How do I reply to someone who asks me an insulting question, an upsetting question, a question that at best is beside the point of whatever conversation it arose from? On good days, I answer with respectful disagreement, supportive correction, and a bridge between question and context. On days when I’m irritated or tired, I set the facts straight without thought or regard beyond factual accuracy. If I’m grieved or frightened, I return personal insult for personal insult with a roll of the eyes and click of the tongue. For the person on the receiving end, it won’t matter what words I use: it’s the ugliness of their delivery that remains. Insult for insult is still insulting.
On the days I remember that God embraces whomever I meet in conversation, I’m aware that questions are often beside the point. The crux of the matter is the encounter with a living, breathing beloved child of God. Language provides a bridge between soul and soul. If such a one constructs a shaky bridge from insults or ignorant words, perhaps those are the only materials available at the time. Now the choice is mine: do I answer by tearing down the poorly made span, or do I use my answering words to shore it up?