Saturday, September 24, 2011

Open letter to a troll

Oops I did it again. I got into it about politics with a troll on someone else's Facebook page. Now what?

We've all been sucked into arguments that have no benefit. Dialogue is the essence of society. It is how things are done. In a democratic society, the way we manage everything is by discourse with each other. When we read something untrue about an issue close to us, or we feel maligned due to our profession or our location, we feel compelled to post back, to correct the wrong. So how do we avoid getting sucked into cyclical arguments that drain us and give us nothing?

First, understand that there are good arguments and bad arguments.

Good arguments help us grow. No two people have the same point of view, and it is our differences help us to understand issues better. In a good argument you can have opposite points of view and still respect each other. I have Conservative friends whose input I find essential to my political life, because they broaden my view of the Canadian system. Not many, but I have them.

Bad arguments are the ones that make us shrink to our pettiest instincts, like online survival mode. They jump from point to point without settling on anything, and become a contest of who can pummel the other into looking like an ass faster. Chances are if someone is arguing back to you but doesn't listen or acknowledge your point of view, assumes to know how you think, and won't nail down to an actual point to argue, then the argument isn't going to go anywhere.

I live by a few simple rules that keep me from death-match UFC dragdown online arguments.

1. I know how much I'm willing to invest. When it gets heated, I prefer to think of how much time I'm wasting. If I'm sitting red-faced at the computer while the kids play in the back yard on a Sunday afternoon, it's not worth it.

2 I try to know my stuff. When talking about stats, it helps to put links to those stats. Similarly, specific events can be linked to as well.Yesterday, I was told by a self-employed business owner that (among other things) his taxes paid for my Union's "exorbinant" benefits and pension, and that school class sizes hadn't changed in Ontario in ten years, both of which are completely untrue.(The Union benefits are self-funded through the negotiated wages, and class sizes have shrunk from 35+ to near 23 in primary school) If you don't know, don't argue it. There's no harm in saying you don't know something.

3. I try to keep it objective. Calling people's perspective a 'bias' is belittling, and lets face it, who doesn't have some sort of bias? Judge the people's actions, not the person. If you don't know them, don't assume their standpoint. Let them flesh it out, and if you see inconsistency, point it out. Tell them what you think, not what they think.

4. I acknowledge when someone else is right, or when I am wrong. I can tell right away when someone is just trolling for the sake of an argument when they can't acknowledge they are wrong when it's pointed out. If I'm wrong or out of line, I say so. No biggie.

5. I never think of it as winning or losing. If you do that, you've already lost. In terms of politics and religion, corporal punishment, and war, and so many others, nobody wins these arguments anyway. The undercurrents are thousands of years old, and your lifetime of arguing will not change that. Change happens generationally.

6. Speaking of change, my father always said "You can't change others, you can only change yourself." That's about a zen as I get in this life.

7. I know when to call it quits. If it's not helping anyone, cut it off. There is no harm in saying "this is neither the time nor the place" and extricating yourself. It doesn't mean you lose, it just means you don't want to get into it with a stranger. Would you stand in a parking lot yelling at someone about a tax increase while your kids waited? Why do that online?

8. I try not to picture the other person's tone. It's so easy when arguing to picture the person on the other side as being angry and yelling at us, when in fact, they are sitting at a computer just like we are. This keeps it civil.

9. Above all, don't say anything online that you wouldn't say to someone's face. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.

What are your thoughts on trolling? Have you ever gotten into it and regretted it? How do you avoid these arguments ... or if you don't avoid them, why not?

 My wife, Jennifer's, blog can be found here:
Cleverly Disguised as Cake

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Seven Gates

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
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