I used to see a lot of strong opinions and challenging ideas shared online. Now, I see more watered down posts full of caveats as the author apologizes for what they’re about to say. And I get it. Because unless you try to address every possible variation in situation, someone is going to be offended. And you’re going to hear about it. It gets exhausting.
But you know what? Watered-down posts following a series of disclaimers are boring. And it’s bad writing. If you try not to offend anyone, you won’t be able to say anything at all.
Now, I’m all for clarity. I like writers to be clear about what they’re saying and to address obvious criticisms that might arise. And I like dialogue about ideas.
I’m even a fan of tact and sensitivity. But I’m not interested in lambasting writers because someone outside of the intended audience of their post might feel bad about the topic discussed.
The complaint I’m seeing lately is not, “what this writer says is untrue.” Or, “The argument is poor, here’s where they went wrong and why I completely disagree.” Nope. What I’m seeing all over the place is, “Why didn’t the writer realize writing about this would make me feel bad? Why didn’t they have me in mind?” As if it’s our right to be protected from any ideas that might, shudder to think, make us feel bad.
I was recently a little bit shocked after reading a beautiful series about the goodness of order in the home when I discovered that the response to the author’s idea was not, “I disagree that order is a high priority or an objective good in the home” but “my house is messy so now I FEEL BAD after reading that post about the beauty of order!” Y’all, my house is a mess 98% of the time. I have three young kids and it kind of goes with the territory.
But it’s not like that series was written AT ME in order to shame me for my sticky floors and disorganized art cabinet. It’s true that order in the home is a beautiful thing and you know what? I’d like more of it! Just because that’s not really possible for me right now doesn’t mean I need to take offense.
It sounds insane since I write a mommy blog, but I have truly received comments about how it’s insensitive of me to write so frequently about my kids because reading about that experience is hurtful to women suffering from infertility and would I please stop talking about motherhood? It goes without saying that infertility is terribly painful and when discussing related topics like NFP, I try to be sensitive to readers carrying that cross. But to say, “You can’t write about what I don’t have because it makes me upset” rather than, “hmmm, maybe reading mommy blogs isn’t the best choice for me right now” goes a bit far.
Blogger Kathryn Whitaker recently wrote a great series of how-to posts about taking your family to Disney World. We just moved to a farm and have obligations that would keep up from planning a trip like that right now. So should I be enraged that Kathryn dared write about taking her family to Disney knowing full well that some readers aren’t in a position to do the same? Should I throw up my hands and bemoan how after reading about their great time at the happiest place on earth sure makes my day look dull and my bank account cheerless? No. Because that post wasn’t written AT ME. It was written to a different audience. The “we might be taking a Disney vacation sometime soon” audience who will greatly appreciate her wisdom on the topic. That’s not a possibility for my family right now, but instead of being indignant that she dared write about it without considering me doesn’t it make more sense to enjoy her beautiful photos and ideas and then go on with my day?
If I imagined that the entire internet revolved around me and was written with me in mind, I would waste a great deal of time being offended. Single women shouldn’t have to write with young mothers in mind. Women writing about infertility shouldn’t have to worry about offending women with large families. Writing about the joys of marriage isn’t insensitive to single women. Writers write from where they stand and if I’m not standing in the same place, I can just assume it wasn’t written for me.
I am tired of authors having to apologize because they didn’t write a piece with so-and-so in mind. It’s simply not possible to write a 300-800 word blog post with everyone in mind. And maybe just because I have a different experience from an author, I’m pretty sure they didn’t write it just to make me upset.
Are we really so delicate that we can’t handle hearing about anything different than our own experience without getting up in arms? Are we really so self-centered that we can’t stand to read anything not written with us in mind?
Now, I’m not against sensitivity or thoughtfulness. But I urge all of us to seek to dialogue about what’s right and true–let that be the conversation. Not run a race to see how quickly we can twist a writer’s words into something we can get offended by. While writers have the responsibility to write with clarity and charity, as readers we have the responsibility to be discerning and, dare I say, a little more thick-skinned.