Early on in my ministry (both writing and in the local church) I felt the need to respond to every criticism. Now I do not. Awhile back I spent some time thinking through how to determine whether or not to respond to a critique. Mostly, this is dealing with online discussions but it has application with a few minor tweaks to local church ministry as well. These three categories have helped me, perhaps they will help you as well.
I find it helpful to categorize comments into three categories. First, comment types of which I will never respond. Secondly, comment types of which I might respond once or twice. Lastly, comment types that I will respond to even at length.
Comments Not Worth a Response
- When I am being slandered. I used to try to defend myself. Now I don’t even bother. God will defend me if I need defense.
- When I haven’t been read. I understand skim reading and the nature of online communication. I don’t expect someone to spend a lengthy time on an article. Just skipping a point does not fall in this category. Only Scripture is important enough to demand readership. However, if you do not bother to read an article and go straight to the comments and this becomes painfully obvious, I probably will only respond by telling you to read the article.
- When there is no need. I think some people like to hear themselves type. Some people will hi-jack another persons platform to build their own. Grandiose comments that point to the commenter will usually not get a response. I figure the goal of self-promotion has already been served. You don’t need my comment anyways.
- When somebody wants to argue for the sake of arguing. This is not easily discerned. But if I can tell that somebody just wants to be contrary and is only concerned about being correct, I usually don’t engage.
Anything that you would add? At times I just do not respond because I do not have the time. But that doesn’t count. I would respond if I could, I just cannot.
Comments Worth a Brief Response
Some comments might mostly fall in the first category but one line or so in them would contain one of these elements. I will respond briefly. Others do not fit the above category but only necessitate a brief response.
- When I am being misunderstood. It happens to everybody. Sometimes it is because I was not clear. Occasionally, it is because the other person missed something. I’ll do my best to clear up misunderstanding. But as soon as someone falls into arguing for the sake of arguing then my response will stop.
- When not responding could lead to confusion. A few days ago someone left a comment that seemed to pit something I wrote against another article. I agreed with the other article as well. To not respond would have left the impression that we held contrary positions. I wrote a brief response to clear that up and ignore the paragraph or so of sharp remarks.
- When someone else is being slandered. This only applies if it is direct response to something I wrote. If you use my piece to slander someone then I’ll call you out on it.
- When only a brief response is needed. No need to be lengthy if I don’t have to.
Any that you would add?
Comments Worth a Lengthy Response
There is not a need to bullet point this one. It is everything else. I love humble engagement. I welcome critique. Even passionate critique. If I have the time I will engage in a lengthy response on any article if it is needed. I can use the sharpening. I do not have all of the answers.
Online discussions can be beneficial. But this takes time. And if I waste all of my time trying to defend myself, trying to prove everyone else wrong, or responding to things that do not elicit a response, then I will have no time left to actually engage when such a discussion would be healthy.
As someone reminded me in a comment a couple of weeks ago, “I’m not important”. This list is not an attempt to say, “I’m important and you need to follow the rules to have an audience with me”. That is not the case at all. This list is meant to be helpful to those that might be asking the same question that I do, “Should I respond to this”? It’s not always wise to hit “reply”. I want to be a responsible writer and I think these categories help.