• John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

Another Brilliant Tip for Writers: Don't Annoy People You're Trying to Persuade!

Next Saturday at Regent College I’ll be conducting my annual Writers’ Seminar: 12 November, 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., nominal charge, register with Regent’s academic support staff or show up and pay. (Do I have a knack for writing ad copy or what, eh?)

Among the exciting new things I’ll be teaching is this one I’ve learned just this past week from blogging on the Occupy movement: Don’t attack something with smarty-pants sarcasm if you want to win over people who don’t already agree with you.

Isn’t that an amazing insight? I agree!

Ruefully, I have to admit that after publishing–oh, let’s call it hundreds of thousands of words over almost three decades, I have been slow, so very slow, to internalize this elementary principle of rhetoric. Sometimes, to be sure, I have understood it and put it to use. Sometimes, I am the very model of the patient, accommodating, sympathetic interlocutor.

But when I get ticked off by something–and yes, even in my lofty position of advanced spirituality, sanctification, and all-around wonderfulness, the occasional matter does ruffle my gorgeous white plumage–I succumb to the scourge of all journalists and just open up and let ’em have it. It’s terribly exciting to blast away, as all of us in the blogosphere know. And terribly unrewarding.

I mean, look at the comments following my post on the Occupy movement. It is clear that I not only have annoyed obviously decent, thoughtful people in several countries (!), but have managed to rouse the ire even of favourite former students and current (?!) friends of mine. And you’ll also notice how much trouble we have in directly meeting each other’s points in the exchanges, even as I credit most of the commentators with evidently trying hard to do so, as I have.

So, my friends, I repent of my irritating voice in this matter. There are times when such a voice might be valid. Indeed, according to Holy Scripture, the Apostle Paul and even our Lord himself resorted to it on occasion. But I resort to it ‘way too often, as anyone can tell, and I resorted to it wrongly here.

Why “wrongly”? For two reasons. First, it was unjust and unkind to many of the subjects of the piece–and that’s the main reason. Second, it also was ineffective, managing to persuade very few, I’m guessing, who were not already persuaded and upsetting others who might have been open to the same arguments presented without all the nasty points sticking out.

So I apologize, both for the unhappiness rendered to people I don’t want to make unhappy and for setting such a lousy example.

Come to the writing seminar next week and see what else I’ve learned!

(Sheesh, et cetera.)

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