Does it Take a Conscious Effort to be Polite?



When I write about religion, specifically Christianity, I attempt to not be insulting. I know that some believers may take what I write as just that, but it’s never meant that way. Some people are easy to insult I guess. One thing I never do (I have in the past, but it was rare), was to use expletives. I don’t see any necessity to pile on with what is clearly offensive to some. I’m not attempting to de-convert anyone, but I’d like those who are believers to be able to read my essays and note my attempt is to be thoughtful about what I write. Certain language doesn’t promote that at all.

I see the language I’m referring to mostly on social media. It’s easy to use, and instead of being thoughtful and reasoned, is an emotional response and doesn’t do anything to move whatever dialogue is occurring, forward. Most atheists I follow on Twitter do not use offensive language at all. In fact,  the abuse always seems to start from the other side. What I usually see from the atheists when this begins is those same saying something to the effect, have a nice day. If someone refuses to acknowledge a statement or a question, and becomes abusive, there’s not much else to be done.

So I was logged into Twitter, and saw a reply to an atheist I follow that stated that they were going to not use invective or insults ( a redundancy there) when addressing believers and pledged not to for thirty days. I thought, really? A person has to take a pledge to not be offensive to someone else? Think about this: having to make a conscious effort to be amenable to another person. Sure, we all become upset from time to time.  Sometimes we want to spew every nasty thing that comes into our minds. But we don’t. Yes, in those circumstances, it is a conscious effort, but is that all the time? Not for me.

It’s a little unsettling to discover that some people need to be always on guard. Yes, there are believers online that make outrageous claims about atheists but I generally place those in the bucket of having no knowledge atheism, and move on. In my experience, they are the ones that are just looking for an argument, to set someone off, to gain virtue points with their friends. It’s easier to ignore their invective than to respond in kind. Who becomes the one looking foolish and petty then?

Of course we atheists are no different than anyone else and some of us, just like believers and the general public will have impulse control issues. But the idea that I would have to make a personal pledge just to be nice to others seems a bit over the top to me.  I know people that despise religious belief but online are courteous to those that challenge the morality, or anything else, concerning atheism. Is it a conscious effort on their part? I have no idea but I’ve seen enough from a few that I personally know to say the answer would be no.

We can criticize without being overtly offensive. Those unable to do so should probably not engage. We can be on the offense without becoming offensive with our language and shouldn’t have to strive to be that way.




4 thoughts on “Does it Take a Conscious Effort to be Polite?

  1. Jim, you are writing about the Twitterverse and Internet, where people are anonymous and have been letting it all hang out for a couple of decades. Yes, I can believe that some must make a conscious decision to engage only in civil discourse.

    This is what I always liked about a couple of old message board forums that I spent most of those decades on; there were TOS that were followed and OPs that monitored behavior. Oh yes, I remember we called it “flaming” to attack the person and such behavior was frowned upon. On the Christian site, one could be chastised for blasphemy and attacking the person instead of their ideas and opinions. On the Atheist site, we were much more tolerant, yet flaming and overtly disgusting ranting posts were often moved to a different forum on the site, where everyone knew such stuff happened there and could avoid it if they wished. On both sites, members could be banned for a time or forever if the behavior was continued.

    Bravo to those who choose to avoid showing the rest just how crude and boorish some people can be. My opinion of a person’s intelligence, who flames and rants that way, drops the minute they let it all out. Why should they be respected. They should be ignored. Believer or non-believer, the dialogue stops when that behavior begins.

    Don’t get me wrong; I have ranted at times, but flaming is a whole other matter.

    If I am an atheist, who wants to prove that belief in God is not necessary for civilized and ethical behavior, I will not make much headway by using foul language and attacking individuals instead of ideas.

    Let’s face it; manners in general have fallen by the wayside in this era.


  2. From what I see on Twitter, I’d estimate that more than half the atheists using it regularly insult others. I see way too much name-calling, and that’s the main reason I unfollow people. I do understand that some people like that sort of thing, but I find it counterproductive and would prefer to follow reasonable people. I suppose it is nice that someone is making an effort to refrain from calling others names. I guess I don’t understand why it would take so much effort to treat others civilly.


  3. Guys, because it is easy to follow the pack and to allow oneself to drop to their (the packs’) lowest level….and your mother need never know, because everything online is anonymous.

    Do that in real life and somebody, somewhere is going to see you or hear you and tell your mother. Right?

    Kudos to all who decide that civil discourse is the most worthwhile and the rest is just monkeys screaming at each other in the jungle.

    Oh shit! Was that a racist remark? Oh crap, I wrote “shit.”


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