do that.

  • http://www.lawrencewilson.com/p/about-me.html Lawrence W. Wilson

    Nate, among other things, you put your finger on the problem of being a moderate. Our world favors radicals partly because they are easy to identify and understand. Holding a moderate position on anything actually takes more energy.

  • Stacy

    I couldn’t agree more. But even if I disagreed, I would appreciate your comments. It’s something I’m still learning. Ask more questions in order to communicate that I value the other person. Good post, Nate.

  • rory callendar

    @Lawrence…and it seems the moderate individual attracts those with extreme viewpoints, then listens well, but at last tires easily (I bow out quickly these days and tell myself I simply don’t have the social stamina). Then, the next time I want to share my opinion, it comes out a bit nastier, edgier …when all of the sudden I find I’m unloading on the next moderate friend. Vicious cycle. I appreciate Nate’s post and everyone’s comments here because they are an exercise in taking time to express thoughtfully …not viscerally.

  • Gina Butz

    This is another reminder of how relationally insufficient social media is. We think we’re having conversations and building community, but it can never replace sitting down with someone one on one, where we are accountable for the things we say and how we say them.

  • http://beingperfectlyhuman.blogspot.com/ Eric Fry

    You know, Nate, it has gotten for me where all of my interactions on the web are wearying. It’s superficial junk food for the soul. I think I’m about to withdraw completely from the ‘social networks’ and concentrate on strengthening and increasing face to face friendship and connection. Thanks for putting into words something that has helped me make a decision to make a big change.

    • Keith

      Possibly you can help me with something, Eric. I have pondered exactly what you said – to begin a slow withdrawal from Facebook, but we have family spread out all over North America and Hawaii. It’s been the primary way we keep in touch and share pics and info.

      So what would you suggest to accomplish what you mention but allow our family to remain in contact for good reasons? Clamp down Facebook to only immediate family members and block out the rest of the world?

      • http://beingperfectlyhuman.blogspot.com/ Eric Fry

        Hi Keith. I started by getting rid of everyone on FB that I didn’t know from face to face interactions, then started whittling down those that were left. If I see you one or more times a week, then I don’t need to have you on FB. LIke the jazz musicians say, “Less is more.” With just a handful of people in my FB feed, I find that I interact with them more often, and in a closer way.

  • MorganGuyton

    Amen. It’s all about the posture. I’m working on a chapter in my book about the dichotomy between worship and performance. Worship is raw openness to the delight of God’s goodness. The problem is we’re trapped in the posture of performance, which is my way of interpreting both the sin of Adam and Eve and its results. We’re always posturing, trying to prove/justify ourselves with how we respond to others in conversations. Only people who live in worship have the authenticity and confidence to engage each other without posturing.

    • http://www.natepyle.com/ Nate Pyle

      I really like that, Morgan.

  • drewpop

    Okay, so I have a response to this one:

    you know I deeply love you and you know I share the values expressed in your most recent blog post …

    … AND, I think you do yourself a terrible disservice by not fully acknowledging that the “medium IS the message.” i.e., you can write about mature dialogue all you want, but if you deliver that message *in the form of a blog*, you have contradicted yourself since a blog is only one step removed from a monologue. (for instance, look at the commenting system in use: it’s called DISCUS and it encourages me to “join the discussion”. kind of ironic considering the content of this post.)

    To me, when you describe some of the immature responses to your posts, the first thought that comes to mind is this: the system is getting the results it is perfectly designed to get: Namely, you throw an opinion out there in a format (a medium) that is akin to a monologue and then you get a response that is akin to monologue. So, when I read your post, I don’t think “great blog post!” … instead, I think, “wait a second, you’re complaining about a system that you’re an active participant in creating.”

    • http://www.natepyle.com/ Nate Pyle

      So yes, there may be a shortcoming in the medium of blogging. Written monologues don’t lend themselves to dialogue, but there is a conversation that happens on them. We are having a conversation of sorts. But I see your overall point.

      That said, in this post I was, maybe not clearly enough, trying to point to the nature of conversation beyond even blogging. It seems that dialogue between groups is becoming more difficult. The example of the political discussion I had was in person, looking each other in the eye and yet the conversation wasn’t productive. I own my part of that.

      I guess my question is, is that because of the system of blogging, or is the breakdown of civility as seen in the blogosphere and social media evidence of a larger systemic problem?

      • drewpop

        I’m not asserting that blogging is leading to a lack of discussion so much asserting that it accentuates it because the medium actually promotes it. (or at the very least, is powerless against it)

        I would also assert that the “breakdown of civility” is “nothing new under the sun”, to quote Ecclesiastes. Emotional immaturity is not a 21st century phenomenon. However, social media that accentuates it certainly is.

        • http://www.natepyle.com/ Nate Pyle

          Hmmm….what this stirs up in me is the question, “Am I powerless in the face of the system?” I don’t think that I am. While blogging may be a medium that accentuates immature reaction, I can choose to manage myself in a way that shows a different way of being present in the system.

          I admit that I am a full participant in the system. But I also believe that it is only as a participant that I can work to change the system. Leaving the system is its own immature response (distancing), as is ignoring the behavior of the system.

          While not perfect, being cognizant of my posture might be all that I can do in the system. I do firmly believe it begins with me.

          By the way, this is a very nice dialogue and perfect example for what it could be. ;)

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  • billvau

    At least you’re honest that you don’t have a biblical ecclesiology as you confuse the church with evangelism. Yes, Jesus visited the sinners in their world, but He maintained His sinless holiness and drew them out of that world to His. The church is to be a place of holiness (2 Cor 5:11; Matt 18:15-20). In the church, sinners will be both comfortable and uncomfortable. They will feel the love of the saints, but will also feel the need to be holy. Our music is not theirs (Col 3:16-17), our preaching is not understood by them (2 Cor 2:14-15). Our words are ONLY edifying (Eph4:29) as we speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15). Even a back-slidden, in sin, Christian is going to be uncomfortable in our “church” as we protect the holiness of the body of Christ. And, as Scripture teaches, if they are in serious sin, we put them out (Matt 18:15-20) to both (1) protect the holiness of the church, and (2) to let them feel the loss of sweet fellowship of the saints and harshness of the world.

  • Rah

    Agreed. Except that unfortunately there are some opinions that people hold where it is not okay to just accept the persons views. Those instances are however usually few, and there are many more instances where having a difference of opinion doesn’t actually matter. Change doesn’t happen when we just accept the things that are wrong. But we need to get a better perspective, to pick our battles more carefully. Constant disagreement, constant fighting with others over them looking at the world differently, only serves to distract us from dealing with real issues.

  • Eric Mangin

    I love your blog – mostly because you are very reasonable and centric, so please don’t stop :). I don’t, however, understand why absolutely ridiculous comments from ignorant people would bother you. There are clearly some people who will find a reason bash anything you say. As a writer, can you not simply filter out the idiots and ignore their comments?

    • http://www.natepyle.com/ Nate Pyle

      Thanks, Eric.

      I’m learning how to filter, and sometimes it is easier than others. I maybe should have approached this post differently. I used examples of my own experience to point to a broader culture trend I see.

  • Vincent William Nistico

    I think that you just hit one of the biggest problems with the world right in the face. There is definitely a lack of respect for other people to have views which don’t necessarily align with our own. It’s something we all need to work on and encourage the next generation to work on as well.

  • Amanda Mayuk

    Thank you so much for writing this post Nate! When I came to your blog this afternoon and saw the title of this post it resonated with me immediately and I knew it was going to be a cathartic read. You’ve hit the nail squarely on the head. This subject always makes me think of one of my favorite passages from the bible, Ecclesiastes 7:16-18 –
    Do not be overrighteous,
        neither be overwise—
        why destroy yourself?
    Do not be overwicked,
        and do not be a fool—
        why die before your time?
     It is good to grasp the one
        and not let go of the other.
        Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes.

  • Jodi Rives Meier

    Add in the threats of rape and violence and you get the experience of female bloggers and writers. Having an opinion may be exhausting for men–but it can be deadly for women. There’s a problem, for sure.