Someone that I have really come to appreciate in the blogosphere wrote this and he gave me permission to post it at length- Josh Collins. While I consider Josh a “blogosphere friend” he is also quick to challenge some of my thoughts, which I appreciate. Enjoy the post!- Matt Svoboda
For the record, I’m just a lowly blogger with a readership of about 2 (3 if my mom is in town). I don’t really know the pressures of consistent blogging that many of you face. I honestly get more hits per day often when I don’t write anything.
That said, in a recent comment thread I was in, the topic of negative expectations came up. I’m certain that most of us probably know of some Internet sites that we read knowing that we will likely disagree with the author. Sometimes we may even have found that previous posts by an author that we disagreed with are negatively shading something else he has written. This combative, defensive posture we assume as readers is not always helpful for understanding another human’s ideas and arguments. This posturing is what I mean by “negative expectations.”
But I’m not here to talk about reading but rather writing. After some thought, I’ve come up 10 ways that bloggers and authors can subvert negative expectations from their readers. Those of you with more readers than I and who post on much more controversial issues than I might do well to chew on these ideas a bit and see if there’s anything helpful for you.
1. Name your foes. ??? No, I don’t mean “name your foes” in the sense of starting every blog off with “So-and-so come get me, you godless communistic freewill emergent traditional Calvinist who hates puppies.” What I mean is that when any of us are writing on something controversial, be it theology or denominational politics or college football, we know that certain groups of people won’t see eye to eye with us. Why not acknowledge this right from the start? Go one step further in fact and tell them something you appreciate about their particular viewpoint or about a specific friend you have that shares their view. For example, start off a college football post with “I know some of you are huge SEC fans, and I want you to know that despite some disagreements that will occur later, I do share your love of sweet tea and am convinced it will be served over ice by angels in the Regeneration.” I once heard the advice “Compliment, concern, compliment.” Surround your disagreements with friendliness, and you may find better discussion results. Remind your critics that you see them as real people and not just as robots to reprogram to your particular viewpoint. Note: You must resist the overwhelming urge to be passive/aggressive in these opening compliments!
2. Use less sarcasm. That was a hard one for me to write, but let’s get it out there. I know Amos called rich women fat cows and that Paul told the circumcisers to make themselves eunuchs. I can’t find it in Romans or 1 Corinthians, but I know that sarcasm is my spiritual gift. Unfortunately, it’s like that gift you get for other people’s kids at Christmas—the light-up machine gun with spare batteries included. The less mature tend to enjoy it, but it gets on most people’s nerves in large quantities. So use less of it. There’s a fine line between mocking sin and mocking sinners. And trust me, sarcasm is like a colonoscopy—it’s funnier to laugh at it when you’re not the one on the table.
3. Don’t be yourself. By that I don’t mean “be fake.” (and I certainly don’t mean “be anonymous!”) But most of us tend to default to one particular style of writing or one particular topic of interest. So break your own habits occasionally. Instead of always blogging about politics, talk about your family or write a sonnet about monster trucks. Letting your critics view a window into your soul and be reminded that you are a living person who occupies space on this planet will do wonders in setting the tone for future posts that are more controversial. I recommend posting something about your dog because not counting my traditional Emergent freewill Calvinist friend in point 1, I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t like puppies.
4. Play by your own rules. This applies more to comment threads than to the original posting, but there is application for both. You don’t want people using ad hominem in their comments…don’t use it yourself. It’s almost like something this guy named Jesus said once—treat others like you want them to treat you. Hold yourself to the same standards as you hold them to.
5. Set a specific place for critics at the table. You just posted a particularly intense critique of some End Times view. Invite those who disagree with you to critique something specific in your post. Rather than trying to corral the cat herd of comment directions that can come from a subject with as many different viewpoints as eschatology, say, “What about my use of Scriptures A and B do you differ on?” or “Am I fairly representing your position on these specific points?” The critics will come. But if they know they are invited and have a specific role to play in the discussion, the conversation can be more beneficial to both parties. This will also help you keep side topics or tangents to a minimum.
6. Keep it short. Seriously. Nothing worse than reading someone who disagrees with you doing so for another 25,000 words. You’re writing a blog, not The Institutes.
7. Read from the other side of the table. I know many of us don’t really edit our posts after writing them. That’s what those squiggly lines that appear under the words are for, right? But at least read from the other side’s perspective before posting. If you were them, how would you take this criticism? Does the colorful hyperbole appear more like a friendly high five or the less-friendly “high one” you see on the freeway? Would you feel mocked or understood? Would you still say this if the people were literally in the room with you holding a puppy in their arms? If in doubt, refer back to number 2.
8. Keep an enemy close. (By the way, I use the term “enemy” and “foe” loosely here simply to mean someone who will oppose your views. I hope you know that any brother in Christ should not be considered a real enemy. And any actual enemy of yours should be blessed and prayed for–another Jesus quote.) Here, though, I’m thinking of having a real live “disagree-er” you can run things by or discuss things with in real life, preferably someone who’s not afraid to correct you and call you out if cross certain lines. I have a friend from college who runs in more emergent (apparently it’s “(d)mergent” now) circles, and I often think of him when I write to keep me from being a big jerk.
9. Don’t always wear the white hat. Some bloggers act like the Internet is a saloon filled with ruffians (all drinking Sarsaparilla, of course!), and they’re the white hat-donning sheriff there to settle accounts. Cue the song “Hero” by Skillet for their entrance theme. Of course, anyone who doesn’t fully cooperate with the sheriff is on the wrong side of the law. Every issue that’s important to them is pretty high on God’s list too. If it wasn’t for their help, the Holy Spirit couldn’t get his job done. Don’t be like that. Acknowledge that you are a fallible human. Admit that you may not be 100% correct on every issue. Be upfront about the fact that you’re at the beginning stages of thought development about a particular subject and need input from everyone else. Take the white hat off and grab a sarsaparilla and join the conversation.
10. Don’t be so shocked. If you allow disagreement from your comment thread, then you’ll have to man up a bit and learn to handle disagreement like a Christian. No whining when someone disagrees with you. No crying about how “everyone misunderstands you.” Don’t sit back and wait for the responses with the token line “You obviously (being an idiot) did not understand or read my post if you can’t see that I’m 100% correct here.” Yea, occasionally you’re going to be misunderstood, someone is going to comment without reading the whole thing, and a big hairy troll may also show up. Deal with that stuff directly (aka…delete the trolls) and kindly (encourage the guy who didn’t read to do so and maybe even ask a leading question for him to look at in his reading –see point 5). Listen, I as much as you would love for everything I write to be so amazing, paradigm-shattering, theologically sound, and persuasive that my comment thread is flooded with things like “you’re awesome” and “you’re like a mix of Tozer and Spurgeon and Athanasius with the combined wittiness of Chesterton and Lewis” and of course, “Hi, I’m a publisher. I know you have no book-writing experience but from what I saw on this April 21st blog, we’d like to basically pay for you to travel the world and write us a book in a few years. We don’t even need references.” But it won’t be. And if it is, you probably need to get another reader besides your mom.
So do you have any other ideas for helping to subvert people’s negative reactions when you’re blogging? For pastors, how might these rules apply to your sermons? And if you can’t see how one of these points would be helpful, I welcome your comments (just make sure to reference by number which point you’re taking on!).