Think, don’t just respond

I have noticed an interesting trend that has sprung up recently—the propensity to immediately respond to everything we disagree with. Certainly before the internet, and even a few years ago, before the popularity of blogging, publishing an article was difficult. Newspapers and publications had limited space, both in print and online, and thus could only afford to print a little bit on each topic. If there would be a political debate, they could have a for article and an against article, and that would be the end of it. The next issue, coming out the next day or the next week, moved on to other topics. There simply were not sufficient resources available to publish every single article people wanted to publish.

Today things are different. Blogs have empowered lay people to publish and put their ideas out there. Facebook allows us to find more articles. In some ways, this phenomenon seems great. A more open and diverse flow of ideas will provide us the opportunity to contemplate more ideas. As a young freelance writer, I certainly have benefited. However, more is not always better.

It is rare to see an article today on pretty much any topic that does not elicit a response. Someone out there will see it posted on Facebook or on a blog, disagree with a line, and then have a response published within a few hours. I will give one example from a publication that I am associated with to illustrate my point: Rabbi Herschel Schachter, a Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University, penned a highly controversial letter expressing his views about Partnership Minyanim in the Orthodox community. Dr. Aaron Koller, Assistant Dean at Yeshiva College and Associate Professor of Bible, then published a [much-needed] response to that letter. The conversation really could have ended there, as each side had spoken. But it continued. Rabbi Avraham Gordimer of the Orthodox Union published a response to Dr. Koller. Then Dr. Koller responded to Rabbi Gordimer’s response. The Rabbi Jeremy Wieder, also a Rosh Yeshiva at YU, published another response to Dr. Koller. When does it end?

The propensity to need to get in the last word and respond to everything is not necessarily helpful. The ideas presented both by Rabbi Schachter and Dr. Koller, for example, were complex. Publishing an immediate response slightly devalues the ideas presented in the piece being responded to. It requires a bit of presumptuousness to think that you, in particular, need to get in the last word. Immediately jumping to publish a response shows that the writer did not afford the author of the original article the basic respect of allowing him or her to publish an idea. The sort of exchange like the one described above is not a marketplace of open ideas, it is article porn. Rabbi Gordimer’s response was published two days after Dr. Koller had written his article. Meaning Rabbi Gordimer barely even slept-on the ideas Dr. Koller presented. An oversaturation of ideas does not allow me to properly contemplate what each side is trying to say, it just dilutes the conversation into a match to see who can publish the most responses.

I realize the value in having multiple perspectives and ideas in a conversation. However, that does not mean that every article requires an immediate response, or any response at all. We should let the ideas sink in and afford the author the respect of allowing the ideas to propagate in our minds. Once the sides have spoken, the conversation could end and the readers could absorb the ideas and make informed decisions. If there needs to be another point made, then, after going through this contemplation process one can consider crafting a well thought-out response.

We need to start thinking before we write. I know it is hard. As a young writer, I know the temptation to respond and how easy it could be to publish. But I do not respond to everything, because in the realm of ideas, more is certainly not always better.

About the Author
Daniel is a rabbinical student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School and resides in Washington Heights, Manhattan. He graduated from the Honors Program at Yeshiva University where he studied Psychology and Jewish Studies and served as the Managing Editor and Senior Opinions Editor of The Commentator.