A Plea for Seriousness
It is something of a banality to say one has a love-hate relationship with Twitter, but I do. For brevity’s sake, I’ll spare you an elaboration of my love for it, and proceed directly to one of the things I hate.
With the probable exception of YouTube’s comment section, Twitter is in a league of its own for fruitless debate and rhetorical ineptitude. The infantilization of discourse is real, and though it would be wrong to label social media the chief culprit, it would be worse to pretend it has played no part. At the very least, social media has given the clown-show a publicity it would never have had otherwise.
Most recently in the circles I swim in, the subject of education was broached (again). Christian, what sayest thou? Homeschool? Private school? Public school? Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters?
The answers I saw generally fell into one of three categories: the thoughtful, the overzealous or needlessly inflammatory, and the dismissive. It is the last category I want to address here.
I’m willing to bet that having a glut of memes and GIFs at one’s fingertips does something to a person—specifically a person’s ability, or at least their inclination, to carry on a serious conversation. A Twitter exchange is popularly regarded as a chance to score the sickest burn, the loudest mic drop, or the most retweets. Who dares first respond with a clap emoji between each word, wins.
Now, I love cheek as much as the next fellow (probably more), but cheek is no substitute for, you know, an argument. I think Archbishop William Temple was on to something when he said, “The first ingredient in conversation is truth, the next good sense, the third good humor, and the fourth wit.” I think we have got this exactly reversed. And our wit isn’t even very good most of the time.
Elijah’s conduct toward the prophets of Baal leads me to believe there is a time and place for godly scorn. Some things really ought to be laughed out of the room or ignored altogether (Prov. 26:4), but to make this our default response is not only unhelpful, it is uncharitable. The seat of the scoffer should not be as comfortable as many of us seem to find it.
The education debate matters because priceless young hearts and minds are at stake. Where this inspires a mere shrug, you can be sure there is precious little sense of the tremendous duties that go hand in hand with the blessing of children.
Today, admitting the seriousness of it all is half the battle, because regardless of where we land on the question, we still agree that it is an important question. So by all means, take a side. Disagree, and do it with gusto, or keep your mouth shut as wisdom dictates. But don’t sneer and run. When you do this, you are the pigeon who struts into a game of chess, knocks some pieces over, and craps on the board.
This principle applies to many areas of conversation, of course, but this is as good a place to start as any. I need a drink now. Here’s to a little less snark, and a little more remembrance of what Christ said about millstones.