Politics and religion are interesting topics, but so difficult to discuss in some venues. I completely understand why we choose to avoid them at times. However, in those moments where good discussion could be appropriate and useful, too often it is drowned out by extreme statements that distill down (what I hope are) complex and well thought out ideas into slogans barely worthy of a bumper sticker.
I would like to make a public request, solely on my own behalf.
I am interested in hearing what people think, especially people who think or believe differently than me. That isn’t happening, not because I’m not listening, but because few people are talking in ways that communicate to anyone but those who already agree. There is too much insider lingo, trite expressions, and appeals to negative stereotypes. I’m not hearing any of the background reasoning, the thoughtful and considered foundations for opinions.
I’ve seen a few counter-examples that have been appreciated, especially among some of the blog posts aggregated on Planet Ubuntu, where some of you are probably reading this one, but most posts there are appropriately dedicated to more technical and less philosophical topics, with posts like this one being the welcome and occasional distraction.
Here are my suggestions to those who wish to convince others of your viewpoint(s), whether they be political, religious, philosophical, or even technical in nature.
- Please give the why and not just the what. Don’t merely say, “This is horrible! We need to…” without first giving a bit of background showing that you know what you are talking about and then building up a logical foundation from there that leads us along your same path so we can see how you reached your conclusion. I’ll listen to that, even if I disagree.
- Listen to what others are saying and take it into account. Don’t resort to censorship or shouting down other people’s ideas. If what they are saying is wrong, show how and why it is wrong using better reasoning and polite, but clear communication. If I’m the one who is wrong, I’ll listen to this.
- Exaggeration leads to disbelief in everyone but those already in agreement. If the people you are attempting to convince can sense you have misstated even one item in your presentation, they will question the entire thing. This is true whether you are overstating the possible positive impact of your project or making extreme comparisons between people and really naughty historical figures. It is also true when you make apocalyptic statements about what you think will or may happen if something is or is not done the way you desire.
- Name calling makes a person look bad. If your arguments can’t stand up to logical consideration, ad hominum attacks against those who disagree won’t help you do anything but amuse those who already agree with you, and they will diminish others’ opinions of you.
- Any idea worth considering should be able to stand up to investigation and criticism. A “truth” that can’t be questioned seems oddly insecure. If something is true, it will hold up on its own. If it isn’t, you don’t really want to believe it, do you?
- If you are afraid that you or others might be convinced to abandon “truth” solely by being exposed to something else, I question how strongly you believe in your truth. Silencing those who would give a clear argument against an idea makes the unconvinced wonder why you are so afraid.
- Appealing to fear is the last resort of those with weak ideas. Fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) may help keep sheep in line, but they don’t actually advance an idea. You might win by overpowering people and conquering them by force, but you won’t win their hearts. You may convince the masses to follow with threats of what might happen if they don’t (using threats based both internally or externally, with subjection or xenophobia), but you won’t convince the aware.
- It’s okay to say, “I don’t have an answer for that right now, let me think about it and come back later.” No one of us knows everything. Can we all agree to stop pretending?
We could list a few more items, I suppose. Things like: be polite and people will find it easier to listen to you, or talk with people and not at them. Feel free to add to the list in the comments. I’m listening.