Avoiding My Own Toxicity

Sometimes I write in response to what someone else wrote. It could be a book, blog post, tweet, etc. My response might be supportive, reflective, or critical of the ideas expressed. Occasionally – particularly when criticizing an idea – a comment comes along telling me I shouldn’t attack other people.

I try not to. My aim is to address ideas. I don’t ignore the person who wrote those ideas, and will refer to an author by name, but I strive to stay focused on the ideas the person espouses and (if appropriate) call for a change of mind and heart. I am talking about the wrongness of the ideas held by the author, but some who support the author will see my critique as a personal attack.

This is problematic for a couple of reasons. First, there’s miscommunication. That’s a bad thing for any writer and I have to scrutinize my posts to make sure I haven’t contributed to any misunderstanding.

Second, if a writer/speaker/pastor/leader (or those who agree with her or him) feels personally attacked, it shuts off communication entirely. If what I’ve said is “These beliefs are wrong” and what they’ve heard me say is “You’re toxic” then there’s no incentive on their part to engage.

The corollary is that when I speak even more strongly and actually say certain beliefs/teaching/practices are toxic – and some are – then a person who holds such beliefs close to their heart will find it almost impossible to respond favorably if I then extend an offer to join together in common cause, even something as basic as time together in prayer. I would not blame the person for perceiving my offer as “You are toxic. Now come join me in prayer so God can change you.”

I don’t know the right way to avoid all misunderstanding on everyone’s part, but I do know that I can at least do my part. And I admit that doing my part takes a humility that does not come easy to me.

So I will remind myself of the guidance given by God in Scripture:

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:18.)

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6 Responses to Avoiding My Own Toxicity

  1. Brian Nisbet says:

    Haven’t responded in a long time , bless you man, this is very powerful what your heart just wrote, I’ve really struggled last few yrs as Jesus restored me 45 yrs ago and life has been hard on every front, ( boo hoo) one of the
    hardest things after all this time is I feel like I’m at the woodshed getting corrected week after week from wrong attitudes & everything else in between anyway I said all that to say the Spirit of God is really in this in wisdom & upright teaching if our hearts are open,some co brokenness here, bless you man !

  2. Jeannie Prinsen says:

    I think that last part is right on, Tim — ensuring that WE are doing what we can to live at peace with others. We can’t control other people’s feelings, reactions, or responses.

    I also think that sometimes those we observe as having a lot of power and strength are actually extremely weak and insecure. For instance, I might write or say challenging things about a person in power, assuming that (1) they recognize their power and the responsibility that comes with it and (2) therefore they can handle it. You could even take the example of a child screaming at a parent, “You’re the worst parent ever” or “I hate your values” and it’s actually healthy that they’re doing that, because they sense that the parent.recognizes the power imbalance, is secure in their own role, and can handle pushback. But in fact, the person in power (whether a parent, or a political or religious leader) may be extremely insecure and unhealthy. They may feel threatened by the criticism and challenge – as if it shrinks or demeans or destabilizes them, even though they are the ones with the money and power and clout behind them.

    • Tim says:

      I experience that power dynamic all the time at work. One of the things we train for is to recognize that we have the power, as well as to be mindful of how others perceive our exercise of that power.

  3. Pastor Bob says:

    There are those who cannot or will not separate the person from action and or belief.
    I grew up hearing this, yet those who have difficulty come across as immature. part of growing up is hearing what you do not want to hear to make you a better person. How to discern the difference from those who cannot from the who will not. Usually if the “head” listens some we know it is WILL NOT.

    Having been accused of being “judgemental” for calling sin what is -SIN, it is not hard to relate here. When Jesus told us not judge, He was not referring to actions but to the HEART. Often we try and figure out why someone did what they did. “He is _________ !” Crosses the line.

    “That ______ was a bad idea!” is not something we are forbidden to address.

    Two closing thoughts, you (the speaker) may be 100% right, is it worth the relationship to pursue this?
    Second, refer back to maturity.

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