I love a good debate. The exchange of ideas. The persuasion. The recognition and realization that other opinions are as valid as yours. Debate though, in its purest form, is a dying art. And there is probably nothing any of us can do save it.
The beauty of a structured debate, when it’s done properly and respected by all participants, is the interest in hearing the other side of the argument, the obligation to listen and to respond to the other participant’s points. It allows us to dissect an issue, determine the cause of a problem and find a solution.
Blame and accusations are not part of a true debate because blame and accusations prevent us from ever solving problems. The benefit of a true debate is what one can learn if one is willing to listen. Once one understands another’s point of view, the hope is that one can start being tolerant and stop being angry. But maybe that’s part of the problem – some people don’t want to stop being angry.
I think it’s fair to say that some people just like to complain. There is plenty of opportunity these days to voice ideas and suggestions. We all have fairly wide audiences whether it is through social media like Facebook and Twitter, or chat forums like Patch and local discussion boards. And yet, we rarely, if ever, get to read any comments that are constructive or contain helpful suggestions.
Most comments reflect what I would consider to be the polarization of our nation. We are simply unwilling to hear the other side, unwilling to be flexible and in some cases, unwilling to face the truth. Double standards are applied on a regular basis with people lambasting one individual for certain behavior but then making excuses for another individual exhibiting the same behavior. The hypocrisy is palpable. Take a look at just about every article on our local Patch newspaper and you’ll understand. No matter what the subject matter, just about every article’s comments quickly spiral into the same political scream fest.
I am of the generation that transitioned to technology. I got through college with a rotary phone and a typewriter. The introduction of the computer and subsequent creation of the internet changed everything. My generation wrote letters. And we signed our name to every one of them. We were taught that if your name was on it then you were accountable for it. With the internet came a myriad of ways in which to communicate, including an infinite number of chat type forums. And, with the creation of those forums, came the ability to register as an anonymous user.
And yes, one has the right to stay anonymous and the right to say whatever one wants. But does that make it okay?
One can easily make an argument that the reliance on anonymity has contributed to the state of polarization in which we currently live and the demise of true debate and problem solving as we know it. Rude behavior is often encountered on chat forums, behavior devoid of any manners or common courtesy. Some participants strive to shut down others with name calling and insulting those who disagree with them. The presence of this behavior essentially ensures that nobody on either side of an issue will learn anything new or see anything differently. Put simply, it prevents us from ever solving problems because the focus has shifted to being right, rather than getting it right. William Penn once said: “In all debates, let truth be thy aim, not victory, or an unjust interest.”
If we’re all being honest, we have to be willing to admit that a lot of the behavior on these sites is arguably the complete opposite of everything we all strive to teach our children. It can only be described as, adults behaving badly. Add anonymity into the mix and we’ve got, adults behaving badly, gone wild. It’s not a good thing and it’s nothing any of us, myself included, should be proud of because nothing will change, nothing will get better and nothing will get solved until we all start listening, really listening, to what others have to say.