Monday, October 1, 2012

Civility in Debate

This was probably politically inspired, but I have seen a number of writing debates that end up hot and disagreeable, too, so I thought I'd lay out my views... not on the issues, but on DISCUSSING the issues.


And I am not yelling at ANY of you. I haven't seen it in the blog-o-sphere for a while and have managed to even avoid it on my Writing Facebook profile (I've had a little better discipline about just hiding posts that offend me—I'm not going to change anybody's mind)

A Little History

My first delve into online discussions included some strangely controversial conversations, considering we were trying to predict where the Harry Potter books would go in Half Blood Prince and the 'as yet unnamed book seven'. I was timid to be involved online—a little nervous of people knowing who I was or sharing much about myself. It was 2005. So this Harry Potter forum (HPANA) was the first place with strong enough pull... and what I thought of as light enough content that I couldn't get into too much trouble. But people are very fond of their pet theories. .

Fortunately, though, the forum I jumped into, called the Wizard War thread and focused really on EVERYTHING about the books, had a couple rules. Every time a new person entered the forum, they were to be greeted by a regular who was present—acknowledged and welcomed. And debate had to remain NICE—disagree, yes, but no bashing, idiot calling—it was ALL to be kept fun.

And I've Carried that With Me.

If we could be civil about whether Harry WAS or WAS NOT a horcrux, then politics ought to be a cinch! But see, not everybody received my superior training and sometimes I just run into bad behavior. So here are some guidelines.

Recognize we all come by our beliefs through natural means. We tend to believe what we grow up with and are exposed to. Yes, views change some with new experiences. Especially working around or studying certain issues can cause us to better understand and change how we see things. But NOBODY (or nearly nobody) thinks 'I am going to adopt this belief system to be an asshole'. Give people more credit than that. Trust that they are sincere.

Recognize that though we may never all agree, if we can engage in civil dialog, we CAN all understand each other (and possibly the issues) better. The PROBLEM is people unwilling to talk about it and think about the other side.

Call people on their name calling—even if they are on YOUR SIDE of an issue. If we all make an effort to enforce good behavior, maybe the tone of the debate will improve.

This all goes for writing issues, too. The one I most often see turn nasty is the self-publishing versus traditional publishing. For PETE'S SAKE—there are rational reasons to choose each side. We just need to respect each other enough to assume our friends have weighed the strengths and weaknesses as they apply to them.


Old Kitty said...

Yay for great NAKED ground rules for intelligent and civil debate!! Take care

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Great rules for civilized discussion! Hope people will take them to heart. :)

Lisa Golden said...

These are so well said and so grounded in what we hopefully learn at a young age. It's such a shame that we've lost a lot of our ability to debate because so many of us spend most of our time in an echo chamber. (I know I do.)

Most of my debates are political. I appreciate the discussions with people of a different point of view with whom I share a mutual respect. The debates force me to think through my positions instead of simply reacting emotionally.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Great rules, Hart. (And the Bourdain quote is perfect.) Getting mad at someone who doesn't agree with you or bashing groups of people isn't going to change anything. I don't get into political or religious debates, but my overall motto is state what you believe in, NOT what you don't believe in. More positive that way.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Wish everyone followed those guidelines.

Have you ever noticed that those who scream loudest for others to be open-minded and accepting are the first to grow angry and mean if you don't agree with the way they think? A bit of a double standard there.

Johanna Garth said...

Ah civilized discussion. It's so satisfying and so rare when two people are coming from opposite view points!

LTM said...

oh, Hart, I am SO READY for this election cycle to end and it all to be OVER! But regardless of my feelings, you make a fantastic point here about talking to others and being open. We don't have to agree to understand. And we all can benefit from more understanding. :o) <3

Helena said...

Great rules. I learned the hard way not to comment on articles in a few online magazines because nutcases are out in force and ready to attack with nasty word bombs. Just tell me you disagree and present your reasons, fellow writers. And listen to Hart when she says we should be civil.