Let’s do a little experiment. Imagine for a moment, that you and I are friends. We run into each other in the park and sit down on my favorite park bench to engage in a little conversation.
I say “Hey, I heard that there is a new Ben & Jerry’s ice cream store going into that vacant spot on Main Street.”
Since it’s a conversation, you get to respond to what I said. Which of the following responses would make sense?
- “I love Ben & Jerry’s. I wonder if they will have my favorite flavor, Phish Food?”
- “Did you know Ben & Jerry’s was sold to a big company, Unilever? I wonder if that has affected the quality of their ice cream.”
- “That’s great. There are too many vacant places on Main Street. I hope some other stores come in.”
- “I am not sure you are right. I saw in the local paper that a jewelry store was going in there. Let me show you the article that says that.”
- “I know a lot of people like ice cream, but I am worried about too much fat and sugar. I think we don’t really need an ice cream store in that spot.”
- “Ben & Jerry are always pushing progressive causes. I wouldn’t support that store, because that doesn’t match my political philosophy.”
- “Ben is Ben Cohen. My favorite Ben is Ben Shapiro. Let me tell you what Ben Shapiro says about liberals in Congress.”
- “Why are we talking about ice cream when Joe Biden and the filibuster is really the important topic right now?”
- “There is a vast liberal conspiracy lined up in opposition to Israel, and it’s destroying Main Streets all over America.”
- “You are clearly a left-wing Marxist idiot, I can tell by the way you talk.”
- “Racists are taking over our country. I’m sure some of them are behind this new store on Main Street.”
- “I think corporations like Ben & Jerry’s are too closely aligned with the mainstream media poisoning the minds of our children and credulous sheeple.”
It’s pretty clear that the first six answers make sense in the context of a conversation but the rest don’t.
Conversations thrive on relevance and respect
What makes a conversation? It depends on give and take — listening and talking. When you respond in a conversation, you acknowledge what you heard and respond to it. You don’t have to agree with it, but you need to acknowledge it.
So on my park bench with me, you can get excited about Ben & Jerry’s and you can wonder what it means for Main Street. You can even disagree with me. You can question my facts if you have a source that contradicts them. You can disagree with me about whether my opinion that the event is positive is a good thing or a bad thing. You can even question whether Ben & Jerry’s politics are problematic, or about the company and how it may have changed.
What you cannot do, at least on my park bench, is to launch into an unrelated political diatribe, cite unrelated and unsupported facts, assume without evidence that I have a certain set of beliefs and express an opinion about those beliefs, or insult me. Those are not elements of conversations. They are not civilized. No one wants to have a conversation with people like that — it’s just unpleasant.
On a park bench, people wouldn’t do those things. But they do them on blogs all the time.
My blog is my park bench. It is not the biggest park bench in the world, although it is very nice. Lots of people visit my park bench because they are interested in what I have to say.
But is my park bench.
If you want to come here and disagree with me, great. I love to hear people who disagree with me, I always learn things from them.
But if you think you can come here and shout, insult me, and go off on oddball tangents just because I have a comment form, well, you’re just an ass. You’re not contributing to the conversation, you’re polluting it. You’re not listening, you’re just talking. I like to keep things civil here on my park bench, and I expect you to do the same. If you wouldn’t say it to me in a nice park bench conversation, don’t type it my comment box.
Honestly, please learn how to have a conversation. If you just like to see your words appear on the internet after you type them, go somewhere else, like Twitter or Parler or Medium or your own blog. If you are going to attack people or spout wild theories that have nothing to do with what you just read, just please go away.
Learn to listen and be respectful. It won’t just improve my blog’s comment section. It will open you up to interactions with all sorts of interesting people. It might even win a few over or — amazingly — you might learn to change your mind, or at least expand your perspective.
Trust me, it’s a better way to live than shouting at everyone who disagrees with you or trolling the comment sections on blogs or Facebook or wherever.
Raising your blood pressure isn’t good for anyone. It doesn’t make you smarter and in the long run it’ll make your life shorter and less enjoyable.