Jun 9, 2018 filed under Courage, Gifts & Fruits of the Spirit.

Woman reconsidering before making a snarky remark.

My brother Bill lives on and in the water. He swears that a shark won’t attack unless provoked. I’m not willing to be a guinea pig in that experiment. But haven’t most of us been provoked to make a “snark attack” that we regret later?

A snark attack is the mean comment or look we fire at someone who has ticked us off. Like saying, “There you go again!” when a friend assumes something bad about us that we don’t think (or are not willing to admit) is true. In the heat of our hurt and anger, how can we step back from returning insult for insult?

Jesus says that the “meek” are blessed (Matthew 5:5). Meekness is accepting as a gift what God allows, learning what we can from it, and remembering that God is in charge. Meekness is strength. The meek don’t take things personally. They pray to see the gift in what someone else has said or done.

So how do we get there?
We have a lot more tools for growing in meekness than our grandparents did. One new-fangled tool is knowledge of how brain chemistry can strengthen or derail our peace. The amygdala (uh-mig-dul-uh) is the “reptilian” part of the brain. It can save our life when it sends out hormones that tell us to run or fight back. That’s great when a tiger is chasing us, but not so useful in a PTA meeting.

The tone of a co-worker’s voice got my amygdala going this week. I heard myself respond in an argumentative way, even though we weren’t disagreeing about anything! The amygdala causes those “Where did that come from?” moments when we go into automatic defense mode.

It doesn’t have to be that way!
My friend Kate has four grown daughters. Two are getting married this year. It bugged Kate that one daughter, whose wedding is in October, is hogging all the wedding-planning attention and leaving the daughter getting married next month in the dust.

Kate wrote a letter to the girls telling them to grow up and give more attention to the quiet daughter whose wedding is around the corner. The language was angry and bossy. So Kate put the letter aside. She went to Mass, where she asked the Holy Spirit to help her rewrite the letter.

Coming back from Mass, Kate took out the snarky parts, and invited the girls to ponder the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) — how they could bring joy and peace to everyone’s wedding plans. All the daughters called to say how beautiful the letter was and how they appreciated it.

When we get mad, stepping back from the situation before we respond is not our first instinct! But it worked for Kate when she decided to step back and let the Holy Spirit run the show.

Anti-snark serum
In her excellent book Conversational Intelligence, Judith E. Glaser suggests many ways to avoid being hijacked by our reptilian brains. For example, we can become aware of what sets us off so we can avoid the uncalled-for snarky comment.

Or develop a habit of asking “open-ended questions” to clarify what the other person means rather than assume we’re being attacked. For example, instead of saying “I can’t believe you think that!” we can ask, “Tell me more about your thoughts on this.” Open-ended questions (those that need more than a yes/no answer) show respect and keep the anger from escalating.

While we’re working on mastering our new responses, Glaser suggests the universal fix for saying things we wish we hadn’t: a quick, friendly apology!

Patience now
Patience helps us go through tough things in a constructive way. Got an hour? Check out my online course “Path to Patience” that will make you more patient in your toughest situations. Sign up at virtueconnection.com/path-to-patience!

Love always,

10 Responses to “How to Avoid a Snark Attack”

  1. Martha Otten

    Well said Rose! Like the homily…enjoy summertime!

  2. Rose Folsom

    Dearest Rose,
    Beautiful lilies and a talented photographer with an artistic eye! Blessed are the meek and how inspiring to our souls. I read recently in a book about God Almighty and that the best way for us to touch His heart is with gentleness. Doing His will sets us free and through prayer we find out what he has planned for us. It is of great comfort though to remember that everything turns out for good to those who love God.
    I send you my love in Christ and in our beloved Saint Dominic.
    May God Bless and assist you always,

  3. Christine Longhenry

    Whenever I’ve felt the need to be snarky I’ve sat at my computer and composed an unaddressed email that says exactly what’s on my mind. By the time I’ve almost finished and have read what I’ve written, I’ve usually felt the Holy Spirit redirecting my thoughts in a much more charitable direction. That’s where the delete feature has come in handy! Highlight the snarky and hit that magical key. Then type in something loving and more Christ-like. It reminds me that I’m a fallible and imperfect human who has so far to go.

    • Rose Folsom

      Great idea — better to type what we’re thinking instead of letting it circulate over and over in our minds. And we end up with a nice note to the person who was getting to us — a win/win.

  4. Tom Roberts

    I was recently the target of a both barrels snark attack. I was having lunch with a friend, emphasizing the importance of the humanities in college. The humanities are where we learn how to think and to be open to thoughts larger than those we possess. For scientists discovery is seeing what everyone has seen and thinking what no one has thought. I told my friend that of the discoverers of the oncogene (cancer gene) one started his career in Medieval English literature and the other in history and liturgical music. Then they both decided to become “docs.”

    At that moment a man nearby approached us and said “Keep it to yourself! Shut up, shut up, shut up!” Today there is great distrust of higher education. Anyway, I didn’t reply and even considered not returning to this restaurant I had patronized for 30 years. It took me a while (2weeks) to not take it personally and to realize he was more frightened than angry. What I said lay outside the story he had of his place in the world, possibly a place he saw as shrinking. By now I am thinking of him with more understanding. He’s as worthy of love as I am. Too many times a day I think of others and speak of others as “Them.”

  5. Sal

    Hi Rose!

    The Beautides are so wonderful as Christ our Lord gave us the secrets to living a happy and Blessed life! I’ve committed them to memory. Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.

    God, the creator of the universe and everything in it knows what makes us happy and this is what all the Saints understood. If we follow this path, we are sure to reach Heaven when He calls us to our eternal rest. He is the way, the truth, and the life(John 14:6). Be a Saint what else is there!

    Yes, during my training as a Steven Minister at St. Andrews, we learned to always ask open ended questions rather than yes/no questions. It’s amazing how people really open up when you ask open ended questions especially when they are not feeling well or in a crisis.

    • Rose Folsom

      Funny how asking open-ended questions opens up *my* heart and that of the person I’m talking to!

  6. Rose Folsom