One of the perks of my Comments Editor role is the insight it gives me into the motivations of blogger-warriors from across the cultural spectrum. Long fascinated with people-watching, I find that this adds a sparkle to my job here.
As a young executive, I sat through a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test, with its “vocabulary divorced from more tangible differentiators… of gender, class, intelligence, values and ambition”. A percentage score in each of four type indicators (Introvert or Extrovert, iNtuitive or Sensing, Thinker or Feeler, Judging orPerceptive) recognises the reality of ambiguous characteristics and mitigates the inherent pigeon-holing effect.
The test placed me as an INTP with descriptors that included being “driven to turn problems into logical explanations [such that] they live much of their lives within their own heads.” True to my ‘type’, I researched MBTI as a template to guess my colleagues’ high-level results and understand what made us tick as a team. Having mellowed with age, I re-sat a non-curated version of the test and came up as an INFP. While I do take psychometric tests with a pinch of salt and a dash of pepper, this result is consistent with my having discerned, along with Adriana Trigiani, that “Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved”.
This brings me to the interactions among our commenters, at which I have a ringside seat. I am of course patently unqualified to offer more than a quack’s eye view of the underlying psychological tendencies and will not even try. What triggered this piece is a Relevant Magazine article this month by a stay-at-home-mom pursuing a Master’s in clinical mental health counseling. She offers an insight into the motivations of social-media junkies with “Five questions to ask before posting to social media”. Questions relevant to culture warriors here include:
1. “Am I seeking approval? When I seek validation through something I post and that little red flag starts popping up to notify me of each person giving me attention, it’s an addictive reward.”
The thumbs-up and affirmations we receive on our posts here can have the same behaviour-reinforcing effect. We would do well to check for “unresolved conflict with someone I love” or whether we “just thrive on pleasing people and hearing their praise”.
2. “Am I discontent? When we view social media from a lens of discontentment, whatever we find will be colored with bitterness and ungratefulness.”
Ironically, the arguments we get into here can stir us to come back for more, like online gamers returning with battle scars for a fix of sorts.
3. “Is it kind? We have been given covered space from which to throw grenades, without requiring us to take responsibility for the weight of our words.”
Cara Joyner offers these as questions to ask of ourselves, not criteria for interpreting and evaluating others. In the same spirit of self-examination, our 10-point Reasonableness Test ends with “Imagine saying, in a public forum, what you write. Would it hinder your cause by coming across as little more than an angry rant?”
Some readers seem flustered by what they see as our too-strict, too-lenient or simply lopsided moderation policy, depending on whether we have deleted their rant or let an opposing one through. There can be polar differences between how a post is viewed by different people and moderation can be a fine art. Notwithstanding the fact that we all have our prejudices, we do our best to be even-handed and seen to be so. Here’s a professional perspective from a comments moderator at the Sydney Morning Herald: “You should have seen the ones I threw out!” and “Will the level of venom in this comment thread deter some readers from joining the discussion because they run the risk of being attacked/flamed?”.
We have been privileged to read heartfelt posts that are to an impressive-sounding treatise by a pseudo-intellectual what a mother’s love letter is to an impenetrable-legalese contract. Some commenters here have the rare touch of both a writer and a mother. To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, it’s a chasm of a fine line between “writing because we want to say something and because we have something to say”. It’s harder to pin down the essence of meaning beyond words when someone gives the impression of contrived striving, as my kids sometimes tell me I do when I ramble on theologically.
As we put pen to paper, we would do well to remember words of wisdom that transcend cultural boundaries: “Listen with the heart”. Our posts often reflect our thoughtfulness and clear thinking or want of these virtues. It’s not about being pedantic with grammar or being clever with words. We can usually discern someone’s meaning beneath what often comes across as quaint slips of hand or mind. It’s about a serene heart guiding a steady hand. Doughlas Remy, a regular debater here, put it this way: “Dashing sentences off without glancing back to proof them is not just sloppy but inconsiderate, and it also reveals sloppiness of thought”.
In the heat of battle, it’s easy to forget that at the core of it, the culture war is a battle for hearts and minds. MercatorNet opens up exciting new vistas for us to make an enduring difference through respectful dialogue. Letting our anger get the better of us is a “when the student is ready, the teacher appears” moment – a painful lesson that will be repeated until we take it to heart. David Page, another regular here, has observed that “if someone becomes angry when you question their beliefs then the nerve you’ve touched is their own doubt about what they say they believe”. Despite the barely-concealed acrimony we sometimes see here, which can make our community of commenters feel like a dysfunctional family, we should not be discouraged from working with men and women of goodwill on all sides in a common quest for Truth.
It is actually harder to live by our principles, which requires a self-mastery that continues to elude many of us, than to be seen as fighting for them. In a eulogy for Ariel Sharon this month, former UK Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks spoke of the two words for strength in Hebrew, ‘koach’ or ‘gevurah’, that mean quite different things – the strength to overcome our enemies or to overcome ourselves, the strength to wage war or to make peace. Our words are often a measure of our deeper fortitude or fragility.
I will leave you with gems from Mark Twain and Robert Frost on the essence of education. They called it “the path from cocky ignorance to miserable uncertainty” and “the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.”