I was involved in an online conversation in a secular public forum last week and, after a bit of chat with a few folks, received a pretty vitriolic response from a new poster. He accused me of being deliberately provocative and (to paraphrase) too smarmy for my own good. I hadn’t realised that my posts were open to that interpretation and I apologised. To be fair to him, he also apologised for going over the top. A couple of days later, another contributer accused me of being deliberately and unnecessarily provocative. I hadn’t intended this at all.
Within a few days of joining the conversation, I realised that I was doing something badly wrong. I’m still not sure but I can see at least four problems. First, these conversations were a new form of communication for me and I hadn’t learned the language ot its etiquette. I’m used to communicating in the lecture room and pulpit and, of course in all the normal casual situations of life, face to face, but in a world where the reader only has black words on a white screen, all of the subtleties of personal communication are missing. I hope I’m getting it now and I’m starting to appreciate the value of emoticons, which I’d always looked down on.
Second, I didn’t realise that, being a stranger to the other contributers, they know nothing about me or how I talk, my sense of humour, my general use of language. I’ve realised afresh that all communication is done in the context of the relationship that exists between the partners. Hopefully as we get to know each other we’ll get to understand each other better.
Third, have I become so centred on the Christian community that I’ve lost the ability to communicate well with non-Christians about spiritual things? Could it be that I’m too familiar with spiritual jargon and even sentence structures that are ‘baptised’ that I really do come across badly to non-Christians?
Fourth, could it be that, in general, I don’t communicate what I think I’m communicating. Do I need to remember the aphorism that what I say is not nearly as important as what people hear?
Just to confirm – this post is not meant to be smarmy, pretentious, self-serving, angry, bitter, ‘clever’, insulting, morbidly self-analytical etc, etc. But it is meant to invite a moment’s thougth about how well, or badly, we communicate. If I only knew how to insert a wee round smiley thingy at this point…