Wisdom Journey

Short speech. Short temper?

Texts and tweets are better for expressing contempt, not compassion

By N. Graham Standish

Efficient conversation often elicits conflict. Compassionate conversation often compels companionship and cooperation. The question is whether we have the patience for compassion.  

We are increasingly communicating in efficient ways. That seems to be the thrust of modern culture. We text. We tweet. We post. We dash off an email. Our sentences are becoming more active, less passive; simpler, less complex. We want to get the gist of the gist now. “Don’t give me too much information. A simple yes or no will do!” We complain about people who talk too much. We complain when information isn’t delivered quickly enough. We get antsy when we get too many points of view.

Unfortunately, the one thing the recent elections have demonstrated are that tweets and texts aren’t the best way to communicate compassion. What they do excel at is communicating contempt. Obviously quick texts and tweets that say, “I’m with you,” or “I love you,” are compassionate. But nothing says “you stink” like a short, sweet tweet. It’s the shortness that really expresses the contempt, much in the way that “Get out of my life!” “I’m through with you!” or “You’re a stinking piece of $@$^%@!” really communicates hate and disdain.

A life of kindness, compassion, concern, care, and love requires both a willingness to listen and enough words to share. The struggle is that we’re always in a hurry. One of the greatest impediments to marriage is efficient communication. Most modern families are in a constant hurry and under great stress. Most married couple’s conflict begins with something short, like “I can’t talk now,… Just do what I want!” “I gotta go,… I don’t have the time for this!” “You always [insert word here], and I can’t stand it.”

Have you noticed that when couples mend those efficient conversations it generally takes a long time? The reason is that communicating contempt takes seconds, but communicating compassion often takes a span of time.

This is true in any context. To communicate “I care” to a co-worker, a friend, a boss, an employee, a child, a spouse, a stranger, a parent all takes time. The same is true with God. One reason our relationships with God are often fractured is that we generally don’t spend enough time prayerfully and reflectively with God. We don’t spend enough time in compassionate conversation with God. We pray in a hurry. We pray on the run. Or we don’t pray at all because we are in too much of a hurry,… until something bad happens. Then we make time.

Compassion takes time. Modern Christians don’t often make time because they don’t realize that to make time to care means to take time to care.

Remember this the next time you are in conflict. You probably got there because you said something efficient. If you really care, now’s the time to say something that takes a long time.

The Rev. N. Graham Standish, Ph.D., M.S.W. (www.ngrahamstandish.org) is senior pastor of Calvin Presbyterian Church in Zelienople, Pennsylvania (www.calvinchurchzelie.org). He is the author of seven books on spirituality and church transformation, and is an adjunct faculty member of Pittsburgh Theological and Tyndale Seminaries. He also has a background as a spiritual director, and as an individual and family therapist.