Don’t Take it Personal
In his essay, “In Grateful Response,” N.T. Wright responds to ten essays written about various issues related to his book Jesus and the Victory of God. (The entire collection is found in IVP’s Jesus and the Restoration of Israel, edited by Carey C. Newman.) After reading this assortment of essays, Wright comments, “[M]any of the questions [that the essayists asked] are ones that I have often asked myself. Only occasionally did I rub my eyes and say, ‘How could you have thought that I meant that?’ Only once did I look up my lawyer’s telephone number.” (p.245, Emphasis original)
I laughed when I first read this. But of course that’s when I was only turning in papers to professors, where any comments that came back would generally be accompanied by an ‘A’. It is amazing what kind of negative critique you can withstand if you know you got an A.
Funny thing about the internet (and life) is that no one is giving grades. At least not that I know about. I can see now just how easy it is to take things personally, especially when there is no way to read a person’s body language or inflection. I was talking with Jake, my fellow blogging friend at church, and he was surprised that I had read as many personal jabs as I had into the Trinitarian discussions I had last week. Of course none of that stuff was really there, but it’s amazing how much force extraneous comments seem to have when you’re being told why you’re wrong.
Take another example from this morning: Dr. Jim West clearly misread Christian Brady’s comment, “Dr.Jim West (I am a doctor as well, just not a “real” doctor, as my grandmother will tell you)…” Now I thought this was very funny. In popular usage doctor means medical doctor, not someone with a Ph.D. in some obscure academic field. So on the popular level, the only biblical scholar I can think of that was a “real” doctor was Schweitzer. This was a witty aside that was obviously unrelated to Jim West. But remember just a few months ago all the people that questioned whether his degree was from a ‘real’ institution? (Here is a link to Chris Heard’s position on the matter. I am not going to take the time to find the various relevant posts, but they’re out there. From my perspective Jim West is certainly a ‘real’ doctor, though I wouldn’t want him to operate on me). Thus it is not surprising to me that Jim might misread this comment as a personal attack in light of the earlier controversy over his credentials.
All apologies to Jim for any implied parallels with Wright. But my point is that, if Jim West, who is the epitome of a person who doesn’t care what others think of him, can misread a simple statement like this, how much more are we all susceptible to this sort of misreading?