Do Negative People Get Attention While Positive People Lead?

Donald Miller

I often get insulted in @replies on twitter. I don’t blame people because I’ve shot off ill-advised tweets, too. I always feel bad later.

It’s tough for me to send out a tweet at all that doesn’t get some kind of push back. If it’s a tweet including a theological statement, I’ll get ten times as much push back. There’s really nothing you can say about God that isn’t going to either tick somebody off or be seen as an “I’m smarter than you” softball they want to hit out of the park. (If you really want to tick people off, write a book about God. And if you want to see them go ballistic, make a movie!)

That said, I go through this little routine when somebody is insulting or disrespectful. I don’t respond, then I click on their names to see a little more about them. If it’s a God thing, I wonder if I’ve insulted somebody who doesn’t profess faith or somebody in ministry or what.

In doing this, though, I’ve noticed something striking. And it says a lot about people in general. It’s this:

I’ve never been insulted or disrespected by a person who has more followers than the number of people they follow themselves. What I mean is, the people who are insulting are following a lot of people but they aren’t following them back. Or at least statistically, they are being influenced by more people than they themselves are influencing.

And when I say never, I honestly mean NEVER. It’s never happened, and I’d say I’ve had about 300 people or more insult me or be disrespectful.

It’s not a scientific process, to be sure, but I’ve learned something. I’ve learned not to be a reactionary (believe it or not, I’m the exact kind of guy who would send off a rude @reply because God knows there are times when I want people to know how stupid they are!) but I’ve stopped doing it. The reason? It doesn’t work. Our negativity may feel validating, but it has a short reach in terms of influence.

Accepting criticism is important, but accepting it in a public sphere is out of place. The person being criticized doesn’t feel respected and if you’ve taught them anything you’ve only taught them that you’re a jerk for throwing the mud.

I get what you might be thinking next, though. Who needs a world where nobody shares their opinion and we’re all just being falsely nice? I don’t want to live in that world. But there’s no need to go to extremes. The idea is if you want to be chippy, go ahead, but don’t expect people to want to listen to you for long. It may get you some immediate attention, but when people need sound advice, encouragement or wisdom, they won’t be thinking about you.

Ever sent off a tweet you regretted?

Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller has been telling his story for more than a decade, now he wants to help you tell yours. He’s helped over 1,000 companies clarify their message through the StoryBrand Workshops. For an introduction to what he’s doing now, check out the 5 Minute Marketing Makeover.

  • I gotta say that I loved this post. I don’t always agree with you, but I appreciate your honesty and authenticity. I confess that sometimes you seem to come across like some sage pontificating from on high, but I give you the benefit of the doubt because I know you’re intentions are good (at least that’s the impression I get from your books and the majority of your writing).

    Trolls be damned. Bad news might sell, but positive impacts propel us forward.

  • josh

    First, completely agree with this thought.

    Second, GREAT Storyline Conf. this weekend. I had a great conversation with my wife about handing out fliers to our apt. complex for the “cheese whiz party” … I think that’s what you called it. There will be no Cheese Whiz.

    Third, I was serious about flying out for an hour of your time/to buy your lunch. Email me if that’s something we could set up …

    Regardless, thanks for everything.


  • Jeremiah Johnson

    I Absolutly love that observation! Says so much about a person who “has balls” behind a screen, but no actual honor and dignity with others. Thanks for the post!

  • Kory

    Great comment about criticism in the public sphere. The internet allows a lot of harshness when it takes getting punched in the face out of the equation of being rude.

    Everyone needs to be setting the standard here on treating people with humanity.

  • …so people actually count Twitter followers? And this is a measure of success?

    • I really don’t think that that is what Don is saying…

  • I’ve never tweeted criticism. It doesn’t seem like an appropriate place to offer that type of feedback. Like you said, that ‘public sphere’ is definitely out of place and when someone gets in the habit of doing that in public, I do wonder if it is just attention they want.

    What’s weird is that there are millions of blogs/people you can follow. Find the ones that resonate with you, and leave the ones that don’t alone.

    For me to feel so inclined to challenge someone or give negative feedback, I really have to believe that there is a serious wrong that needs to be corrected – a wrong that perhaps might mislead or affect people negatively. Otherwise, if it’s just a difference in a opinion, I just move on. People are different and that’s what makes life interesting.

  • Only three hundred people have insulted you? Not bad!

    There have been several occasions when I’ve had a similar issue–people making silly, insulting remarks to statements I’ve made, or ideas I’ve posted. My initial reaction was hurt, then outrage, and I found myself sneaking around the internet, searching for clever ways to insult those who insulted me. I’m stupid. I’m learning grace. And the art of blocking.

    Love you dude.

  • Marilyn

    Thanks for this post. I think the points you raise are valid and are part of a larger problem – we are no longer Bereans. We have lost any meaningful sense of the ancient Jewish tradition of weighing a text and debating/discussing its meaning in a respectful way, to reach community consensus. Do we need less negativity? Yes, but I also think we need less extra-biblical pronouncements of “truth” by self-styled “leaders”. Rather, we need church and para-ministry governance structures that foster discussion and consensus-building.

  • I quoted you in my discipleship group re your tweet about life equals change and dead equals static. I retweeted it saying even my kids get this cause I get frustrated when adults don’t get this. After I tweeted it cos there are only so many characters allowed I thought it could be interpreted badly. It was meant as a compliment. Honest guv! God bless.

  • John

    John MacArthur “the Jesus you can’t ignore” addresses not necessarily the title, but our comments about it. Grace & Truth, with the Truth is sometimes negative to those who are not following the Truth. Not what I’m writing, instead of asking “what would Jesus do?” but rather, “what DID Jesus do?” It’s all in there.

  • Mandy

    This post draws attention to the scathing political and civic environment in our country. I sometime wonder if as a society we have forgotten how to disagree with respect. We cannot all be right as different groups hold conflicting ideologies, but we can be respectful and honor the person with whom we do not agree.

    My pastor says “You have never locked eyes with someone who did not matter to God.” I believe this blog post also points out how much easier it is to be cruel to someone who you don’t have to look in the eye and watch as your words hurt him or her. Thank you, Don for reminding us to treat others with dignity.

    • Curtis

      “Like!” 🙂

  • Jordan Ruiz


  • C

    Hey Don!
    I wrote this theological article a while back and got some attention, both negative and positive. Now that I knew how mean people could be, it got me thinking about a time I sent you a snarky tweet. I’m sorry. You’re a fantastic author and have a remarkable online presence. Thanks for being so transparent with us.

  • Pete

    Don, once again you are talking complete nonsense, you and your blog are a waste of time and I can’t stand you any longer….
    only joking!
    good point well made, keep them coming

  • Pingback: Anger. Attention. What’s your reaction? | my life as g()

  • Great post! I blogged about this a few days ago not having read your post. I too don’t want to live in an ‘always play nice’ world but stopping short of earning a reputation as a critic seems pretty reasonable to me.

  • Yep, he is right and when Donald posted something this spring that I disagreed with him on about a post he got alot of flack for and He apologized for LATER then he blocked me on Twitter.
    Problem solved.

    Issue is though that I am still a fan and don’t hold any grudges and only block adult twitter accounts. So even when you are right it can hurt and I am used to that.

    and he is right about the following and followers.

    God Bless. Maybe one day he will give me some grace and unblock me. 🙂

  • Pingback: | dancing between destiny and choice. » Blog Archive » Negative people get attention and positive people lead…on Facebook.()

  • Tamara Hill

    Seems to me there is too much tweeting going on period. I have never tweeted once and I don’t plan on tweeting.. seems a bit narcissistic to me. Here’s a thought… if you did not read all those tweets you wouldn’t know you were being disrespected and you could walk around like the rest of us clueless about how much people disagree with you.

    • Steffanie

      Interesting perspective, Tamara. Please know, we “narcissistic tweeters”, are happy to indulge haughty naysayers.

  • When you speak biblical truth publicly you’ll always get the negativity. “All those who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution”

    Josh Mann

  • Craig

    You might be suprised to find out that not only do they not have many followers they also don’t have a job. Its amazing how people with productive lives don’t have time to pick fights with people they don’t know.

  • Curtis

    Hi, Don. The conflict I have with this is that the Bible seems VERY confrontational and even very negative: arguments of Paul and Jesus with Pharisees, and negative prophecies that dash to pieces in the nastiest and most violent way any expectations of kindness and niceness to unbelievers. What do you think?

  • Curtis

    The other side of this is: the Bible says to be completely humble and gentle and be filled with peace and love. Jesus used ad hominem attacks (“brood of vipers!”) and even threw furniture around… Not really resolved on this subject… Maybe–follow the Spirit as appropriate to the situation. Don’t be nasty or argumentative, of course. Be peaceful as often as you can, and be forceful when necessary?

  • Nice post Don…

    Obviously you have some very thoughtful and loyal followers. (except that one guy…) anyway, the points you made are right on. Christ expects all of us to be kind and forgiving and not hold grudges. That’s what true disciples of the Prince of Peace should do.

    Having said that, there are times when we must speak the truth, even though that may not seem terrible prudent at the time. But Christ said that that there would be times we would be persecuted for standing up for truth. (His names sake)

    I think the main thing is to maintain the proper perspective about who God is, who we are, and our relationship with our fellow beings. Since God IS God, we must realize that He is always right… and he will never change to accommodate shifting fads and fashions. Our responsibility is to bring our lives, our wants and desires into conformity to Christs teachings. And if we do that, we will never stray too far from the path.

    I always ask myself… WWJD? That tends to slow me down, calm my nerves and proceed with caution. An example of what I’m talking about can be seen here…

    Anyway, thanks for making me think… again.

  • Claudette

    Even if other people might feel offended by your faith and opinion, you have encouraged many others. Thank you Donald!

  • Camo Cotten

    Who knows if anyone looks at posts this far back, but an article was published in Science that supports your findings.

    From the article: “Highly influential individuals tend not to be susceptible, highly susceptible individuals tend not to be influential, and almost no one is both highly influential and highly susceptible to influence (Fig. 4, panel I). This implies that influential individuals are less likely to adopt the product as a consequence of natural influence processes (i.e., in the absence of targeting);”

    The context was whether individuals were susceptible to advertising. And they only had to study 1.3 million facebook users to find this!

  • Stephanie Urban

    I think you are correct. Christ allowed criticism; He also criticized. He shaped people with very few words–the dear hurting women at the well; he gently confronts and restores. The Pharisees gave and recieved brief verbal criticism. Peter got it hard on the chin, Get away from me Satan—initially responding with forsaking Jesus then extreme faithfulness. But, when he discerns someone is not teachable, Jesus is very quiet–almost silent: Caiaphas. Continue to take and give criticism: Iron sharpens iron Proverbs 27:17