Tuesday, March 1, 2016

What should be a Catholic response to the Insult Culture?

Anger etching, C. LeBrun
from Wellcome Archive
“Anger is just a cowardly extension of sadness. It's a lot easier to be angry at someone than it is to tell them you're hurt.” G.K. Chesterton
"Call often to mind that our Saviour redeemed us by bearing and suffering, and in like manner we must seek our own salvation amid sufferings and afflictions; bearing insults, contradictions and troubles with all the gentleness we can possibly command."  St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to a Devout Life, Part III
Anyone listening to the recent Republican debates or reading comments on political or news blogs should be disheartened by the tone--angry, insulting, irrational.    People may have reasons for their anger, but these reasons do not justify a barrage of name-calling and insults.  Moreover, insults are not likely to win those whom you have insulted to your side.  I believe that the propensity to use insults rather than rational argument stems from an internet culture, a culture where one can be anonymous and thereby be nasty without attribution or retribution.  

In two earlier posts, "A Lesson from Two Homilies: Don't Argue on the Internet" and Don't Argue on the Internet 2: A Lesson in Gracious Dialogue, I argued that a Christian response to insults was to be patient and gentle and accept the insults, as suggested by St. Francis de Sales in the quote above, and by  St. Francis,  Bl. Mother Teresa,  among many others

One way to respond to insults is to avoid them, that is avoid the occasion of possible sin of anger--don't watch television, don't read internet blogs on politics or the news.    This will work, but you become the proverbial ostrich, hiding your head in the sand to avoid learning of the evil in the world.

A second way is to ignore insults, to accept them and bear them as a cross.   While such might be particularly appropriate in this Lenten season, it does nothing to change those who would inflict the insult, does nothing to modify their behavior.   And even though it may in fact be unreasonable to think that those who call names, rant and rave, can have their ways changed, nevertheless it is up to us to try and if we fail--at least the effort will have been made.  My own notion is to tell those who wield the insults that their verbal weapons will not change my mind, but only make me more opposed to their candidate or policies.

A third way is to counter one insult with another, with a dash of humor that seasons it enough to make the exchange palatable.   I'll give some examples from the Brits:
“I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend ... if you have one."  — George Bernard Shaw, playwright (to Winston Churchill)
"Cannot possibly attend first night; will attend second, if there is one."
— Churchill's response” 
“A member of Parliament to Disraeli: 'Sir, you will either die on the gallows or of some unspeakable disease.'
That depends, Sir,' said Disraeli, 'whether I embrace your policies or your mistress.”  
There are also the self-insulting jokes, a favorite in Jewish and Yiddish humor, that can be used to deprecate your real worth and thus take away the weapon of those who would demean you;  if you make yourself little, what point is there for an opponent to do likewise?
"I would never belong to a club that would have me as a member." Groucho Marx
 "How is it possible to find meaning in a finite world, given my waist and shirt size?"   Woody Allen
(at a charity dinner) "I had my choice tonight of buying a hundred-dollar ticket or being up here on the dais.. So, good evening, ladies and gentlemen."  The late, great radio comedian Jack Benny 
I'm not sure which route I'll take when I next encounter internet insults.  I've taken a Lenten Vow not to comment on the Internet (broken once), so I may not have to make a choice for a while, at any rate.

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