Get the Jerk Out of Your Knee Jerk

Knee jerk reactions are normal. Understandable. Involuntary.

After all, the phrase “knee jerk reactions” is borrowed from the motion that occurs when a medical professional taps that little triangular hammer just below our knee cap. Our foot swings up without us giving it any thought.

We have no control.

So go our opinions when crisis or controversy strikes. You’ve likely noticed. We just can’t help ourselves!

I’m not one to censor. People’s feelings are people’s feelings and you have the right to speak your opinion. In our interconnected, individualistic society, everyone is an author of these bite-sized memoirs. It’s a crowded information marketplace. The person who screams the loudest often wins or, at least, attracts the most attention.

I do sense some fatigue, however, at the polarization that emerges after every social crisis. Equally strong opinions flow from every corner of the internet, and a social network shouting match ensues.

Dialogue is good. Dissent is beneficial. Democracy runs on such debate, and in the long run we’ll probably all be better for it. But in the short term, people are a little battle weary.

It leads me to this simple thesis:

When your opinion includes a condescending attitude, bullying, name calling, etc., you’ve gone from having a knee jerk reaction to, well, just a jerk’s reaction.

Two suggestions to avoid the trap of letting that knee jerk response become a little too jerky:

Don’t let reason take a back seat. There are really bright, well-meaning people on all sides of these issues, and every controversy has multiple sides. It could be the poles are not where the whole truth lies. It could be that history informs our modern times. It could be that we aren’t actually an expert in every facet of the social sciences, terrorism, politics, and religion. So instead of reacting, reason a bit. Take some time. Let it stew.

It might serve you well. It might serve us all well.

Don’t let kindness and empathy get elbowed out of the way. We’ve gotten in the habit of just “unfriending” people we disagree with. “Unfriending” isn’t even in my word processor’s lexicon–it just seems like it shouldn’t be. Some of my best friends are people I disagree with. We argue a lot. Would I refuse to see them in a restaurant? Ignore them if they said hi on the street? Why do we let our egos and emotion get the best of us, causing us to push people away? When did we lose the capacity to disagree agreeably?

A little kindness (that includes patience, listening, and treating each other with respect) goes a long way. We’re all broken people trying to figure this stuff out. Not one of us is perfect, starting with your’s truly.

The Bible has some wisdom on this whole phenomenon, actually:

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20)

I don’t know if there’s ever been a time when that verse could be put to better use than now.

Look, these are troubled times indeed. A believer’s task is to point people toward Jesus. We can’t do that, church, if we’re too busy shouting over one another online every time Breaking News! hits our Facebook Timeline.

I get it: When you feel a little tap below your knee cap, it’s natural and understandable that your foot will bounce up. You can’t help your knee jerk reaction. What you can help, however, is taking care not to go further and kick your doctor in the face.

The same is true for us. Let’s remove the jerk from our knee jerk reactions. In doing so, we won’t only make our communities better, we’ll become more like Jesus in the process.