Saturday, February 5, 2011

The art of disagreeing

micro_fluff_cropped If the blogsophere were a place where we were all in agreement, It would be pretty boring.  Blogger A would write something, Blogers B, C, and D would fluff Blogger A by either riffing on the post in comments, or posting artful “MeToo” comments, with the expectation that eventually they would reciprocate, or if Blogger A were a “premier” blogger, deign to mention, link, or otherwise uplift them to his or her lofty heights.

What a boring, ridiculous place that would be.

Besides helping out some amorphous entity called “the community”, the bloggers I enjoy the most often post thought provoking articles to …. provoke thought. To spur further discussion, possibly a debate, or possibly even a movement. What I consider the best bloggers out there don’t, for example, tell me how to heal through Arthas with ten druids and a paper clip - they tell me why it works and suggest it might be improved upon. They don’t just tell you how to do something, they invite debate. They don’t just express an opinion, they allow that other valid opinions might be out there if only they could understand them better.

But, discussion and debate come at a terrible price. You have to deal with people. Or, Light Forbid, a favorite blogger posts something you don’t agree with, and you feel it is your personal duty to speak to the opposite viewpoint within that context.

Disagreements happen, because we are not all alike, and nothing is ever 100% black and white (except this statement, of course!).

Unfortunately, disagreeing with someone often, and quite quickly, degenerates into a series of personal attacks, defensive posturing, and mucho drama.  I’ve seen blogs closed over this sort of thing – some permanently, some temporarily, some deserved, some not. My log does not judge.

So are we back to fluffing? Or is there a happy medium?  Well, of course there is! Didn’t you read the title? :)

Disagreement between two intelligent adults does not necessarily degenerate into trolling, drama, and angry exchanges, assuming all parties are playing by the same rules.

So here, in no particular order, are my thoughts on disagreeing in a constructive manner. You may disagree, and I approve!

jerk Don’t be a jerk. The first thing to remember is that jerks don’t get much respect, and there’s a good reason for that.   The rule of thumb is that if you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, you shouldn’t say it on the Internet, either.

Mind your tone. Florid language begets florid language. If your response (or your post!) is peppered with F-bombs, expect response in kind. It’s a slippery slope, and can quickly devolve into a flurry of personal attacks. Oh, goody.

Likewise, if you write a post in a lighthearted manner, don’t be disappointed if people grab on to that instead of the Really Cool Idea you embedded in amongst all that frivolity. If you want to be Srs Bsns, then do so. 

Debate the idea, not the person. This is, perhaps, one of the hardest lessons to learn.

In an honest debate, the idea is the thing. If I, say, post a guide on how to find the best gold-selling services in-game, then you can either attack me (“you are scum for advocating gold selling”), or the idea (“gold-selling is bad, stats reveal it fuels hackers.”). In the former case, I am therefore obligated to either ignore your name-calling (i.e. tear down the author, the idea will go down, too), or respond in kind (“I looked at your armory and you probably could USE the services of a good gold seller, twinkletoes!”).  In the former, I have the opportunity to present my reasoning on why gold selling is not evil (“that’s just Blizz propaganda”, “gold selling is a valuable service”, etc).

(For the record, I don’t for a moment advocate gold selling – quite the opposite – but it is a good example of a polarizing statement!)

meme Your idea is not you. This is the obverse of the above. As the writer, you are obligated to recognize the difference between an attack on yourself, and an attack on your ideas.  Someone can disagree with you in good faith without being your enemy. If you advocate that Survival is the best Hunter build, and someone disagrees with that premise directly (“the numbers I have show that BM is within 5% of Survival, so it’s in the running.”), then it’s an attack on the idea, and not yourself. Defend your ideas, by all means (“In endgame, 5% translates to 2K DPS difference”) but don’t assume the person is attacking you obliquely.

Reading comprehension matters. Attention to detail informs a superior response. If you just read the first few lines of a few choice paragraphs, then respond, you may miss something where the author expands on those few lines to the point that your response is just plain redundant at best, and ignorant at worse. This usually evinces a series of “L2read, noob!” responses, and it’s hard to not have sympathy for them, having to endure what looks to be nothing than ignorant noise. So, take your time, and make sure you have your sh!t together before you open your mouth. As the man once said, “It is better to be silent, and have others suspect you are a fool, than it is to speak, and give confirmation!” This informs the idea of respect, below, too. For, if you respect the writer, you will endeavor to be informed, first. Yes?

Be clear as to scope. If you find yourself disagreeing with just part of something, take great care to frame it that way.  If you’re perceived as attacking all of an idea, rather than just a part of it, you may find yourself in an indefensible position. Given the nature of people to speak, regardless, this then evolves into two people arguing about two different things, but thinking they are arguing about the same thing. There could be tears.

If the other person is respectful, you should respond in kind. In the above example, reciprocating with a balanced defense of your ideas is appropriate. Attacking the person making the argument, is not.  We have come full circle. In the beginning, you were the writer and HE was the reader, but now he has responded appropriately, and you have the obligation to respond in an appropriate way, as well.

haters Haters gonna hate. This is inevitable. Trolls abound. You have a few options.

  1. Engage. Do this at your peril. You’re stooping to their level. On the other hand, if you dig that, at least give it your best.
  2. Ignore. Trolls need attention to survive. If you don’t give them attention, eventually they will wander off. Of course, your readers may not be on the same page, in which case, this may not work too well.
  3. Moderate. Small blogs can get away with this. Bigger ones, probably can’t, unless that’s all the author does. But, you can put comments on moderation and just not approve the trolls.
  4. Lead by Example. This is the most difficult of all. Try to dig out valid points in trolls’ posts, and usher them into bandying about the ideas like you want to do. Every time we rehabilitate a troll, an angelkitty gets its wings.

Draw a line. Know where the line is that defines a personal attack. Establish that in your mind and conduct yourself in a consistent manner.

Don’t be a floor mat. You have every right to defend yourself against personal attacks. Just know that in the blogosphere, the place and time are largely up to you.

Should that time arise, do so with a cool head.  Trolls depend on knee-jerk reactions for nourishment. Keeping your cool deprives them of that. I often spend a couple of days stewing over something like that, only to discover that after all that, I didn’t care enough about the attack to respond.  In the case of trolls, no response is the worst response of all. On the other hand, if you feel you have a reputation to uphold, do so intelligently and vigorously. Nothing takes the wind out of a troll’s sails quite as much as a righteously crafted takedown.

Whatever you may feel, whatever you may have been told, you don’t have to do anything. Sometimes you put the idea out there, nobody gets it, and it’s just a mess. You can just walk away, regroup, and come back at the topic from another angle on some other day. You are in control of your keyboard, not the other way around.

eliza Finally, remember that every post, every comment, is made by a real person. Take ten seconds of your life to envision yourself in that person’s shoes before responding.

The internet will always have huge swathes of scum and villainy.  Whether you reside therein, is, in the final analysis, up to you. As was once said, “Use tasteful words, for some day you may have to eat them.”

Pass the salt.