Thursday, December 6, 2012

Comment Here: Learning or Trolling?

I'm not sure why I read comments on articles or blogs.

You know, the comments which let you respond to the news article, opinion  piece, or sports match up/outcome. Oh yeah, and responses to Facebook posts can do this too.

It is a really neat feature that I do think is worth having.

I normally read an article or post that I find very interesting, and want to continue the conversation, leading me to begin reading the comments.

I have high hopes of learning and having dialogue on the topic.

The vast majority of the time these days it crushes my spirits.

Seriously, it can take an article that stirs thoughts, feelings, or the want to learn within me and makes it just want to shut off.

It isn't the fault of every person that comments. But the condition of our society, our nation, our world, and yes, our human nature is fully on display. I have to laugh it off, but part of me realizes how unproductive our society is coming when it comes to thinking through problems, recognizing views different from our own, and even critiquing and learning together.

Comment sections should be productive. But it starts with the recognition of approaching a topic or situation that normally is complex, with attempts to understand is causality, importance, or impact being in the realm of theory and conjecture usually rooted in some conviction the person holds. It might be political, religious, scientific, social, sports fandom, ideological, or even Star Wars versus Star Trek.

We, as people, have many different takes and we like to polarize. But can't we do this without resorting to logical fallacies or put-downs?

First, there are the Trolls who roam the internet and look for ways to rile up people and play devil's advocate. Normally, they are simply there to be contrarian or even just to try to get peoples emotions and blood pressure to spike.

Next, there are those people who have a conviction rooted in their experience and learning on which they are absolutely right and anyone who thinks differently is just ignorant. It doesn't matter the subject, they are going to speak their mind and act like they can't even fathom how someone might believe different than them. After all, their experience and education led them to such certainty.

(Yes, I recognized the irony in blogging about my experience as I write this. But I am subjecting this experience to others views as well. I'm willing to be learn on this...my experience isn't fact or gospel.)

Coupled with such people are the ones who simply comment straight along a "party" line, using stats, quotes, and the like to support their view, but still not engaging the person from the other "party" that is doing a similar thing. In other words, there is no dialogue, just ideologues throwing out facts. I use "party" in parenthesis because it doesn't have to be political, and in fact I would hold that one of the larger areas this is used is sports where people are fans of one team, so that team is the best, and their rival is the worst.

Sometimes comments can remain lighthearted and on a topic that the differences can be laughed off. Many other times it shows how deep the divides between sides can run. Yet, it isn't that there are people who disagree with my take on an article that bothers me most.

What bothers me most is that people speak with such certainty from their perspective. They speak as if they are the moral authority, enlightened person, subject-matter expert, or have received a direct word from God on this topic that is above any sort of questioning.

When I read comment sections, I realize how much we as a society and world do not know how to hold genuine conversation with those who are different than us. I perhaps over-generalize here because there are exceptions on the web, sites and forums that moderate comments or people who have grouped around to truly discuss topics in a productive manner.

Is it too much to ask for such a spirit of productivity to pervade the comment sections?

Is it too hard to ignore new channel talking heads that only get air time because they yell the loudest or show the most incredulity at people with different views?

Can't we all get along? (in the words of Rodney King)

I probably should avoid comment sections, but how else to converse on these topics? It isn't like I can go up to Amanda or a friend and start talking about the article if they didn't read it, or didn't find it interesting. I don't want to withdraw.

I simply hope and pray that somehow, some way, we can learn to act civilly around each other, and actually learn to discuss the news, the theories, strategies, sports, and convictions in a manner that recognizes the commonality of the matter.

Some of my friends at Fuller Southwest
When I was getting my Masters of Divinity degree at Fuller Theological Seminary, one of the best aspects of the education was the environment that was established to engage the difficult and deep subject matter while allowing for variance in belief. I learned quite a bit about how awesome other people were, how loving and in love with Jesus they could be, and yet still come to a different view on baptism or the implications of Paul's letter to the Romans to us today.

I have many very good friends who we do not align up "theologically" on all points. Yet discussions with them, hearing how they approach a topic such as the presence of evil in the world, and seeing how different people approach a topic from their own experiences, traditions, and reasoning truly cause me to wrestle with my own views and beliefs. Some I have become more solidified in the view I have grown up learning, while others have caused me to open my view or even recognize the error of my ways. After all, none of us are infallible in what we believe. May we learn to approach and engage with each other in recognition of this fact.

Because we need comment sections and different views. We need to be able to see how different people think, and how often we tend to take for granted certain convictions in our own minds without critically reflecting upon them.

We can tend to think we are certainly right about a topic, and so cut ourselves off from others with our words. This results in statements like "You can believe what you believe and I'll believe what I believe" without ever trying to understand why.

But we can also tend to learn to discuss and engage others with just a little bit of patience and humility. The different is that the statements can become "We disagree on this point, but I understand your line of reasoning even though I disagree with it."

I know that I can have the tendency to wield a heavy hammer on certain topics, and I need help with tact, patience, and humility as much as others.

I simply think we need to re-learn how to think and engage in conversation with others. 

Basically, its just like what football is going through in its attempts to cut down on concussions. Defenders and blockers are being asked to change the way they tackle, or at least be more consistent with the basic form. They aren't to lead with their head or shoulder towards another players helmet area. We hear the cries from players on how this is taking away from football, when the reality is they are simply being told to train their bodies and reactions a way different from they had been taught. Tackles will still be tackles, and some risk will remain. But tackling properly, with good form aimed at the numbers remains the ideal. Some players have adapted and are already playing this way, while others are resisting the change.

What I believe we need to do is to make similar adjustments in how we interact online with others. 

Let us quit trying to one-up, belittle, reject, or instigate another person and instead learn to talk with them.

May we train ourselves to engage in genuine discussion and learning, not spouting of our beliefs or thoughts.

May we stop cutting ourselves off from others and instead embrace them even in difference.

May we develop friends who think differently than us, and spend time with them.

May we let a spirit of productive conversation work in us, recognizing that we need a little patience and humility.



2 comments:

  1. I agree. I have learned to just ignore the comments section of newspapers or popular blogs. It seems like the only people who comment are the vitriolic people who are just restating an argument that they heard from someone else.
    Most of the time I hear about an article from a link on FB or G+, so if I feel the need to comment, it will be on the post of whoever shared it.
    Not to mention, reading comments takes up a lot of time when there's other articles to read. =P At least if someone is writing an article they (usually) put some time and thought into it compared to most comments that rarely have any thought put into them.

    I'd also like to explicitly state that this applies to newspaper articles or "popular blogs" that draw a crowd. If it's a friend's blog then I often read whatever comments are there. =)

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    Replies
    1. Andrew - I agree with you on the point of the research & taking time to put into the article compared with comments...that is good to remember. Yeah, the bigger the audience the more likely people are to act stupidly in the blogs. When you know the person its much more personal and the possibilities for interaction & dialogue are there. I would also say that there are a few topics/blogs that I would engage with when I feel compelled to add to the discussion and know they have developed a good atmosphere. Scot McKnight's blog Jesus Creed comes to mind, as well as the website to a philosophy podcast I listen to called Partially Examined Life. I don't post too often, but on certain subjects its good to ask questions or clarify the discussion, look at things from another angle!

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