Welcome back to Restorative Grief with Mandy Capehart. You are listening to episode 21, titled Those Harmful Hot Takes. This is the first episode of what I’m choosing to call season two of this podcast! It’s a weekly show, but rather than taking a break, I just want to introduce something a little different before diving into the content. As you may know, I use Anchor.fm to host this podcast and now, you can leave me a message! So much of the content I produce comes from you – the audience asking questions and coaching clients willing to share their stories. If you visit the Anchor hosting page for the podcast (and I’ll put the link in the show notes), there is a button where you can leave me a message! Feel free to use this to leave me feedback, ask your own question, and possibly inspire an entire new episode! If you leave contact information, there is always a chance I’ll reach out as well. This podcast is meant to serve y’all, not me, so this is just one more way I can make this show about you and what you need right now in your grief story.
So with that in mind, let’s get back to the topic at hand – those harmful hot takes! You may be wondering what a Hot Take is, so let’s start there. This little phrase is used on social media in front of what are often controversial, steadfast opinions that tend to run counter to the common understanding of the day. For example, lately everyone has been singing the praises of Disney+ and all their Star Wars spinoff shows, like The Mandalorian and Boba Fett. A “hot take” might sound something like, “Hot Take: Boba Fett is a waste of time and everyone on the show deserves to be fired.”
Is it wrong to have an opinion? Of course not. It’s also not wrong to share your opinions, whether to simply be known or to start a conversation about differing opinions. But today, we want to unpack why even the phrase “hot take” can be harmful and unnecessary.
Opinions about lighthearted, surface level topics like pop culture are often innocuous. But they become shots fired when the conversation turns to the personal; to the topics that define and shape our sense of self. Your hot take opinions on faith, deconstruction, grief, politics, family values, morality, and others have very real humans living on the other side of the topic. They hear your words & wonder how they became your enemy. Your love rings empty when you glorify war, threats, & harm against people groups just trying to find depth in a shallow world.
Hot takes are shots fired. They are not a true invitation to a conversation, at least not to one where you want the other person to feel valued at the end. The way you present yourself in the world matters, whether online or face to face, and firing off opinions with the intention to cause disconnection is wildly unloving and harmful.
Let’s grab another example; one I’m sure we’ve all seen (or been guilty of speaking). In the Christian community where I reside, the chasm of division has widened tremendously over the ill-defined concept of deconstruction. As a 20+ year veteran of evangelical Christianity, I have always been in a state of deconstruction and by my definition, that’s exactly what Jesus calls us into. To dismantle the entanglement of our faith from the social norms or government requirements of the land in which I reside, learning how to live wholeheartedly with mercy and grace at the forefront of every decision I make, regardless of what would be the socially acceptable answer. And yet, that definition of faith practice actually aligns with many of those who would balk at the word “deconstruction” as I’ve applied it here. Deconstruction to me is exactly what it means to work out our faith and salvation with “fear and trembling,” because let’s be real: Holding onto an uncertain faith – the hope of things unseen – seems like a lot of long, dark nights of the soul.
And maybe I’m just new to the arena so I haven’t seen it all firsthand until now, but much of the language flowing from Christian communities aimed toward those who align with the concept of deconstruction? Man. It’s beyond harmful; it’s wartime rhetoric. Yesterday, I read language from someone in my own community declaring this as a “battle worth fighting” because “truth matters.”
I don’t want to unpack the theology behind such phrases, because that’s not why we’re here. If your faith relies upon black and white theology, cognitive distortions, and us vs. them literal interpretations of your faith texts, that’s your choice to practice in such a way. The harm comes in when you choose violence – verbal or otherwise – against those not in your community. Hot takes aren’t intended for the people who agree with you. They’re a call to arms for your community members; but they also mobilize and hurt those against whom you stand. Hot takes like the one I described above minimize the value of anyone on the other side of your argument and repeatedly reinforce the boundaries of your in-group. Which frankly, is a very strange behavior for a faith that wants to expand its influence.
I want to bring my faith practice back for just a moment, because I think it matters. I remember the story of Jesus drawing a line in the sand after multiple men have accused a woman caught in the act of adultery. One of my favorite questions to ponder is what he could have written that made the accusers turn so quickly, but nonetheless, this was one time Jesus said, “Too far.” The accusers creating the outgroup by condemning a woman who could not hold to their interpretation of morality? That was unacceptable to Jesus. In that moment, the morality of the woman’s behavior was less grievous to Jesus than the morality of the men’s behavior of accusation, shame, and condemnation. And I find that fascinating, especially in light of the way it might have been handled if social media was available in their time.
Can hot takes be helpful? If you’re raising a flag to find comradery, then yes. The declaration of where you stand will draw likeminded people to your cause and create momentum on your behalf. But as you choose to do so, please recognize that you are damaging the very people you think you can influence, encourage, and change. No matter what you believe in your own life, I am confident you didn’t grow up hoping to manipulate, damage, and insult others as a means of convincing them to grow like you.
This conversation is directed at me, too. I am a passionately aggressive human being hellbent on protecting the innocence and dignity of others, and sometimes I forget myself. Sometimes I too struggle to keep my harsh opinion to myself, because I just can’t say it in a way that will bring wholeness. A friend of mine is a mother of many – she and her husband have their own children well as adopted siblings – so you can imagine the levels of conflict they experience on a hourly basis. She shared once that when they are in great conflict with one of more of the kids, they ask one another the question, “Is this bringing us closer, or pushing us apart?”
You see, nothing you say or do as an individual leaves you standing still. Everything you experience moves you closer to or further from the person you are becoming. Those hot takes and harsh opinions raise awareness of your character and signal to your community that you are safe for some, and unsafe for others. Is that your intention? Did you grow up as a child, wondering who you would be able to push away and how easily you could do so?
I doubt it. I think the majority of people want to create depth and wholeness, but we just don’t know how to get there. So regardless of where you stand politically, socially, or spiritually, maybe today is a good day for a reckoning. Are your behaviors and attitudes in alignment with the person you want to be? Do you know if or how your choices impact others? Do you care? How will you move the needle toward wholeness and compassion for yourself and others? I must warn you that asking these kind of questions means you’re about to deconstruct some of the pillars you’ve used to prop up your life and your personality. But learning how to do that means you are also learning how to construct a life of integrity and emotional maturity. Which blessedly, thank goodness, leads to fewer hot takes and more compassionate conversations. And I think that deep down, that’s something we all truly want. (edits needed)
Thank you for listening to episode 21 of Restorative Grief. The conversations online right now are as aggressive or compassionate as you want them to be. It’s your choice where you engage in your local communities or what conversations you join in the digital world. Before the internet, the biggest reputation concern we had was whether or not someone brought a camera to a party or tapped your phone to record your private conversations. With the internet, we fire off these first draft responses without taking time to think through our response or how it might be received, and it’s truly ruining our reputations. Entire careers have been toppled with one harmful tweet. And honestly, it doesn’t matter that most of us live less visible lives – we’re not in the public eye, and our social media accounts are private. But I guarantee there is someone in your circle who has read your words and felt unwelcome. As we move forward together, perhaps we can check ourselves before we speak: Are we drawing a line in the sand to protect someone vulnerable or hurting? Or are we simply trying to defend our own understanding? We can’t have it both ways but we can learn to recognize that there are millions of people in the world who just want to live their life without our influence. That doesn’t mean we need to take an offensive position to protect ourselves. It simply means we can drop our weapons, because we are not in danger of being harmed.
Remember: The only solution for grief is to do the work of grieving. Thanks for listening. I’ll see you next week.
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