I have a love/hate relationship with the comment box. On my blog where it’s moderated and readers are spiritually mature and have attended Combox-Finnishing school, I can kick my shoes off and put my feet up like I do on my sister’s coffee table. But elsewhere on the world wide web, writing about politics or religion, I’m clenched in a kung-fu stance, ready to hurl my voluminous law books at anonymous commentators who overstep the boundaries of human decency. If I believed trial practice was tough and ugly, fielding controversial debates on the comment box is like sumo-wrestlers meets mud-wrestling ring.
After trial and error in the combox both as a reader and writer (mostly error because of my unbridled fingers and self-righteousness), I’ve formulated a guide for myself. Here are my suggestions:
- Be positive. Leave appreciative comments to articles you like to encourage writers in evangelization. If you’re on the receiving end, respond to a compliment with a “thank you” or if time doesn’t permit, return the favor later or in another post written by the same commentator/writer. You can also pay it forward and encourage another writer to keep them inspired. No positive comment ever goes wasted and it builds up a close-knit community of networking relationships.
- Don’t be anonymous (unless you have good reason) or at least pretend you are not anonymous. Putting your name out there holds you more accountable to what you say. Before the vast internet audience, Catholics must preserve our (saintly!) reputations as we become missionaries of our Church and ambassadors for Christ himself. God knows you by name anyway, even if the people on the other side of the internet don’t.
- Pause before you comment. The benefit of combox writing is that it gives us time to develop our thoughts and responses and sieve our emotions unlike off-the-cuff remarks in conversations. So take advantage of the opportunity to sound wittier and more dignified than you really are.
- Pray for prudence. For posts/comments you dislike, ask for heavenly wisdom if it’s necessary to open your mouth (i.e silent readers need to read what you have to say) or if you’re rehashing a moot point or if it’s plain tacky to butt into an exclusive conversation. The Holy Spirit is the ultimate resource for writers and the apostles are great intercessors in defending the Pope, the Church or Our Lady.
- Before you disagree/debate, identify the most important issue. In legal writing, lawyers pinpoint the main issues before fleshing out the arguments. This guide helps organize our thoughts for a more streamlined and concise comment. There are two ways to prove a point: asserting yours or disproving your opponent’s. Of the two, I think the offense is better than being on the defensive. (Note: it is not a license to be offensive.)
- Don’t run amuck. Not everything calls for a reply or deserves a rebuttal. If it’s just a difference of opinion, you don’t have to engage in a discussion. You can ignore it. However, if there is a clear error on Catholic doctrine/teaching or an attack against the Church that can mislead others, you shouldn’t stay silent when you have the knowledge and resources to correct. “Not to oppose error is to approve it,” Pope Felix III said. Of course, you can’t perpetually hang out like a combox fly either. After two or three correspondences without getting anywhere, it’s best to walk away (with a farewell message) or take the discussion from the combox to private emails or even as a source of blog material. And then leave it be. Don’t check back if you know it will only aggravate you.
- Pray for your persecutors and “enemies.” Yes, its tough to send up an incense of prayers when you’d rather be throwing stones and spewing vitriol, but it is what Our Lord calls us to do. Someday, by our very prayers, we’ll all be hopefully be on the same side of eternity and rib each other about our childish disagreements on cyberspace a world and a lifetime ago. Just imagine St. Stephen and his persecutor St. Paul slappin’ each other on the back in heaven.
- Always mind your manners. Charity, mercy and humility are still virtues even in this impersonal, technological world. Unless you plan on being in the confessional every so often, there is never a justification for slander, personal attacks or nasty remarks directed against a person. The last thing you want to do is leave a reader thinking, “With Catholics like that, who needs the Church?”
The spots for #9 and #10 are open. What are your suggestions? Feel free to disagree with me…respectfully.