Welcome to a new series at Carrots! I often get emails and comments asking about various blogging-related things, so I thought it would be fun to answer some of them right here on the blog as a little on-going series. I hope you enjoy it and find it helpful! If you have a question about blogging, feel free to leave it in the comments and I may be able to answer it in a future For the Love of Blogging post.
This week’s question: How do you set the tone of your blog? How do you encourage kindness in the comments? How do you inspire readers to charitably dialogue with each other?
I think there’s two big ways that a blogger should set the tone, the way he/she responds to other bloggers and writers and the way he/she responds to commenters. Because I’ve made plenty of mistakes, I’ve learned a lot about this and I’m sure I still have a lot to learn…
The key word here is charity. If you say anything worth saying, someone will disagree. Not everyone is going to like you. You can have opinions and confidently express them and you should. Tip-toeing around isn’t necessary, but charity is. Stating the truth doesn’t always go hand-in-hand with being “nice.”
BUT criticize bad ideas, not people. If another writer has a piece you disagree with, critique their argument, do not make personal attacks. Say, “what’s problematic with this idea is…” rather than, “Sally Sue’s idiotic claim makes me gag because…” And consider who you are disagreeing with. It’s one thing to write critically about a public figure like Putin. It’s another to lambast a tiny blogger by name about a post only 10 people read.
Argue with charity. If there’s anything you can agree with, note it. Assume the best of the other argument, don’t make it into a straw man. Assume the best of the other writer. And don’t say anything that you wouldn’t want the writer you’re disagreeing with to read. (If you link to their piece, they probably will read it.) It’s hurtful to be personally attacked on someone else’s blog, whether you’re a big blogger, a little blogger, or somewhere in-between. A friend recently wrote a great post that to her surprise (and mine) really offended another blogger who misinterpreted it. Thinking my friend wouldn’t see her post, this blogger wrote about her and also allowed her readers to badmouth my friend in the comments. Even if you did nothing wrong, it’s very hurtful to see that and it’s just not classy blogging! The whole thing could have been avoided if the blogger had assumed the best of my friend and it could have been curtailed if she had been more charitable and encouraged her readers to be charitable as well. Speak with truth, but with charity, and encourage your commenters to do the same. It’s easy to forget that even though you don’t know someone in real life, they are a REAL PERSON with feelings.
And speaking of comments…..my oh my. The combox can be an ugly place. I am so lucky to have wonderful and kind readers who encourage me and one another in the combox. But if you have an opinion about anything, you will get some nasty comments from somebody. Even if you stand by what you wrote, even if what they said was unwarranted, it hurts.
So first of all, assume the best. Remember, charity is the key word. So assume that a negative comment is meant in the best way possible. Tone is everything and when you’re tired or grumpy or defensive, you can read criticism into a comment that was never meant to be critical.
If it’s impossible to read it with a positive spin, consider whether there is any truth to the criticism (this might be something you could tackle with a spouse or a blogging friend, but airing grievances about critiques of your writing on social media really isn’t helpful. Your followers will support you because they like you–which is great, I’m glad my readers like me and I like them, too!–but because they like you, they’ll be taking your side and what you need is help seeing the other side.)
If there’s truth to criticism, own up to it. I develop so much more respect for bloggers when they say, “You know what? That’s a great point. I’m going to think about what you said. Perhaps I was wrong there.” And sometimes critiques in the comments are so helpful and very well-meant. I’ve had readers ask me to correct phrasing that was offensive. I didn’t MEAN to be offensive, and thankfully, they assumed the best (charity! Thanks!) and helped me out, “I know you probably didn’t mean such-and-such, but the way you phrased blah-blah-blah makes it hurtful for this reason. Could you say it this way instead?” Yes. Yes, I absolutely can. Thank you for telling me so that I don’t unintentionally hurt someone.
But then again, critiques aren’t always right. When you disagree, be tactful and kind, but be confident and firm. Clarify where you disagree. Be respectful. Move on.
And if the comment is just nasty and name-call-y and awful, delete it. Assume that person had a really bad day. They took it out on you. It’s unfortunate, but it doesn’t have to ruin your day. Responding to someone who is personally attacking you isn’t going to go anywhere. Say a prayer for whatever is going on their life and get back to your real job: writing.
You’re in control of your response to any comment, but you’re not in control of how your readers respond to each other. You can, of course, delete comments that are nasty, but you set the tone of your blog with your own voice. By showing charity and respect to those who disagree with you, you encourage your readers to do the same. Nothing makes me happier than when someone leaves a negative comment that’s hostile in tone and before I can even comment, my awesome readers respond respectfully and charitably, taking the commenter seriously and addressing their concerns or claims in a kind way. Because what’s the point? If you want someone to consider your idea, they will only be able to hear you (and who knows, maybe change their mind) if you speak to them with charity.
The internet is forever which makes blogging and social media a very scary endeavor. But demonstrating charity is especially important if your blog is religious. If you’re a Christian blogger, your words are representing Christianity to people whether you signed up for that responsibility or not. That’s a weighty thing. Err on the side of charity, and you’ll have far fewer words to be ashamed of.
Thanks for joining me in this new little series and thanks for putting up with me over the years as I’m learning these lessons. Thanks also to any blogger whose post I’ve criticized and who has responded to me with grace and charity, teaching me how to follow suit.
As luck would have it, today Heidi Calma of Project Underblog is running an interview with me about the bloggin’ life. It was very fun to do and forced me to think about why and how I do things. So, check it out, and I hope you enjoy it!