Updated: Aug 29, 2019
To “goad” means to provoke or annoy someone so as to stimulate an action or reaction. Synonyms are many and include incite, bully, egg on, needle, infuriate. Its connotation signifies negative aspects of coercion rather than more positive acronyms like encourage or motivate.
Who can goad? The list includes individuals and groups; social media; bosses and co-workers; media outlets including journalists and newscasters; politicians; coaches and sports teams; countries; and your brother or sister.
Goading has become a national addiction, and we need to get clean.
The difference between goading and freedom of speech is murky, and I don’t see that laws can fix the problem. Deciding to modify our behavior is the best solution. We’re all in this together, so let’s aim for the same kind of maturity that we attain in the other ways we grow up.
Goading should remain the supreme province of childhood. A sibling’s power to goad exceeds that of all others — just ask my little sister Vicki. When we were little, I could annoy her to a fury with a well-timed eye roll. At 57, I’m confident I could goad Vicki to irritation with just a few well-crafted texts. As passionately as 8-year-old me loved to provoke her until she got into trouble, grown-up me doesn’t want to at all. As an adult, I understand that we share common goals that need cooperation to achieve. Even if I vehemently disagree with her on certain points, riling her up is counter-productive to our family. And if you extend the definition of family to mean our entire human “family,” goading hurts us all.
Certainly, we need a free world where people can express opinions, disagree, and argue — I’m a First Amendment gal! In theory, adults would simply be able to recognize and resist goading, but, like a warm Krispy Kreme doughnut, that’s easier said than done. When hounded people are in a mentally unstable condition already, the torment of goading may push them over the edge. More people seem to be falling, stepping, and leaping over that edge. As little kids, we knew when we were going too far, but often chose to go there anyway; as adults, we should try to stop ourselves and others before it’s too late.
I teach Freshman Composition, and the big semester assignment is an argumentative paper. Part of the lesson is to refute counter-arguments from the other side. That’s a useful exercise. Let’s face it — any controversial topic from which a student can wring eight pages is likely to have some amount of smart, solid, convincing evidence on both sides. Using this technique can help you avoid goading: before you succumb to a goad or sic yourself on a potential target, look for a valid part of your opponent’s argument. Admitting the legitimacy of a few of their ideas makes you simultaneously less credulous and more empathetic, two qualities that reduce goading.