You know the feeling. Someone insults you, your favorite politician, or even your football team and you feel your blood pressure rise with your anger. The temptation is to “clap back” – to respond to the criticism or insult with a brutal comeback.
It seems like every day some activist, celebrity, politician, sports figure, or coach is clapping back at criticism or insult on Twitter. The clap back is often more intense and demeaning than the original insult. We live in an uncivil society – an age of outrage – so we should expect uncivil responses to criticism even when it is gentle, deserved and well-founded.
As I tip-toe into this topic, I realize that by critiquing the practice of clapping back (or one-upping) I can be accused of “clapping back at chapping back.” However, my critique will be short, gentle, and encouraging. My goal is to implore civil folks to stay civil when that temptation to clap back rises with your anger. Just refuse to clap back.
First, self-control is biblical. Consider these verses.
“Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from deceitful speech. Turn away from evil and do what is good; seek peace and pursue it.” Psalms 34:13-14
“A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.” Proverbs 15:1
“A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but one slow to anger calms strife.” Proverbs 15:18
“The one who guards his mouth and tongue keeps himself out of trouble.” Proverbs 21:23
“Mockers inflame a city, but the wise turn away anger.” Proverbs 29:8
“No foul language should come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29
“Obscene and foolish talking or crude joking are not suitable, but rather giving thanks.” Ephesians 5:4
“My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.” James 1:19-20
“If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, his religion is useless and he deceives himself.” James 1:26
“And consider ships: Though very large and driven by fierce winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So too, though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things. Consider how a small fire sets ablaze a large forest. And the tongue is a fire. The tongue, a world of unrighteousness, is placed[a] among our members. It stains the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. Every kind of animal, bird, reptile, and fish is tamed and has been tamed by humankind, but no one can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in God’s likeness.” James 3:4-9
Second, clapping back usually doesn’t change anything … well, it can make an enemy. The disproportionate response to criticism only stirs up more anger. It rarely makes the original criticizer stop and think … even when you speak true things in you clap back.
It only stands to reason that if clapping back is wrong, the original “clap” is wrong as well. It is always wise to watch our words … especially on social media. Sometimes what we might as a lighthearted joke can touch old wounds in others and stir up anger. But, if we are honest, we usually know when our comments are a step too far. In our age of outrage, it is best to watch our words. If we use our social media platform for encouragement, we give no one a reason to clap back.
One small caveat: It is always right to speak up for Truth and speak out against injustice regardless of the outcome. We can and should proclaim the name and message of Jesus … Some people won’t like it, but it is right. We can and should denounce abuse, prejudice, and hatred because it is right to do so. And if you do speak up for what is right, you will get a clap back no matter how well you speak the truth in love.