Sarah-ious discussions: Cue civil discourse

Anger isn't necessarily destructive but finding a way to converse without getting angry is important.

Iage used with permission from Google Commons

Anger isn’t necessarily destructive but finding a way to converse without getting angry is important.

I’ve always been a little afraid of spats. Disagreeing with someone, especially in a public setting in the presence of onlookers and eavesdroppers, is quite terrifying. I think the fear comes from the fact that I’ve seen numerous meaningful discussions switch to ugly, heated confrontations. 

I think that today, most of our conversations with people happen online. But disagreements on social media are nothing compared to those in real life. I mean, social media arguments are a lot more dangerous. First of all, everyone thinks they’re an expert. Although most of us reassure everyone around us that no, we aren’t dismissive, truthfully, we believe we’re the most correct and unconsciously belittle others on social media. And social media allows us to maintain our self-proclamations because it makes us less aware of the real world. Although we’re superficially confident, we’re not connected, and in our desperation to become less isolated, we aren’t truly willing to grow. 

I enjoy the internet, but I won’t deny that it breeds misinformation. Many of us refuse to fact-check, use irrelevant, derogatory remarks instead of logical, respectful replies, and (literally) block our opposition before they can respond. Moreover, an argument on social media between two individuals almost always becomes a politicized mess in which people use personal attacks as counter-arguments. And when we engage in such dialogue, we practically chuck empathy out the window. 

So, let me offer you (and myself) a list of reminders to use whenever a conversation shifts into an argument, whether on social media or IRL so that at least respect is maintained: 

  1. No matter how logical your statements are, there are some people whose views you cannot change. Some of these people are narrow-minded and don’t care about you or your opinion. Some are deeply chauvinistic, racist, discriminatory but disguised as progressives. And some are inflexible and perpetuate bias. But there are also individuals who have lived a certain way their entire lives, and it’s difficult for them to suddenly challenge years of rigid understanding even at the arrival of suspicion. Be patient with these people, answer their questions, clarify multiple times.
  2. On the other hand, maybe you need to say the following: I’m sorry, I wasn’t aware. Perhaps you need to learn to pick your words carefully. You’re smart, but they made a great point; step back and acknowledge that. All your life, you’ve never faced disagreement (how though?), you need them (it sucks, I know), they give you perspective and hold you accountable.
  3. Know that asking someone to finish their statement after you interrupted them is courtesy. But doing so with a genuine interest in what they’re going to say is care. 
  4. Know never to force an unwilling person into an argument. 
  5. Know that being opinionated is a sign of privilege. 
  6. Some people’s transgressions are accepted because they happen to be more privileged than you (it’s OK). But also keep in mind that just because these people are privileged doesn’t mean they’re inherently evil or aren’t insecure. 
  7. Don’t start a sentence with “scientifically” or “in fact” if what you’re going to say subsequently isn’t scientific or factual. 
  8. Using logical reasoning for an irrelevant argument (one that fails to address the issue at hand) is a waste of time. But also, don’t infer that an argument is false solely based on it containing faulty reasoning. A statement shouldn’t be falsified just because the provided evidence is wrong, because the statement itself may be accurate. 
  9. Know that some people share their grief and anger with everyone because that’s the best way they know how to communicate with the world. 
  10. Keep in mind that some people are more intelligent than you. These people use books to expand their understanding instead of solely depending on biased internet blogs and 30-second social media videos. They’re also quick to learn about something they’re unaware of instead of resorting to assumptions. Maybe spend more time with such people.
  11. Know that the best kinds of people are those who own their mistakes and admit that everyone was (at least) a little bit wrong after arguments even if they think that they were the most accurate.