Caitlyn Jenner. Gay marriage. Assisted suicide. Global Warming. Ferguson. The Duggars. Immigration. Rachel Donezal. Abortion.
The sparring is fierce. The words are rabid. And in our over-connected world, where hyperbole masquerades as reason, we can’t escape the deluge that sweeps us into the flow of opinion and debate.
I believe it’s Dr. Phil who once said, “You can be right or you can be happy.” But in the age of social media, where online battles leak their venom into personal interactions, a more apt statement might be, “You can be right or you can have influence.”

It’s increasingly hard to be both right and influential.

I know you’ve seen it too. In our obsession with proving our rightness, we’ve surrendered true authority to notoriety, preferring the high fives of like-minded thinkers to quiet dialogues with “opponents” who might view things differently than we do. More and more, we seem to be okay with that—better to be heard spewing overstatements and slander than to be ignored.

Most of us become sideline players. “Pick a side and preach it!” Share the link. Cheer on the fighter. Disparage the detractors. Facts and context be damned.

Even respected leaders in religious and social arenas diminish the scope and legitimacy of their impact by proclaiming their rightness without the crucial four pillars of lasting influence.

Screen Shot 2015-06-18 at 6.22.27 PMComprehension. Conviction. Courage. Compassion.

We’ll address compassion last, but it is perhaps the greatest conveyor of influence. The pivotal pillar, if you will. When combined with the other three? It becomes an irresistible force for change.

Without comprehension, influence lacks power.

Without conviction, it can’t persuade.

Without courage, it can’t be spoken.

Without compassion, it can’t yield change.

Comprehension: We’ve seen it too often—people entering the debate with guns blazing, demanding that others take a stand with them. They may have latched on to one phrase in a broader statement. One facial expression in an hour-long presentation. One inconsistency in a lengthy exposition. They stomp on the inch while ignoring the mile—tunnel-visioned, self-righteous, enraged and unrelenting.
In so many ways, I too have a tendency to preach before I process. It’s a natural reaction in a no-holds-barred world where the first voice gets heard and the others get drowned out.
So I’ve started to ask myself a series of questions before voicing my opinion.

  • Are the reports I’ve heard/read truthful?
  • Could the most outspoken protagonists (even on my side) have ulterior motives?
  • Have I explored the allegations of opposing points of view?
  • Have I done enough research that I understand the topic sufficiently to put forward an intelligent opinion?

Intelligent opinion. It requires effort, but it elevates both the debater and the debate.
Conviction: If we’ve learned anything in the Facebook and Twitter world, it’s that we’re easily manipulated into caring about issues that never mattered much before. Yet we keep falling for it. The more we click on the inflammatory links or tune in to the partisan talk shows, the more riled up we get.
And often about ridiculous things that have no bearing our lives. Headlines that never would have crossed our “radar” months ago strong-arm us into outrage and revolt.
As I writer, my first impulse is to compose a draft about the issue when I feel the second-hand adrenaline beginning to pulse in my veins, often without sufficient consideration. But I’ve learned to preface my diatribe with a few pertinent questions before rushing to my laptop:

  • Do I truly have strong, personal convictions on this topic?
  • Are my emotions mine—not a reflection of Facebook rants and incendiary headlines?
  • Am I using my words in the hope of broadening others’ understanding, encouraging change or facilitating dialogue?
  • Is it worth the backlash?

If the answer to any of the above is “No,” entering the debate is not worthwhile.
IF I know enough facts about the issue and feel I can move the conversation forward, voicing my thoughts will require “the courage of my convictions.”
I’ve experienced the backlash firsthand. I’ve been called a God-hater. A heretic. A fraud. A liar… That’ll teach me to write on topics like abuse on the mission field, holy hypocrisy and my homosexual friends!
But I had strong personal convictions about the articles I posted. I did my research, and my certainty lent me the fortitude to articulate my thoughts. If even one person was challenged or emboldened by what I wrote…

The same God who calls us to speak truth out of knowledge and conviction will grant us the courage to withstand the repercussions.

But he demonstrated one more trait to us in his highly influential life:

Without compassion, an argument becomes a weapon.
Without compassion, we lose character, respectability and relatability.
Without compassion, our attempts to influence halt the conversation and escalate the hate.

Compassion doesn’t endow us with power or authority, but it infuses them into our words and actions.

(The cloak of compassion Christ willed to his heirs now seems to be worn more legitimately by others. What can believers do to rightfully earn it back?)
Compassion makes us want to see the dignity in others—no matter how much we may oppose their points of view. It makes us want to consider complex situations through their eyes.
Compassion turns self-absorbed indignation into a vehicle for change. It turns our need for rightness into a desire for interaction even—especially—with those who disagree.
Compassion doesn’t make our points any less valid or our cause any less just. But it values the person, humbles our rightness and, by virtue of connection, lends to our argument a more human power of persuasion.

Compassion softens indignation with empathy.

Quells disdain with sympathy.

Dissolves arrogance with understanding.

Just moments ago, I scrolled past an article titled “Arizona pastor prays for God to rip out Caitlyn Jenner’s heart.” The highlighted quote from this pastor? “I have no love for this Bruce freak. I hope he dies today, I hope he dies and goes to hell – he’s disgusting, he’s filthy, he’s reprobate.”
Though outrageous and (thankfully) rare, this kind of commentary is a striking example of a Christian relinquishing his influence to release his indignation and earn the approval of fans already on his side.
It’s possible to have influence with just the first three pillars of influence. I’ve seen it happen. But without compassion—without compassion—we become purveyors of hate.

Without comprehension, influence lacks power.

Without conviction, it can’t persuade.

Without courage, it can’t be spoken.

Without compassion, it can’t yield change.


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  1. To us the Arizona pastors statement as an example of the using the extreme to make a point. Of course we have to have compassion but we also have to make sure we are speaking biblical truth when appropriate instead of just going along with people so that we can stay in our comfortable “I am not a bigot ” closet. We need to have a relationship with people so that they can see God’s love through us. It does not mean that we say what Jenner has done is OK, because it is not.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Tony. You’ll note that I never stated or implied that we shouldn’t speak up or that we shouldn’t express our convictions. The whole point of the article is predicated on that. What the Arizona pastor said is an exaggeration of what so many Christians say in different ways every day–expressing hate and bigotry through ridicule and shame rather than articulating Truth rationally and influentially. I love your point about showing who God truly is through being in relationship with people. Amen to that. And if anyone had a heart of compassion…

    • sarah

    • 9 years ago

    Thank you for this Michele. Sometimes I find there is a subtle temptation for me to be selective in the last part – the compassion part. That irate and hateful ‘pastor’ from Arizona speaks from something broken, something distorted and full of pain. It is hardest to try to speak with compassion about that. I am so often the older prodigal son.

  3. This is a keeper, for sure. So very well worded. I have copied this into a personal file so I can reference your questions routinely. I applaud your courage, Michele!

    • Christine O'Reilly

    • 9 years ago

    Well said…so well said. as I heard Skye Jethani say on a recent Midday Connection epsiode, “I don’t trust myself with righteous anger. I can only triust Jesus Christ with righteous anger”.
    Some of the most influential Christians have been men and women and youth and children who showed dignity – I think of Ruby Bridges, for example, who prayed for thiose who hated her, shouted at her, spit on her and more, when as a 6 year old girl she was the first black child in Alabama to attend an ‘all-white” school. Before going in the door of the school, accompanied by police offers, she would turn and smile at the angry crowd. Now in her 40’s, she explains, “I was praying for them to be forgiven. That is what I was taught to do in my church. And that’s all I need to say about that.” Powerful.
    I am always humbled and reminded by the truth that Jesus Christ only raised His voice, became angry and disgusted with the religious people who thought they were not only ‘right’ but so much better, holier, closer to God than the rest of the sinful, unwashed crowd. We would do well to read the “woe to you” statements of our Saviour and Lord and not just the blessings.
    Thank you Michele; wonderful, faith-full writing as always.

    • Shary Hauber

    • 9 years ago

    The greatest of these is love. Compassion comes from love even of those we hate. It is difficult when those we are challenging are hurting other. Those who cover up abusers and refuse to really listen to the abused. It is hard to be compassionate with them but as you say without compassion there will be no change when we have the courage and convictions to expose evil.

    • Kacia Ingraham

    • 9 years ago

    Thank you for your thoughts on this matter. Your posts make me think, and the Lord convicts me. Thank you.

    • Sherri

    • 9 years ago

    I’ve followed your blog for a number of years. As an ATCK, I appreciate your insights about TCKs and the broader human and Christian experience.
    I usually avoid reading comments and rarely write them, but I do have an observation about the parenthetical comment: “Does it bother anyone else that atheists and agnostics now wear the cloak of compassion Christ willed to his heirs? It’s time we demanded it back.”
    Christians should be concerned that many have lost the ability to be compassionate in the midst of controversial situations, but the tone of the statement seems at odds with the rest of the post. I don’t think Christians have a corner on the compassion market, per se, although I think we are called to be compassionate as Christ followers. Demanding it back when we are the ones who lost it seems to lack…compassion, doesn’t it?
    Perhaps you could unpack this a bit or clarify how this fits into the process you’re writing about in this post.
    Thanks for starting this discussion. Great insights!

    1. You are so right, Sherri! That one sentence was added in haste and poorly thought through. I’ve now corrected it to read: The cloak of compassion Christ willed to his heirs now seems to be worn more legitimately by others. What can believers do to rightfully earn it back? Thank you for pointing out the poor choice of words that implied lack of compassion and humility!

    • Sherri

    • 9 years ago

    Your revision is what I imagined you meant, but I wanted to make sure. With blogging, it’s tough being writer and editor. This post probably caused you a bit of linguistic whiplash as you went back and forth between your comments and the language/tone of the examples.

    • Karl Janzen

    • 9 years ago

    “Without compassion, an argument becomes a weapon.”
    So well said! Must remember that quote.

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