Tuesday, July 30, 2013

I'm Not Tone Deaf (Part I about tone)

My older son is about to turn six.  He and I are a lot alike and it leads to the butting of heads at times.  On more than one occasion I have uttered one of the all-time cliches of parents everywhere: "Don't use that tone with me."  When he has an attitude, I am much less willing to listen to his argument or ideas.  

I have heard a lot about the use of tone online.  Often when someone calls another person out he or she is then accused of being mean.  I have, on multiple occasions, seen the explanation that one should interact with the content of a post and not the tone of a post because to consider the tone is "tone policing".  I have to admit that I don't quite see the problem in addressing tone.   In my first intro to literature class in college one section of the anthology adressed tone in writing.  It was an important concept for us to learn then, and due to the nature of reading so much on the Internet, I think it's probably an important concept still.  The anthology says "But to try and describe the tone of such a story may be a useful way to penetrate to its center and to grasp the whole of it."  Tone helps us to understand what is happening in the written word.  Reading and writing is not just a mental exercise in which we only use our brains as a tool for looking at facts or logic.  Writing can and does evoke emotions in us.  That is probably what attracts us to some writers and not others.   

I often consider the tone of what I am writing and if I am especially angry or passionate about something I will often wait on posting it.  For me, it is important to consider my tone, whether in a blog post or comment, Facebook comment, or tweet.  I don't always succeed.  I can be cynical.  I am sure at times my tone is sarcastic or arrogant or dismissive of others with whom I disagree.  I remember posting a comment a few months ago on a piece about women in leadership in which I knew my tone was argumentative, and not just because I disagreed with the post but because I disagreed and felt that my position was superior and I wanted to change that person's mind.

It often seems as if it is an either/or situation:  Either ignore the tone and read the content only, or ignore the content based on the tone.  I often will default to the latter (but I do want to get to a point where I can read the content without being solely influenced by tone).  If I don't connect with the tone of an article or tweet or FB status, I simply won't interact with it.  I remember one time listening to a talk radio show and and commenting that I might actually be willing to listen to the host's point of view if he had a different tone  But to me, the tone of the host was arrogant, disdainful, and dismissive, and I wasn't interested in hearing the content of what he said because of how he came across.  

I don't think I've ever called anyone out because of tone, and I do try to remember that there's a lot more to the person that I don't know.  But I do know that certain tones discourage me from reading or paying attention to or taking seriously some of the posts I read.  If it happens here and there, I feel like I can overlook it.  But if someone consistently writes in an angry, rude, sarcastic, dismissive tone, I tend to tune out.  And I know that if *I* did the same, I don't think I'd really expect people to take me seriously either, because for me, using that type of tone consistently is at odds with how I believe the fruits of the spirit should play out in my life.  

19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness,  20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions,  21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,  23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.  24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.  26 Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.  --Galatians 5:19-26 

In my writing--whether it is a post, a tweet, or a Facebook status, I try to keep in mind that I want to treat others how I would like to be treated.  I want the way I express myself to be honoring and loving to God and to others.  I sometimes see dismissal of others, of people basically being told "screw you", and I struggle to understand how that is helpful, loving, Jesus-like, Spirit-filled.  But I want to give them some grace, too, because all of us are on a journey and none of us have arrived.

When I am more interested in getting my way and demanding that people listen to me and dismissing others, then the Holy Spirit is not working in me.  Sometimes, we want so much to be heard that we do the same things that we accuse others of doing that we don't like.  We want so much to be able to express our voices that we then shut others out.  I think everyone deserves to have his or her voice heard.  I may not like what someone has to say.  I may hate what someone has to say.  But even so, I don't want to silence anyone else even though I may have been silenced as well.  In many ways I am privileged.  In some ways I am not.  I don't want to demand someone listen to me, get angry when they don't, and get angry when they do, and then refuse to listen back. 

And maybe I'm wrong.  Maybe those who, to me, seem to be angry or bitter are really loving, happy, joy-filled people.  I only see one small side of them, and as I have learned, what we see online is not the whole person (read this or this).  And often, it's not my place to accuse someone of being angry or bitter or hateful, because I have not developed the right personal relationship with the person.  And, when we start getting to know people as people, it is then that we can start to see beyond the tone.  This happened to me a couple of months ago in a Facebook group, and I'll tell you about it in Part II later this week.

For Further Reading:

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