An Encouraging Word — The sin of cowardly communication

Wrath and hatred are hateful things. Sirach 27:30

After all these years, approximately 20 years to be precise, I still remember it! I was standing at the door of the Cathedral of the Assumption greeting people on their way out. I was in a great mood. The people passing me by were shaking my hand and smiling as they walked by.

Then, out of nowhere, a man got up in my face and hissed, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself!” To this day, I still have no idea what he was talking about. My best guess was it was something I said in the homily.

Those in the world of ministry call it a “drive-by comment.” After unloading, the person rushes on, making sure there is no time for question or comment. It belongs in the same category as the “anonymous letter” and the “hit and run email.”

I don’t get them often, but I got an unsigned letter recently with no return address. It was filled with rants that I could not understand, to the point that I am not sure the writer had the right priest. Since I am one of those people who can get 500 compliments and one criticism and find the criticism more believable, these days I destroy unsigned letters immediately lest their destructive poison gets into my system.

The perfect outlet for angry attacks is the internet. I do not get many “hit and run emails,” but I do know that there is a lot of anonymous viciousness going around in blogs and on social media sites.

The “venial sin” of these cowardly communications is the deliberate withholding of compliments as a way to “get” people. It is more passive-aggressive than a direct hit, but can do its own form of damage. “I would have said something, but I didn’t want you to get the big head!”

There are many reasons why people turn their frustrations on one another. The pressures produced by uncertainty and confusion are many and they often produce high degrees of anxiety that people try to manage by primitive processes of scapegoating and projection. We are all susceptible to being victims, as well as perpetrators.

If you are a victim, here are a couple of tips. Never read an unsigned letter. Throw it away before it hooks you and upsets your equilibrium. If you are verbally ripped, without obvious cause, stop and ask yourself, “What is the problem behind this problem?” Usually you are just the misplaced target for their rage, rather than the real cause.

If you are a perpetrator, one of those people who writes angry letters, sends emails or makes phone calls while drinking or in a foul mood, wait two days before mailing your letter, sending your email or making your call. When you are sober and rested, more often than not, you will decide not to send your blast or make your angry call. If you wait, your communication will no doubt be more civil.

Father J. Ronald Knott

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