Sunday, July 04, 2004

Thoughts on Amiable and Constructive Dialogue

Folks, I really hope this blog can be a place of good and fun dialogue, and not a waste of time. It's my hope that we will have plenty of challenging, yet good-spirited discussions, with as little bitter argumentation as possible. Chesterton put it well when he said, "The thing I hate about an argument is that it always interrupts a discussion."

Assuming you agree with me on such common sense goals (let me know if you don't), I think the following points from my friend Dave Armstrong (originally written for his own blog Cor ad cor loquitur) will also be helpful in working towards those ends:


This is a free speech forum, and people will not be banned. But I would like to see it ... characterized by charitable, amiable discussion carried out with respect and consideration of others at all times.


In order to better understand each other, we need to communicate, listen to each other, and become friends, if possible. Experience and knowledge of human nature teaches us that good, constructive dialogue is not possible unless there is openness, charity, and respect and courtesy shown to the other person. God gave us two ears and one mouth, but it seems that many folks use their one mouth four times as much as their two ears. I want dialogue to occur here, not lectures, speeches, and "mutual monologues." By all means, render your own opinion, but then be open to talking about it and having it challenged in a friendly manner.

...Holding strongly to one's opinion (and even defending it vigorously) is not incompatible to listening to another position and respecting and liking the person holding it. A person's viewpoint is not the person. They are distinct. ...And "rational argument" is not the equivalent of "quarrel" or "brawl".


PLEASE keep in mind at all times that just because a person may hold what we believe is an erroneous viewpoint, that this is not necessarily (and, I think, relatively rarely) because they are wicked, evil, or obstinate. They may need to simply be more educated. They may have had extremely bad teachers and mentors, or a terrible life history (i.e., various influential and debilitating handicaps). They may in fact change their mind very quickly if shown another viewpoint. ...Give them the benefit of the doubt, and be unassuming about their motives and intents. We can't read minds or hearts. In any event, "you catch more bees with honey, not vinegar." And we can learn many things from almost anyone.


Personal attacks will, unfortunately, be inevitable on this forum, as they seem to be everywhere else which allows free speech. ...[Many people] believe that certain things are true and other things false. This will always offend some people who don't agree with conclusions which differ from their own. Often this leads to personal attacks and insults, for lack of a cogent reply. It's very common, and (like the poor) will always be with us.

I would advise all participants here to simply ignore posts where a person obviously wants to primarily insult and run down others personally... If you respond at all, then do so with, and try to focus on actual substance in these posts, and ignore the attacks and nonsense. Many such people simply want to get a rise out of others and to bait and goad them. That is defeated by ignoring the bait. If they don't get what they came to get, eventually they'll disappear (because they are deprived of the thrill and charge that motivates them to act in this fashion), and the quality of the blog threads will thereby be improved. Try it; it works almost every time.


Lastly, I don't care much at all, personally, for the Internet phenomenon of using nicknames, but I have to live with it. Better to dialogue with "C3PO" or "Thucydides" than no one at all, I suppose, and I understand that some people want or need privacy, for various reasons (some legitimate, some perhaps frivolous and unnecessary). But I would like to request that, whenever possible, people use their real names on this blog, so others will know who they are talking to, and to also freely indicate personal beliefs such as denomination, atheist, Muslim, etc. -- especially when asked (a website or blog listed would also help people get a handle on posters).

I care for the policy of refusing to reveal one's own religious affiliations even less than I do for the pervasive nicknames. People are entitled to know where the other person is coming from. This makes for much better and fairer discussion, in my experience. If your dialogue partner knows what broad category you are in, that (at least potentially, if they are considerate) fosters more respect and understanding, because they will be able to be more sensitive to your particular opinions due to knowing what they are in the first place. Makes sense to me, anyway ... I certainly talk and argue differently, depending on who I am talking to.

[Note: These are only excerpts (what I felt to be most pertinent) from a longer article, but the rest can be read at the following webpage:]


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