Saturday, September 20, 2008

Don’t Call Me Wing Nut, Moon Bat! Don’t Call Me Socialists, Neo-Con!

Wait, come back. This post isn’t necessarily about politics.  It is a recognitions that there is a huge chunk of people who think that a discussion, debate and community discourse is what they see on television or heard on talk radio.

It doesn’t really matter what topic you select. I’m sure cooking and knitting blogs have flair ups that started out because the a certain pan or needle was not being used. So is there any help for those of us that really don’t want to spiral into name calling, insults and posturing for the sake of making a point? 

Yes, I believe so.  For the record I am a human being who makes mistakes. I have biases. I kinda like the term Moon Bat cuz I was crazy for Batman as a kid.  You however may not like some of the other adjectives used to describe people in other political parties. I will refrain from any additional negative descriptors.

Susan at Tales of a 9th Grade Tuba Player has a good take on this:

It's like we've developed technologies that allow us to be in each others' laps, to intertwine our intellectual and emotional lives in increasingly complex ways, without developing the social skills to manage this intimacy. Kind of like road rage: we share this complicated technological and material space, and we have rules that are supposed to manage this space, but we don't seem to have fully developed the social skills.

It is not about political correctness or censorship. There are times when you need to tell another human to commence with his or her own self-pleasuring activities. There are times to walk away and times to not allow a lie to take root. Use your best judgement and do the best you can but civility and manner go a long way.

Respect, Respect and When in Doubt, Be Respectful.

You don’t have to agree with the writer of the blog or article. You might find factual errors. That’s cool. Cussing him/her, the family and the community back 7 generations is not the best way to communicate your disagreement.

Connie Reese's article “Are You Conversationally Tone Deaf? at Conversation Agent  talks about how the near real time flow of information can lead to the following:

Blog comments may turn into a heated discussion with rapid-fire volleys exchanged in near-real time. That's not necessarily a bad thing; it means you have hit upon a topic that people are passionate about. What is disturbing though, is a tone-deaf attitude that demonstrates an unwillingness to consider other viewpoints or to dismiss summarily people who hold a different opinion.

Here is an example: An issue came up about a Presbyterian pastor concern about using phrases like “God Bless America” A publication to exception to the blog comment and posted an article.  In a follow-up post Rev. Dr. Bill Smutz responded":

I do not expect the members and friends of Central to agree with every word I utter in a sermon, or write in a blog or newsletter article, or with every idea I put forth at a meeting. What a boring place this would be (not to mention unfaithful and unhealthy) if everyone had to agree with me.

I expect you to use your minds faithfully, just as I hope you all expect me to use my mind faithfully. And when we do this – when we use the gift of our brain, and the gifts of our different life experiences and learning experiences, and we anticipate the Holy Spirit’s never-ending work upon us – when we do this, we will have all sorts of wonderful and creative and faithful thoughts and ideas…very few, I suspect, which will be alike.

For the most part the responses were thought out, not all  were in agreement with his position but the commenters gave reasons and not attacks. It might be because most of them know the guy. Or it might be how they chose to respond. It is a choice. Just because commenter 12 acts like a jerk you do not have to.

Check Your Emotions Before You Respond

If any of the first seven words that leap to your mind bear any similarity to George Carlin's Seven Words You Can't Say on Television then step away from the keyboard. If you feel the need to apply a steroid induced smack down to what you have just read, step away from the keyboard. 

No personal attacks. Keep your metaphorically verbal hands to yourself. Watch the pejoratives. To the extent possible, keep it clean. It is hard. I'm no angel. At some point I know I've crossed the line and I regret it. I thought I had a good reason at the time. Time passes.

Bring Evidence and Links

If you are giving me your opinion, that is fine. I honestly would like to know how you feel about a topic. It helps if you tell me this is your opinion.  If you are presenting facts then cite your sources be they book, magazine, ezine or newsletter.

Help me understand why you think the way you do. I need to see where you got your information so I can get it and review it for myself. I have problems with this one because I want to give 10 to 20 links. For comments at least one or no more than three will do the trick. If it is online give us the link or use TinyURL or SnipURL if the link is really long.

Stand Up for Your Beliefs and Ethics

Even if on occasion it proves the other side is correct. A while back a woman was being fired from her University job for making comments about gays and the Bible in an local newspaper Op-Ed piece. A conservative blogger wrote about the story and I followed the link. I read the news accounts and her employer's point of view. I read his opinion. I agreed, not with what she said but with her constitutional right to express her opinion.  That opened up an opportunity for a civil dialog.

Photographer Susan Rabb is taking to task a photographer that was hired by The Atlantic Magazine to photograph John McCain. It was not a flattering series of photos.  You can see a copy at PND Pulse, a professional photographers blog. 

Here is a portion of her response:

The American public might be better served by actually unplugging and reading some analysis in magazines like The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and The National Review and using their own noggins, and poorly developed analytical skills to determine what one thinks is right for themselves.   Yeah, that’s right, I said The National Review.  You might actually want to familiarize yourself with both sides, so you can weigh and argue intelligently. (And yes, I assume everyone reading this blog is leaning to the democratic side, my apologies out there if I am incorrect).

The bottom line - we all have a stake in communicating effectively. We can't do that if we are unwilling to respectfully listen to other points of view. I am not advocating giving trolls and provocateurs equal time.  I am suggesting we could do a better job of listening and responding to different points of view.

More Resources:

For the newbies at BlogHer there is a set of community guidelines. The guidelines are short and to the point.

From Iowa State University Extension there is the Civility In the Workplace blog. How to handle bullies, empathy skills and yes, Ground Rules for Civil Discussion.

I gained a lot of insight from and there is helpful information in the article "On Debating."

On PBS Bill Moyer's Journal had an episode on Reclaiming Civil Discourse- transcripts,  I suggest you read a few of the comments that range from civility, to hostility to frustrations about the lack of balance (many felt that he should have skewered left wing extremist shock jocks as well) Civility is not necessarily the absence of snarky retorts but you can get a sense of who makes an effective comment versus the myopic response.

This post originally appeared on BlogHer.

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