Starve your distractions, feed your focus.
In this age of constant communication, you’re dealing with endless opportunities to interact effectively. Or to be distracted, baited, or needlessly drained.
If you’re on social media, you know how this plays out. Post a statement and someone will agree, someone won’t, and someone else will want to engage you in an ongoing dispute.
The same holds true for conversations in almost all circumstances. When you communicate, some say Aye; some say Nay. Naysayers aren’t enemies, and they may be right, and thereby can be learned from. Regardless, dealing with them calls for navigational skills.
There’s nothing wrong with that. Anyone posting, writing, or speaking is fair game to respond to, critically or positively. Anyone relating, for that matter, should expect to be disagreed with at times. Or questioned, or challenged.
The question becomes, should you acknowledge the feedback? If so, should you respond? If you respond, should you then engage in ongoing dialogue?
Whether you’re communicating online or in person, you’ve got to answer those questions. The way you do will determine how well or how poorly you’re managing your time and energy, because face it, you’ve only got so much of both.
The ARE Approach: Acknowledge – Respond – Engage
That’s why taking the ARE approach has worked well for me.
Whether in person or online, when someone throws a comment or question my way, I first ask myself whether or not to acknowledge and, if I choose to, whether I want to respond with an answer or question of my own. Then, of course, if the person wants to initiate a discussion, I’ll decide to opt in or out of
This approach has saved me a lot of time, believe me, and helped me invest energy where I feel it’s best invested.
Sometimes non-acknowledgement is a no-brainer. If you’re walking down the street and someone shouts an obscenity at you, there’s not much point in acknowledging the stupidity. Ditto for someone giving you the one-finger salute, a gesture I’ve never been able to develop a Christian response to, so I let it go. The idiocy of some remarks, actions, or questions doesn’t deserve recognition.
But there are other times you may determine, or sense, that avoidance is a
Sometimes the history of the person asking the question or making the comment tells you that you’re hearing from someone who’s sole purpose is to bait or distract you. Nehemiah ran into this (Nehemiah 6:1-9) as did Paul ( Galatians 2:5) and Jesus Himself. (Matthew 21:27) All three of them determined, or sensed, or both, that they were being baited by someone with disguised intentions. Likewise, all three of them knew better than to bite the hook.
At times like that, I find the delete button a handy tool. Or, as can happen when someone is badgering or baiting you in person, you might utilize what the great Charles Spurgeon called “the blind eye and the deaf ear.” In his classic Lectures to my Students, he said he used both of them regularly throughout his ministry, and that they were, indeed, two of his most valuable body parts.
If Acknowledged, Respond?
An acknowledgment is a simple affirmation that the message was received, or allowed to be put through. Responding is still optional.
For example, someone promoting a falsehood often is someone who’s well aware of the truth and yet, having rejected it, wants to buffet you when you express it. Paul’s admonition to Titus comes to mind here: “A man who is a heretic after the first and second admonition, reject.” (Titus 3:10)
It’s senseless to bang your head against the wall with someone who’s already heard everything you’re going to say, and that, at least in part, is why Jude says “Don’t bother.” You can thereby acknowledge, without getting snagged in the process.
In most cases, a message received should be responded to as well, but not always. So you may, as another example, allow an opposing view to be stated on your Facebook page as a courtesy to the sender and for readers to consider. Honest questions or remarks deserve their day in court, even in a courtroom as limited as our personal pages.
But it’s wise to reserve the right not to comment in return, knowing that a response if often seen as an invitation to start a conversation.
If a conversation’s what you want, then responding makes sense, and some terrific dialogues can be found on social media, heard in Starbuck’s, or viewed on the news. The question isn’t whether or not conversations are a problem, but rather, whether or not you’re up for one, with this person, in this venue, and at this time.
If Responded to, Engage?
I’m a believer in the still small voice of the Holy Spirit, and His ability to guide, just as Jesus promised. (John 6:13) I’m likewise a believer in our own instincts, despite their gross fallibility compared to the Godhead’s perfection. Sometimes, when someone presents you with a “let’s talk” invitation, you feel a check in your gut saying Danger Ahead. You may or may not have a clue why, but there it is.
I’ve learned to respect mine. In fact, every time I’ve gotten snagged into a fruitless dialogue or needlessly draining encounter, it’s been because I ignored the instinct telling me to keep walking.
In the classic film noir Double Indemnity, Edward G. Robinson’s character described a “little man jumping up and down inside him” who told him something’s wrong with the picture he was being presented. As an insurance examiner he’d learned to trust the little man and, indeed, so have I.
When something in you – be it the Spirit of God or your gut – jumps up and down at the prospect of investing time and energy into an encounter, take heed. Despite knowing that we’re quite limited, and thereby knowing we can get it all wrong when we intuit something, I still say trust that little guy in your gut. More often than not, I think you’ll find to be him a reliable friend.
Navigation, Not Wandering
Our daily interactions provide terrific opportunities for sharing the gospel, encouraging the downcast, building up others, and the communication and reception of truth. They’re a lot like opportunities to spend money, though, in that they should be invested in or wisely refused, knowing that you only have so much to spend.
The Spirit-led believer navigates her or his steps, time, and words, using all three wisely, and steering clear of encounters best avoided. We’re stewards of what we’ve been given. God give us wisdom to, in return, give it where it will do the