Ever since I was able to speak, I’ve always been known for my love of a good debate. I’m the kind of person who will argue the opposing aspect of something I believe in just because I feel that it’s important for all angles to be considered. I don’t believe in “winning” or “losing” debates. Unless you’re in an actual debate tournament, discussions should not be competitions. Rather it’s about encouraging ourselves to think beyond our immediate worldview, to share and impart knowledge, and move forward our ideas.
Debates are, in my humble opinion, the height of intellectual discussion.
I have only a few personal “rules” when it comes to how I engage in debate/discussions: 1) You must give equal opportunity to all participants to share their ideas. 2) All positions are to be treated as valid until proven otherwise, and all participants should be treated with respect, and 3) There is no room for emotional dramatics. Debates are about opinions and facts, not about feelings. Once we enter into the realm of feelings, things get messy and people get hurt.
For the most part, I’m fortunate enough be surrounded by people who enjoy this type of discourse and engage in it proficiently; in some cases, almost artistically. Ultimately, these are the types of people that I tend to develop very close friendships with. I’ve never been one for superficial conversation or ‘small talk’.
As such, I’m always surprised when I- usually quite accidentally- find myself wading into emotional warzones masquerading as debates. This is, of course, at least ninety percent all internet based “discussions”.
Now, I’m not going to write a post on not feeding the “trolls”. If you’d like to read a good one, I’d check out my friend Nicola’s from www.sprogs.ca which can be found here. (While you're at it, check out her super duper adorable e-store!).
Instead, I’m going to talk about another aspect entirely.
If you aren’t prepared to discuss something, or to entertain other people’s opinions on the topic, why the hell are you bringing it up in a public forum?
Seriously people. It’s common sense. If you don’t want to get into a discussion about the pro/cons of sleep training, don’t talk about how you let your kid cry for three and a half hours straight and are feeling stressed out about it . Likewise, if you aren’t interested in hearing people’s opinions regarding your son-to-be’s foreskin, I don’t recommend posting about how excited you are that you booked your circumcision appointment or complaining about the rising costs of the surgery. Similarly, if you don't want to piss off 80% of your mom-friends, be careful about how you post about the benefits of breastfeeding vs. formula feeding. And frankly, if you don’t want people ragging on you for your parenting choices, then don’t make them a huge deal by talking about them every day in your status.
Believe it or not, discussions are a two way street. And social media forums are, by their very nature, discussions with extremely large and varied groups of people. If you post something, others are going to react. If you don’t want them to react, maybe you should reconsider whether or not you should post it in the first place.
I’m not saying that it’s cool for the trolls or extremists or even your mother in law to come on your page and be all judgey about your decision to feed your kid McDonald’s. BUT...at some point we all have to take ownership for what we are writing and for the inevitable consequences that will come from it.
If you’re a blogger taking on a heated topic or a controversial stance, you’re going to come under some fire. This is to be expected. It’s the name of the game. Just ask my gal Kathleen from kikkiplanet.com (she's one of my very favourite internet personalities and you’ll learn more about her in an upcoming post). She's had more than one post demonstrate that being a political writer isn't always easy. Sometimes, what you write can get you into a world of political turmoil. Sometimes, it can cost you friendships. Each of us has a responsibility to own our words and- at least to a certain extent- the reactions that they will engender.
Does this excuse the abusive jerks who take advantage? Nope. I am definitely not trying to justify abuse or bullying in any format and will not engage in it. In fact, I have taken strong stances against bullies who actually were supporting my point of view.
But not everyone who disagrees with you is a bully, and people have the right to their opinions, even when these disagree with yours. They also have the right to engage in discussions that you instigate through your social media activity. After all, one would assume that you have a facebook page/blog/twitter account because you want to engage with people.
Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. You can’t control the reaction, but you can control whether or not you instigate one to begin with.
Yes, you should be “able to say whatever you want”...but others are also able to say “whatever they want”. Don’t like? Either don’t be friends with them, or don’t poke the bear by bringing up topics that you know will create strong emotional responses and intellectual opposition.
So, think about that next time you decide to dress your kid in a onesie that declares how/when/why your baby was conceived:
Is it really a conversation you want to have? And if so, then don’t complain about people who publically disagree with you or think you’re nuts.
*For what it's worth, I fully expect this post to piss off quite a few people as I do refer to some topics that are sensitive to many of my friends and foes alike. However, I didn't write it with anyone or anything specifically in mind, and it arose from a conversation with my husband regarding the onesie depicted above.*
This blog is part of the 2012 Summer Blog Challenge (31 posts in 31 days). To follow along with my fellow writers, visit their blogs: