For those that enjoy a good debate. Please remember to separate people from their ideas; remember their humanity.

by JonathanH 27 Replies latest jw friends

  • JonathanH

    The anonymity of the internet is both a blessing a curse for the information age, especially when it comes to debate. When a screen is put over the person, all that you are left with are ideas in a pure form; written word that constitutes a set of ideas, reasons and thoughts. Anyone can sit and analyze and form a response at their leisure. What before was done only by scholars by means of written letters over long periods of time can now be done by anyone with an internet connection. But there are problems with not knowing if you're talking to a 24 year old grad student from England or a 50 year old woman with cancer in Tennessee. You completely forget that there is a human being that you know nothing about on the other side of that internet connection, and worse (and this may sound odd for a moment) you equate that person with their ideas.

    Now you may object here and say "but a person is their ideas!" This is patently false and absurd. If that were true you'd have no ability to connect to anyone outside of your incredibly tiny ephemeral socio-economic group. Can you only empathize with college educated, middle class, english speaking atheists? Do you only ever want to be around high school graduated, church going, southern christians that make less than 30k a year? You do not connect to people because of their ideas, you do so because of their humanity.

    Ideas are one thing and everybody's are different, but the human part of us is the part that can sit down, break bread, have a few laughs, share some stories, shed a few tears, give a hug, and then go home and go to bed. It doesn't matter if you are an uneducated farmer living in rural japan that believes in Shinto, or classically trained agnostic dancer living in metropolitan Paris, you have your humanity in common. And in the right circumstances, if you stripped away the awkwardness we are expected to feel when we are placed in an unusual social setting, those two people could sit and have a meal together. They could find something to laugh about, share some kind of joys in their life (be it pictures of their kids, or singing a beloved song), commiserate in sorrows (lost loves or lost loved ones), then say their goodbyes and go their separate ways. They can do this without even speaking the same language. They can do this, not because of their shared ideas or ideals, but because of their shared humanity. Don't forget that humanity.

    When arguing with people on the internet, debates frequently turn openly hostile and personal and this place is no exception. Please try to remember that the people you are arguing with, no matter how much you disagree with them, are human beings. They are probably very nice too. That person you just called a dishonest idiot, you could probably sit and have lunch with them and it would be entirely pleasant. That person you called vacuous, closeminded, and whatever else combined with some other pejorative or string of pejoratives? They would probably make a great dinner guest. They probably help their elderly neighbor take their trash to the curb, they engage in polite small talk with the cashier at the grocery, they know how to tell a good joke, they get sad at night sometimes without even knowing why. They are people. They are just people that you disagree with on some thing and agree with on some other things. And that is true of pretty much every single human being that has ever lived.

    I want to share a picture, one of my favorite pictures. Some of you have probably seen this picture, especially fans of the astronomer Carl Sagan.

    This picture is called "Pale Blue Dot." That little dot that has been circled is the planet earth, and it just happens to be in the middle of a beam of light going across the camera. Very beautiful picture. It was a picture taken by a satellite far into our solar system. That tiny little spec of dust is surrounded by a massive void of nothingness that extends a distance that we can't even imagine. The nearest planet or star is incomprehensibly far away from that tiny spec of dust. And the nearest planets are devoid of life. They are just chunks of rock and gas. Every bit of history, ever person that has ever lived, every war, every painting, every novel and poem, every marriage, every heartbreak, every triumph and failure that we know of took place on this tiny spec of dust.

    Why is this relevant? Perspective. Even though they may be dead, in a grand sense we are all contemporaries. We lived in the same epoch as Socrates, Plato, Napoleon, Galileo, Hume, Alexander the Great, Marx, Aquinas, Da Vinci, Doestoevsky and every other great mind, conquerer, artist, writer, mother, soldier, slave, and janitor. And we were all humans living on some tiny spec of dust in the middle of no where, and we were all trying to figure out what the hell is going on. And I would've disagreed with everybody on that list on a wide range of topics. But I would never call Doestoevsky a vacuous moron with the reasoning capability of a potato, or tell Plato that he was too closeminded. But if Plato some how got on the internet and was in a debate, there would be no shortage of people willing to inform him in great detail of his mental defeciencies and exactly in what way he is like the nazis. Because that's the internet for you. But it shouldn't be. Aquinas wasn't just a set of ideas, he was a human being too.

    So remember that next time you're in one of these political or religious debates. You don't know if you're arguing with a 22 year old struggling with liver cancer, or a 50 year old that just lost their life savings in some bad investments. You don't agree with everything they say, but you could still enjoy a meal with them, and you hope that they are living happy fulfilling lives regardless of what they may think about economic policies. And remember that you are both living on some spec of dust in the middle of no where, and you are both in the middle of an intellectual and spiritual journey that has lasted thousands of years, and both of you are going to die very soon (in a relative sense). Also, both of you are probably wrong about a ton of things, and unfortunately neither of you know which things you're wrong about. And in that sense you are partners, not adversaries. You are both trying to help each other in this journey, you're both trying to figure out what the hell is going on here. So don't belittle your partner, or demean their humanity just because you don't see eye to eye on everything. Debate like you are taking the other people to dinner afterwards, and it's your treat.

  • james_woods

    Kind of a long post, but I agree with the sentiments here.

  • mindseye

    Good post Jon. I admit I have been guilty for being a little harsh in debates, especially political ones. It's good to keep people separate from their ideas, not just in order to respect their humanity, but to form a stronger argument that is free from cheap shots and personal attacks. I look to the Buddha as an example of boundless compassion (others may choose other examples, there are many). In Buddhism the separation of "me" and "you" is an illusion, and through compassion we realize the intimate connection between us all. Even if you're not Buddhist this way of looking at things is useful.

  • mrsjones5

    I don't hate anyone here (that may be hard for some to believe but it's true). I like that we all have different opinions on whatever pops up as a topic here. What I don't like like the namecalling when folk don't agree or share the same views. I have friends offline and here who's political and/or religious views are vastly different from mine but I'm adult enough to look past those differences to see the person that I like. It takes a lot for me to like a person and when I like them I like them but that doesn't mean I won't tell them when they've crossed a line and are acting like an ass. I'm no ass kisser.

  • N.drew

    I love it! I shared the link on my blog.

  • d

    It is true that people say things online they would not say in person. I try to be kind and tolerant of others online.

  • Ucantnome

    "And we were all humans living on some tiny spec of dust in the middle of no where, and we were all trying to figure out what the hell is going on."

    I like this line

  • wha happened?
    wha happened?

    I remember a discussion on this topic years back on another board. I called it internet testicles. Behind the screen and anonymous to the world, people can have boulders between their legs. That's why back in the old days when people talked face to face, a stupid comment about ones appearance, or lifestyle, might result in a black eye.

    So on screen, anyone can portray themselves as a karate expert, young hot looking person with a degree of whatever, 8% body fat, secret member of the Avengers, Most interesting person in the world.

  • ShirleyW

    I'll agree with what you wrote, someone a few weeks ago tried to start up with a petty argument, but, as I posted back to that person, "I'm not falling for the bait" and that was my last post on the thread, however, I guess that certain someone was full of fire (and Lord knows what else) that night and wouldn't drop the subject, so they had a one sided fight with their own self !!


    JonathanH Nice to see a well thought out and well written post. All so very true.

    How long do I have to stand in the corner for?

    Gladiator's have feelings too.

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