"I sound condescending"


Hi guys,

I’ve been accused of this by a friend and I wanted to see how you would address it. We were discussing religion in an email chat we have set up. And my friend became upset and said I sounded condescending and came across as saying if you don’t believe what I say, you’re an idiot.

I’ve never intentionally sounded like this. However, I do not say constantly things like “I personally believe that…” I will say for example, “Jesus did not start a bible, he founded a church” instead of “My personal belief is that Jesus …”

I tried to explain to him that I think it would be pointless to discuss true “opinions” like my favorite colour, etc. and I also don’t believe that two contradictory statements of truth can both be correct. He said my comment about two contradictory statements really mad him upset. I said if I’m discussing fact, I pharse it like “this is how it is” (actually he said that’s how I phrased it).

I even told him I respect his beliefs and I believe 80% of what he does. I also said if he wants to disagree with me, then he can.

I’ve gotten this a couple of times. Does anyone know the problem. I do think there is a general problem in society where everyone just wants to believe anything and have others affirm them in their believe and we’re all just a happy family.

Anyway, he seems rather upset at me.


You answered your own question right here :slight_smile:


I get the same reaction, for the same reason. People do not want to be taught or corrected; they want to be agreed with.

This is why it is usually a bad idea to raise the subjects of religion, politics, and sex in a social setting.

Sometimes I have said, “Are you just making conversation, or do you really want to know what I think?” :smiley:


truth scares 'em. they respond out of that fear


Ah, death by a thousand qualifications. Can you imagine having to add those qualifiers every time you posted here or took part in a conversation? Horrible. You pretty much diagnosed the issue already.

I’ll do the qualification dance for what I wrote:

I view this as death by a thousand qualifications. The way I see it, can you imagine having to add those qualifiers every time you posted here or took part in a conversation? It seems horrible to me. In my opinion, you pretty much diagnosed the issue already.


Well, for starters, stop being so condescending! :wink: :smiley:

Seriously, though, I think Alindawyl was right that you sort of answered your own question. Some people will feel you are being condescending towards them no matter how delicately you phrase your beliefs simply because they are different from theirs. I think this is often exacerbated in online exchanges because one does not have the benefit of reading the other person’s tone and body language, things that more easily lend themselves to minimizing any appearance of hostility.

On the other hand, though, it certainly is possible for us (fallen people that we are) to state our beliefs in a condescending way. We need to be vigiliant and make the effort to avoid that.

I think it’s silly to precede every single thing you say with “I believe…” or “It is my opinion that…”. If you think it will help, perhaps you can put a disclaimer at the front of your message that lets him know that your desire is simply to engage in open dialogue about these lofty topics and you mean no personal offense by your statements of belief. You are simply hoping to learn from him (and hope he is able to learn from you) why you both believe as you do and what supports those beliefs.

Personally, I would try to avoid such catchy one-liners as “Jesus did not write a Bible, he founded a Church.” While true, I can understand how such a “zinger” could be negatively perceived. It might be better to explain the principles behind that statement instead. Such “stumpers” seldom convince and often annoy.

People can be overly-sensitive to be sure. But when engaging in one-on-one conversation, I always try to be accommodating to the person I am speaking with, even if they don’t have a “right” to be offended and are being overly-sensitive. Perhaps you can ask this friend to point out those things you have said that he found insulting so that you can work on being more careful about that in the future. Let him know that it was not at all your intention to be condescending because you respect him greatly as a person. Rather than point to guesstimated statistics (such as “I agree with 80% of what you say”, which your friend might perceive as “I think I’m 20% smarter than you are”), simply start to list those things with which you both agree. Tell him how you value your friendship and that you are proud to call him your brother in Christ.

I think that a little humility can go a long way. Humility can be really disarming. It has a way of taking the tension out of the air.


Keep in mind too, that there is more than one way to skin a cat. Sometimes, it is easier to ask questions rather than make statements; effctively the statement is made, but when asked as a question it does not come acrss as authoritarian. One however has to be good at asking questions, which means that one has to be perceptive enough to peel the layers off their onion. They have a reason why they believe what they do; they may not be completely aware of the reason as it is buried; and questioning can lead them to facing their basic beliefs and why they believe that.

As an example, one of the basic beliefs re: gay marriage is that those who believe that also believe that sexual activity between adults is perfectly permissible, ordinary, to be presumed, without any moral qualifications if both parties consent, and to be expected as a regular activity. Given that, it makes no sense to them that sex between two people of the same gender is not perfectly acceptible, and from that, marriage.

And they do not want to be told that sex between consenting adults has any moral implications. Telling them that is not going to change their mind.


Yeah. :slight_smile:

However, sometimes we’re condescending without noticing it. We think, “how could you possibly not know that?”, “how can you believe that?”, “it doesn’t hold together!”, “what a silly idea!” and even though we think we’re able to mask it, we aren’t always. People can sense such things. Another factor is the tone of the voice and when one’s starting to sound like one’s lecturing, then it’s taken as condescension, sometimes rightfully, sometimes not really. Most people these days, however, are paranoid about being treated condescendingly. It’s all about the affirmation thing people have talked here about.


You reject relativism. He does not.

You accept objective truth and its logical conclusions. He does not.

Therefore, your assertion that objective truth exists and it is our responsibility to conform to it will always be at cross purposes with his assertion that all things are relative.


Your tone of speach is correct, to start these statements with “I personally beleive” is sort of to start the process of acknowlegeing that there are multiple different truths, and that this is OK. Not exactly, technically it’s supposed to be some sort of acknowlegement that these are just your beliefs… But that’s the problem, it’s also a statement that your beliefs carry no weight, and that theirs are just as valid as yours.

There can only be a single objective truth of God, the can only be one Church which has the fullest revealed truth. One chuch which as jelously guarded this, protected it, upheld it, and shared it with the whole world. As you know, already the Catholic Church is that church.

So don’t start every statement of belief with “I personally beleive”. That said, there are still ways to sound more condencending about it than others. There are ways to acknowlege that your friend isn’t an idiot, with out making a statement that beliefs carry the same weight of truth. The first way, quite simply is listen (or carefully read) what they say. In this way you will do a better job responding (helps your arguments too). You could also throw in “I understand this is your faith tradition, but what I’m seeing in the bible is…” or whatever. This also serves kind of a double purpose, it reassures them you don’t think they’re an idiot first of all. Secondly it puts him on the defensive :slight_smile:


There are factual opinions (The moon is a rock vs. the moon is a spangle that fell off a cowboy’s vest e.g.), and there are taste/emotional opinions (Ice cream is better vs. custard is better e.g.), and some people can’t acept the distinction. That is a major sign of the decline of our society. Moreover, the movement to label as “hateful” all disagreement or dissent has made it literally dangerous to remind even a friend of that important cognitive function.
However, if you don’t want to be seen as condescending, maybe rephrasing the sentence “If you want to disagree with me you can” would help. I’m looking for a more accurate way of phrasing it. How about, “I can’t control your opinions, but it’s a matter of conscience that I tell you the reasons for mine.”:shrug:


If several people have said this to you, it may be true.

Remember, there is a difference between thinking that truth has a real objective character, and implying that you have it, and your friend doesn’t. Of course each person thinks he believes the truth, but unless you are involved in a kind of debate, your personal authority is no greater than that of the person you are speaking to.

Imagine how frustrating it would be to have a discussion with a Scientologist, say, who simply presented everything he believed as fact, as if it was obvious, as if his authorities were the correct authorities, the only ones with any reasonable and respectable POV. How could you feel anything but that the person thought you were an idiot, and that he was not at all open to real discussion on an equal basis?

Also, what is considered polite and reasonable discussion can vary widely depending on a person’s background. My family on both sides is quite brutal and shows great gusto in discussions of religion, politics, or art. My husband’s family barely allows them as possible topics and would be horrified at what my family does. If your friend’s upbringing was different from yours, he may percieve your manner quite differently than you intend it.


I’d take another approach if I were in your shoes. If you are not getting your points across with the written word, then invite your friend to go to Mass with you. I decided I would go to Mass so that I could be in a better position to know what it even was that I was discussing with christians here. You can’t really argue your points if you have not been grounded in the topic. So, if that does not work then you could try something else but you can’t expect a person to accept things based on your word, or “the church says” with most people. Everyone needs to have more evidence to examine than that.


All of the answers above are really great.

Let me just add some basics that we know but sometimes are so far back in our minds we forget they apply.

Faith is a gift from God. Not all have that gift, at least not yet, and those of us that have it, have it in varying degrees, some more than others. And our understanding does, of course, vary widely too. We are many parts but all one body.

As you are already trying to be solid yet sensitive in your discussions you can rely on the Holy Spirit especially if you say a quick prayer before each discussion. Remember that Saint Monica prayed for 15 years for the conversion of her son, St, Augustine. Persistent, well intended prayer for a good will not be denied and will be answered in time.

Listening is an important first step in communications. Try to get your friend to do the most talking. Often we solve our own problems just by having someone listen to us while we think aloud. And just as important is to take time to restate what he or she is saying and letting him or her confirm or correct your understanding. Each of us want to be understood. He needs to know that you see his point whether or not you agree with it. Remember St Francis’ Peace Prayer, “to understand rather than to be understood.”

Listening usually takes more time than what we think it will, and the above process may have to go several rounds before you get a chance to make your points. But because we listen carefully and get the other to realize we do have some understanding of where he is at, we are then in a better position to shape our comments to his concern at the moment.

I would ask my friend to pray for Wisdom. Wisdom is also a gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the power that will cause the conversion within your friend’s heart. We know that God respects our free will and He will not enter our heart until we open our heart. Your friend’s objections and his putting the fault on you indicates that he has not yet opened his heart to God. If you can get your friend to pray something as short as, “Come Holy Spirit, help me find the real truth.” then I believe that either his objections with your style will either fall away or he will find the truth we know in spite of his objections.


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