How to Lose Friends and Irritate People

There are times when I feel quite expert on this subject. I have only to be slow answering an email or disagree with someone else’s opinion and I find myself in the Outer Darkness, weeping and gnashing my (metaphorical) teeth. Someone decides to enlighten me on Twitter, and instead of meekly accepting the enlightenment (meekness is a quality people associate with nuns), I drop a little pearl of (usually borrowed) learning before them. Off they flounce, grunting disapproval. If they see the smile playing round my lips, they assume (wrongly) that it is cynical or sadistic. The thought that it might be sheer amusement never crosses their mind. It is the same on Facebook — or even here on the blog, where you will find a number of readers have ridden off into the cybersunset, vowing never to visit these pages again, because I have disagreed with them, challenged their interpretation of words or events, or poked gentle fun at them and myself. Truly, it is easy to lose friends and irritate people when the medium of communication is the written word.

I am doubtful whether the spoken word is any better. When persuaded of some position or argument, we can be so keen to share it that we can be anything but tactful. I am not sure that Trypho, for example, would have thought St Justin Martyr, whose feast we celebrate today, particularly diplomatic in the way in which he rubbished his, Trypho’s, opinions; but Justin is one of those lovable people who delighted in learning, and assumed everyone else did, too. We have only two apologies and one dialogue of his works extant, but if they are not yet familiar to you, I can only urge you to read them. Justin the philosopher, the learned man, the professional seeker after truth and wisdom, was convinced by the arguments of an aged man he met on the seashore who spoke, simply and powerfully, of the prophets:

There existed, long before this time, certain men more ancient than all those who are esteemed philosophers, both righteous and beloved by God, who spoke by the Divine Spirit, and foretold events which would take place, and which are now taking place. They are called prophets. These alone both saw and announced the truth to men, neither reverencing nor fearing any man, not influenced by a desire for glory, but speaking those things alone which they saw and which they heard, being filled with the Holy Spirit. Their writings are still extant, and he who has read them is very much helped in his knowledge of the beginning and end of things, and of those matters which the philosopher ought to know, provided he has believed them. For they did not use demonstration in their treatises, seeing that they were witnesses to the truth above all demonstration, and worthy of belief; and those events which have happened, and those which are happening, compel you to assent to the utterances made by them, although, indeed, they were entitled to credit on account of the miracles which they performed, since they both glorified the Creator, the God and Father of all things, and proclaimed His Son, the Christ [sent] by Him: which, indeed, the false prophets, who are filled with the lying unclean spirit, neither have done nor do, but venture to work certain wonderful deeds for the purpose of astonishing men, and glorify the spirits and demons of error. But pray that, above all things, the gates of light may be opened to you; for these things cannot be perceived or understood by all, but only by the man to whom God and His Christ have imparted wisdom. (Dialogue)

Instead of losing friends and irritating people because of the desire to instruct or correct others, how about making new ones and winning them to Christ through shared enthusiasms?


From Justin Martyr to Emily Davison

Today, while we are celebrating Justin Martyr, the great Christian apologist, many will be thinking of Emily Davison, the suffragist, who, a hundred years ago, threw herself under the king’s horse at the Derby in the hope of advancing the cause of votes for women. Justin was beheaded for refusing to renounce his Christian faith, which neatly solved the problems some had found with his theology. Martyrdom, like love, covers not only a multitude of sins but also acts as the ultimate guarantee of orthodoxy. The ‘secular martyrdom’ of Emily Davison is more problematic. There are grounds for thinking that her death was an unintended consequence of her action rather than planned from the beginning, and in the short term it achieved very little other than opprobrium for herself. The First World War did more to achieve votes for women, although it is undeniable that Emily Davison’s death drew attention and made some, at least, think about the injustice of refusing the franchise to women. It seems to me, however, that, brave as she was,  to talk of her as a martyr is to misunderstand the nature of martyrdom.

A martyr bears witness through his or her death to the truth of the Church’s faith in Christ. Death is not sought; it is accepted as the necessary consequence of belief, and it is important to note that it is the Church’s belief, rather than the individual’s, which is affirmed through the sacrifice of life. That is why so many graces flow from martyrdom. The Church has her martyrs in every age, but those we remember from the first centuries often have a peculiar sweetness and charm frequently at odds with the horrific tortures to which they were subjected. Justin himself is an attractive figure. A chance conversation with an old man transformed him from a Stoic into a Christian philosopher: ‘A fire was suddenly kindled in my soul. I fell in love with the prophets and these men who had loved Christ; I reflected on all their words and found that this philosophy alone was true and profitable. That is how and why I became a philosopher. And I wish that everyone felt the same way that I do.’

Truth, joy, sacrifice: they are surely a form of witness we can all strive to emulate.