Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Right and Wrong Way to Debate

I think I may have posted something similar to this when I first hit the blogosphere. Ah, I remember it like it was yesterday, I somehow ended up at Church Secretaries blog. Anybody familiar with him? Anyway, Church had posted about something I was interested in, and I inadvertently misunderstood the premise of the argument and replied with what was essentially a classic "straw man". This was responded to with a thorough verbal thrashing about what a straw man was, as well as a detailed synopsis of my ineptness in general. Some condescending things were said, and I had a brief period of disillusionment where I wondered if blogging was really for me.

As you may have noticed, I am not that easily discouraged, and overall I really enjoy blogging as it helps me to express my thoughts and it gives me a chance to explore my own views on (mostly) strategic issues in comparison with those of my fellow bloggers.

Obviously, there are no official rules of blogging in terms of etiquette or what can be discussed, aside from those who make their own blog-specific rules. I personally am pretty loose and don't regulate unless it is SPAM or someone gets too personal. The ONE person I was forced to ban since starting this blog can testify to that.

I even welcome discussion on pretty much anything as I find the process of sharing information to be interesting and a good part of the time edifying as well.

The things that are a bit of a turn-off for me, and that I try to avoid, although not always successfully thanks to my penchant for making a point and having the last word (yes, I am aware, and trying to be better):

1. Keep emotion out of it as much as possible.

Yes, emotions are valid, but my experience has shown me that being overly emotional while making a point about say, legislation, doesn't add much to the exchange; except that it inhibits folks ability to think clearly and gives someone a moment to vent. I am not a mindless drone, and can get pretty wrapped up in issues that are close to my heart, but ultimately, how I "feel" about a particular issue is less valuable than how I came to my conclusions logically.

2. Don't be condescending.

For me, this is a "conversation killer" and is a sure-fire way to get rid of me (make a note). It is a mistake to arrive at someone's blog, read the title or their brief "About Me" blurb, and assume you know everything about them. If you want clarification, just ask, I do it all the time and sometimes people oblige me.

3. Be respectful, as if the person you are addressing is across from you.

I think the anonymity provided by the internet is good in that it gives people more courage to be honest who may otherwise be bashful about expression themselves. At the same time, people are also more likely to be vicious or curse someone out because they can do it with little consequence. Keep the venom-filled, hateful vitriol out of it and take a self-defense class or something.

4. The web is virtual, people are not.

The web is a great way to explore, and it is convenient, but the down side is you can forget you are talking to a real person, and full expression is impossible because there is NO body language. Being clear and making no few assumptions outside of what has been stated explicitly is a good rule of thumb.

Other than that, have fun, try to learn and don't let the blogosphere be the extent of your involvement in important issue. Even for the busy, or just lazy person, the web provides alot of tools for you to be actively involved in issues that merit it.


Beth said...

Good post!

Patrick M said...

Okay, I found a point to argue with you on, sooooo...

1. Keep emotion out of it as much as possible.

That doesn't always work when you're dealing with a social issue (like the blogging can of worms that is abortion debates) There, that personal, emotional reaction often explains the drive behind the opinion. Had I not personally faced some things involving it in my life, my opinion may be different. And it would certainly sound like a talking point.

(although that particular comment section may have to be capped)

Keep the venom-filled, hateful vitriol out of it and take a self-defense class or something.

The exception to that is when someone keeps laying into you on your blog. Then a verbal tongue lashing is warranted. I've dealt with a few people that way and it was FUN. Mind you, I gave them chances to step back first, but they didn't get the not-so-subtle hints.

Beyond that, I think I may have to permanently link to this so I can reference the DUM peopleses that have yet to understand the give and take that should be involved when you visit someone else's blog.

Bullfrog said...

Beth: thanks for reading, and glad you liked it!

Patrick: Hence the statement," much as possible." as I recognize people will be emotional, because that is just who they are.

The abortion debate is a perfect example, and the exchange I had with Satya (I'll never be able to spell that woman's name...) partially inspired this post, because it illustrated both ends of the spectrum well.

Trust me, I know the temptation to bawl someone out, see here for details...

TAO said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bullfrog said...

Tao: You can see me response over at the original post... I also took the liberty of moving your comment.

Beth said...

I wanted to elaborate on my kudos for this posting.

Somtimes, I don't know why I debate anymore, I keep telling myself nobody ever changes anybody's mind on anything. And yet, I keep blogging around, thinking I am going to make a difference somehow.

Well, maybe I do and maybe I don't. But, I will say that debating does give me insight into may perspectives, and that can never be a bad thing. And it also can solidify my own thought process.

Along the way, however, dealing with people who don't debate but just whine and act like school kids calling people names just personally makes me discount anything that person says, and really breaks the flow of honest to goodness discussions.

I know Patrick who deletes and other bloggers who moderate their comments, but I say let those who just want to rant go at it, it will only reflect badly on themselves, and then I ignore them.

But it would be nicer if everyone saw your rules here and/or followed the Golden Rule instead.

Bullfrog said...

Beth: I feel the same way you do sometimes. After a particularly ugly exchange, I just want to throw my hands up and walk away. I think idealism is what keeps me going, and my rules for debate obviously reflect that. And, as you implied, this is an education if nothing else...

Patrick M said...

Bullfrog, That ain't bawling someone out. I usually like to insult the person, they day they were born, and the whore they rode in on. Venom is as venom does, I say!!!! :)

Beth: Don't give up. People do eventually sway given persistence. I know my thoughts and opinions have changed since I began blogging. As I clarified my thoughts, I discovered some of my own inconsistencies and work to correct them. Not to drag up abortion (again) but I started there in the pro-life camp, but shifted slightly as I listened to argument and counter-argument. So discussion, counter argument, and working to define an overriding philosophy will involve change on positions.

Beth said...

I must say Patrick if you have moved from pro-life to pro-choice, I am very discouraged with my efforts to sway.

Patrick M said...

Beth: I shifted over a decade, and before I started blogging. However, once I got my political philosophy straight, I finally understood the pro-choice camp better (although some of them are still pro-abortion fanatics).

There are other subjects on which I may still sway a little.

Mr. Grey Ghost said...

I can admit to insulting some people while commenting or even posting, letting my emotions get the best of me. I do try to keep it in check and 9 times outta 10 I do. But you're right on here on all counts.