I’m a relative newcomer to the LDS blog scene. My engagement began last year as I searched for a place where I could find answers – or at least discussion – on some of the difficult aspects of our church. My first thought was how many people there seemed to be discussing these topics. We only have a small church, but lots of people are actively engaged in writing and commenting on issues. I am continually heartened by the passion in which most people hold in making our church a better place.
Over the time that I have been reading LDS blogs I think I’ve read most of them. Some blogs are small, some large, some liberal, some apologetic, some are just hilarious and some are rather serious.
Common to all is the desire for people to contribute and be heard. Most blogs have a commenting policy. Wheat and Tares has one which can be accessed here. Some blogs moderate their comments closely, others not at all. Wheat and Tares has traditionally fallen towards the latter of that spectrum. From time to time, it seems appropriate to revisit the issue of how we comment and communicate with one another through our blog. The purpose of this post is to provide some ideas regarding commenting and to generate some discussion about how to continue to improve the way we all communicate.
In my professional role, I teach communication skills. Communicating is at the root of all we do. As a police officer, there are many ways in which I can communicate. A short example will highlight this.
I was on patrol one afternoon when we received a call that three men were at a house loading a car full of the house contents. The owners of the house were away and the neighbour did not recognise the men. As the neighbour called police they left. About 5 minutes later I spotted a car matching the description offered by the neighbour. I saw three men, the car, numerous items covered by a tarpaulin – we had our bad guys. I had my offsider pull our car in front of theirs and I got out. Not knowing their intentions and potential for danger I withdrew my firearm and aimed it directly at the driver. I will never forget the look of absolute dread as his face turned white and his jaw lowered. All the time I was screaming at this man to turn off the engine, to not do anything stupid and to then put his hands where I could see them. I was communicating with him in many ways – my body language, my voice, my presence. However, I’m sure, if you asked him, the thing that spoke the loudest was the gun pointed at him.
In many ways I was as scared as he was. The communication was going both ways. Just before I alighted from my car, I saw him look to each side as if he was looking to drive away. I also feared he might drive directly at me. So yes, the communication was going thick and fast…both ways.
This situation was resolved peacefully. All three men surrendered without incident and we recovered a stolen historic vehicle and $25,000 worth of personal belongings. All three received jail sentences.
I use this example to highlight the fact that there are so many ways we can communicate when we are face to face. But when we are online, communication is difficult. Nuances in language, emotion and intensity of feeling become difficult, and sometimes impossible to deliver purely with the written word.
I am reminded of Elder Oaks talk in October 2014 Conference. I was impressed with some of his remarks that sought to temper the discourse regarding same sex marriage. I believe his comments are applicable in this discussion. This is a selection of what he said:
“In dedicated spaces, like temples, houses of worship, and our own homes, we should teach the truth and the commandments plainly and thoroughly as we understand them from the plan of salvation revealed in the restored gospel”.
“In public, what religious persons say and do involves other considerations”.
“On the subject of public discourse, we should all follow the gospel teachings to love our neighbor and avoid contention. Followers of Christ should be examples of civility. We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for their sincere beliefs. Though we may disagree, we should not be disagreeable. Our stands and communications on controversial topics should not be contentious. We should be wise in explaining and pursuing our positions and in exercising our influence. In doing so, we ask that others not be offended by our sincere religious beliefs and the free exercise of our religion. We encourage all of us to practice the Savior’s Golden Rule: “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12)”.
“When our positions do not prevail, we should accept unfavorable results graciously and practice civility with our adversaries. In any event, we should be persons of goodwill toward all, rejecting persecution of any kind, including persecution based on race, ethnicity, religious belief or nonbelief, and differences in sexual orientation”.
I believe this to be sound advice. He is saying that in our own homes – go for your life, but in public, temper the discourse. I believe this counsel applies to our blog. He urges us to:
Love our neighbour – in a blogging environment we have lots of neighbours. The primary ones are the writer of the post and those that subsequently comment on them. Remember, however that many people do not comment – for one reason or another – and will be reading in the background with no overt indication of their presence. To love each other in this sense means to approach each situation with sensitivity and a desire to lift, not to drag down or demean. As a member of the blogging team here at Wheat and Tares, I do my best to create a post that is interesting and challenging. I’m not a professional writer, nor do I know everything. This is something I do because I love the way it challenges me and forces me to think outside my comfort zone – I don’t do it because I’m necessarily good at it!! So be kind to us (the bloggers)  and to each other (the commenters).
Avoid contention – this is a hard one. Feelings that you are right and the other person is wrong can lead to communication that is contentious. Having contention means to fight, to battle, to war. There are times when fighting for a cause is appropriate – an LDS blog is not such a cause.
Be civil – engaging in a civil way means to not engage in behaviour like name calling, ganging up on someone or attacking the person and not the argument.
Be good listeners – this is difficult as all we have to listen to are the words we type. No looking into someone’s face, no hearing the “way” something is said and no body language. Just the cold words. This makes listening in a blogging environment a longer and more complex process. Read, read and re-read a persons comment. Sometimes what the person didn’t say is just as important as what they did say. Put yourself in their shoes and really try to understand from their position.
Show concern – one of the least utilised tools in our communication back pocket is empathy. Simple and honest expressions of empathy show love, concern and a sense of connection with the other person. I have read people express feelings of sadness, dread, mental anguish, suicidal thoughts and fear on various blogs. We can’t fix those – but we can express concern through the language we use.
Not be disagreeable – being disagreeable seems to me to be as much of an attitude as it is a behaviour. Perhaps we know of people who just seen to disagree with anyone and everything. Take an argument on its merits. Open your mind to the possibility that there might just be something to it.
We should be wise in explaining our position – this is good advice. I believe it is saying that independent of what we actually say, we should be cognisant of – or be wise – as to the likely impact of our communication. The phrase “discretion is the better part of valour” applies here. Yes we should make a logical and well thought statement. Yes we should avoid fallacies. Yes we should use correct and expressive language. But we should also take into account the impact of our potential communication. Is it best to not say anything? Or to stay out of a particular exchange?
I was drawn to this blog due to the breadth of topics and the lively discussion. We have a positive and active group. Our blogging team are an eclectic bunch. Our commenters are passionate, smart and challenging. Our discussions are fantastic. Lets continue to make Wheat and Tares a blog where we have fun, chat about cool stuff and feel a real sense of community.
 By kind, I don’t mean be soft on us or anything like that. Just remember that are aren’t experts, professional writers or have PhD’s in the area that we are writing in (usually..!!)
Are there any other pieces of advice that you think could make for a smoother interaction?
Would you like to see a post on a particular issue we haven’t covered?
To those who have never commented – we invite you to feel free to have a say on the next couple of posts. Don’t be shy!!!
To the other commenters – thanks for your input. Keep commenting!!!