Humans are complex creatures, with complex thought processes. We take in vast amounts of information every moment of our lives. Via comparison and contrast, we eventually form our own views based on this information. We form our opinion based on all of these interactions of information. Simply our thoughts on the summary of data presented to us.
Generally speaking, that information which is validated by reality is a fact. Those thoughts, however, which are more subjective are opinions. This is elementary knowledge, of course, but there is a funny trend humans have which isn’t explained in schools, but everyone knows all too well.
People love to share their opinions.
I, of course, am one of those people. I love saying what is on my mind, even if I know no one else will agree. Sometimes, it’s enjoyable to be the rebel in the group. Other times, I find I am in the majority, and I share my thoughts then, as well, for whatever discussion they may bring. You can gather the facts of a topic from any kind of book, website, or other document. You can only gain opinions from people. Granted, you can read their opinions in books, or from a website as well, but to get the most in depth information, dialog is required.
This is why I share my thoughts so publicly, on a variety of topics. Some are important issues, but many others are just personal preference. It’s nice to let others know you agree with them, or if you disagree, you and that person can discuss the nuances of why you feel this way – perhaps it will change your view on the subject, or you will change theirs, or maybe nothing will come but a mutual understanding.
In whatever case, discussion is a great thing in and of itself. However, things can go downhill quickly.
Oftentimes the root cause of poor discussion is the disagreement itself. This seems obvious, but let’s look at some ways this comes about.
Keep in mind, these thoughts mostly apply to textual discussion on the internet, but some of the points will be valid for face to face discussion as well.
Sometimes, the initial wording of the opinion might be flawed, creating ambiguity on what is meant. I make this mistake often, due to my odd wording choice, resulting in some confusion sometimes on what I am trying to say. This is easily correctable, though.
Sometimes the opposing view will intentionally misinterpret what is being said. They will create an alternate argument based on the wording of the original opinion. This is known in debate as a straw-man and is something that should be avoided by anyone trying to carry on proper discussion of a topic. This is certainly one of the most common tactics done by an antagonist, and of course, when dealing with someone of this nature the best action is to just end the discussion. There is no point when such a tactic is used.
A second problem is when someone states an opinion as a fact. This is extremely common in theological discussion, but is a problem regardless of where it is done. When sharing an opinion, treat it as just that – an opinion. Your thoughts. Nothing else. You can back up your opinion with facts, but don’t ever say that your opinion, being backed up by facts, is thus also a fact. Reality doesn’t work that way.
Lastly comes tone. In virtually all cases, emotion is lost in text. There is a reason in my personal social media streams I use emoticons and various emotional text liberally. You have to be careful how you phrase things that you will say – some people will not understand the tone intended, resulting in them taking hostility out of a non hostile though, or something similar.
I get that people feel strongly about something, but unless the point being expressed is specifically the emotional connection to the opinion, then I feel the most neutral word choice possible should be taken. Keep things civil, and a discussion can go a long way. Once emotions come in, other things can go downhill. This can go the same way, so don’t always read someone as hostile. Try to gauge responses, and pick your battles carefully – accusing someone of being hostile can often times be the very trigger than makes them hostile in the end!
Of course, all of these points imply that the discussion is even designed to go well. It’s possible in any public forum to run into nothing but people who want to instigate hostility, but what can you really do in such a situation? Not much except block and ignore. Hey, it works!
That’s really all I had to say for this one. I’m guilty of all of these little mistakes, but when a person is aware of them, and avoids them, discussions can go pretty well even between groups that disagree.
Do you agree with me? Do you think I’m mistaken somewhere? Share your thoughts in a comment!