Everybody seems to have a cause for which to speak
Loudly from the rooftops they proclaim the thing they seek…
Long before starting this blog, I was a regular reader of others. I’m not sure when I had the first impulse to leave a comment, but there was no doubt some issue on which I felt I was both qualified and passionate, and so I clicked the ‘leave a comment’ button. There I encountered a dialog box (aptly named in this case) which looked something like this:
Email (won’t be published):
The first two fields were mandatory, but I had nothing to put on the third line. Later, I would start a page which was annexed to the religion page at USAToday, but it was several years before I would start what became the project you are now reading.
Once this page was up and running, I continued to read what others were writing, and the conventional wisdom was, if you want to bring readers back to your page, and build traffic, you need to leave comments on other blogs. There is a sense in which this works, but again I tried to limit myself to subjects on which I felt qualified to offer an opinion, introduce a secondary source or quotation, post a witty remark, or simply express my passion on a particular issue. However, it was evident that this wasn’t hurting traffic at all. Was I selling myself out for the sake of building audience?
“Go to the most popular Christian blogs;” I was told; “And leave a comment regularly.” Of course, part of this is based on the idealistic notion of building blog community. That online fraternity does in fact develop, but here it’s limited to a handful of people; people whom I should say I am better for having met, if not in person, via the next best alternative.
WordPress bloggers: Have you ever actually looked at the spam comments that Akismet filters out? Blogger Clark Bunch recently received a massive template that is used by many such spammers, which someone had erroneously sent him as a single comment. Reading the text of those comments gives you a different perspective on the comments you do get.
My thesis is that there is a sense in which all of us have been partially corrupted by the goal of self-promotion. In a world filled with so many voices — and so much noise generally — we all want to be heard; we want to feel we’re making a difference; we want to voice ideas we feel are significant.
A few weeks ago the impulse must have returned because I found myself on the website of a distinguished author and professor who was writing about the impact of book reviews. Before I could take an extra minute to reconsider, I had left a comment, completely missing that he was referring to what academics call ‘peer reviewing’ which is entirely different than the book reviewing we do here. Furthermore the comment was somewhat lame. Why on earth did I feel I needed to say something?
I quickly tracked down contact information for him, and asked him to remove the comment. He was more than willing to oblige.
Deliberately using the contact information from others’ comments is not a bad thing. On at least ten different occasions in the past five years, there have been days when the Wednesday Link List was rather lean. I’ve surmised that if I’m looking for colorful content, the type of people who regular read Internet Monk, or Stuff Christians Like, or Pete Wilson are probably up to something interesting.
Similarly, there are times when I simply want to return the favor with people who regularly contribute here. So I’ll drop by the blogs of people who leave comments here and reciprocate, provided I have something significant to say.
I was originally going to title this piece, “All Comments are Spam.” There are certainly days when I feel that everybody seems to have an agenda or a book to sell. But that title would have been insulting to some of the regulars here who, it must be said, comprise the majority of comments.
Decades ago, a friend gave me the book, How to Sell Yourself by Joe Girard. Like the movie Snakes on a Plane, once you know the title, you know what the book is about, and there is a sense in which in order to pursue what the world calls success, you have to adopt the principle of promoting yourself.
Around the exact same time, I was sitting on the grass at one of those large outdoor summer festivals, when Scott Wesley Brown drew attention to the wording of Psalm 75 in the King James version:
Psalm 75 (KJV)
6 For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south.
7 But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.
Who knew the Bible covered promotion, marketing and merchandising?
A couple of days ago at Christianity 201 (there’s some cross-blog promotion) I mentioned a quotation that I also posted on Twitter (there’s some cross-platform promotion) from Skye Jethani (guess it’s only fair to give him a link, too). While he doesn’t address commenting specifically, I love what this says:
Many books should be articles. Many articles should be blog posts. Many blog posts should be tweets. And many tweets should not be.
At the same outdoor festival, I also learned this verse from Proverbs:
Proverbs 16 (NIV)
2 All a person’s ways seem pure to them,
but motives are weighed by the Lord.
Ultimately, it often comes down to what motivates our actions, not the actions themselves. Maybe my comment is actually quite valid, as are the comments of people here at Thinking Out Loud. But as I learned with my comment on the professor’s website, I need to take an extra minute to ask myself why I am weighing in on a particular topic. As the C201 article I mentioned above states, scripture seems to suggest that a theology of reticence; a time to keep ones thoughts to themselves.
…Oh, by the way, your comments are invited!