Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Respectful Communication, Part One (of many more parts)

Microsoft Office clip art

The day of the soft answer has apparently passed into twilight.
-Jen Wilkin, blogger

The seeds for this blog were planted nearly a year ago as I became increasingly discouraged at the ways in which people were choosing to communicate. 

From my limited view, people seem to be getting more and more comfortable using harsh, sensationalized words and polarizing language.  Name-calling and crudeness are not only accepted, but sometimes even rewarded by ratings and revenues.  On social media, by likes, shares, retweets and plus-ones.

It was enough to make me seriously consider disengaging from social media (and a lot of traditional media) altogether.  It was enough to make me seriously consider my own personal and complete ban on pithy comments, sarcastic comebacks and loaded words in writing and all forms of communication.  But extremes are what I try to avoid, and brusque communication has its place.

So I continue to follow and engage, but also sometimes silently cringe.

I don't feel credible and I don't feel capable of changing things.

Still, I feel a need to ask people to be nicer to one another.  On and off line.  In actions, words and writing.  I've spent the last several months studying this, thinking about this and working up the courage to ask: 'How about not calling someone a derogatory name when explaining why you disagree with him?'

Well, there's more to it than that.  A lot more.  But I do think that would be a great start.

A social media study that made headlines last week said nearly 80 percent of the respondents reported increased rudeness by their online friends.

I didn't respond, but I would have been in the 80 percent.

I understand that there are some complex issues facing our nation and our planet.  And consequential topics deserve passionate debate.  But I think a lot more could be accomplished in the end if we change the way we talk about things.

I hope you'll stick with me through a series of posts on my own thoughts about respectful (and effective) communication, but if you choose to do nothing else, then please at least try to cut down on the name-calling, put-downs and crudeness.

Here are a few suggestions:

If you must use words like 'dumb' or 'stupid' then use them as sparingly as possible.  'Retard' really isn't acceptable at all.  Before you conclude I'm being too sensitive about this please read the editorial that helped convince me.  If you still think it's okay, then we'll just disagree. (Respectfully, of course.)

Please refrain from referring to people as animals.  Even if you think some of their actions are similar to certain animals' behaviors, or they weigh a similar amount, or their name is very close to the sound an animal makes, you'll sound more credible (and less crass) if you do not communicate that observation.

Don't support disrespectful communication.  If someone makes a good point that you whole-heartedly agree with but does so in a disrespectful manner (even if you feel like the person being disrespected deserves it), then try to find someone who has better articulated the message and share or support that one.  I have read many articles, blogs and editorials that are hard-hitting, persuasive and polite.  If you do share or support rude communication because of the value of the underlying message, then I suggest that you at least add a disclaimer against the crudeness.
Use harsh language cautiously.  I agree it is sometimes needed and called for.  But it is being grossly misused and overused these days.  Choose words with your end goal in mind.  Usually softer words will yield a better effect.