“Never pay any attention to what critics say.
Remember, a statue has never been set up in honor of a critic!” — Sibelius
When I was younger, the opinions of others were very important. Peer pressure had significant influence on what I wore, the music I listened to and actions I’d rather forget. As I got older, I cared far less about what the critics thought and I accepted their right to hold any opinion, no matter how stupid I thought it was. Eventually I came back full circle, but for a different reason. I still believe people have the right to their opinions. But when dangerous thoughts enter the arena, I can’t remain a passive observer. I get involved.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
A person’s right to express personal beliefs is not accompanied by a right to have an audience. Still, when someone enters a conversation in a courteous and thoughtful way, I usually have the responsibility to listen, unsolicited opinions excepted.
“It is not a bad idea to get in the habit of writing down one’s thoughts. It saves one having to bother anyone else with them.” — Isabel Colegate
When an insensitive remark hits a nerve, a conversation can take a severe turn for the worse. Some online discussions and blogs are among the most egregious examples of incivility. This makes me wonder if there is a human gene for lying, calling people ugly names, spouting vulgar and offensive language and making accusations based on gossip.
“The best thing about the Internet is that it makes everyone a publisher. The worst thing about the Internet is that it makes everyone a publisher.” — Unknown
Still, I love what the Internet offers. People are coming out of their shells and exposing themselves and their opinions to the worldwide marketplace of ideas. Some contribute ideas — others offer slop that they confuse with substance. Unlike verbal assaults, derogatory comments made on the Internet cannot be as easily explained away or forgotten. They are recorded for posterity. This is why many hide behind an alias. I am hopeful that the chaff will blow away leaving the good wheat.
I think it’s fair and reasonable to factor in a person’s behavior when assessing the value and validity of his opinion. There are questions I ask myself consciously and/or subconsciously that color my opinion about any opinions.
- Is the person making a point on its own merits or are they simply discrediting someone else?
- Is the person expressing a point of view without profanity and name calling?
- Is the person explaining his position in his own words or does he speak using clichés and rhetoric?
“Blind belief is dangerous.” — Kenyan Proverb
- Did the person use the “majority rules” argument?
- Is the person hiding behind an Internet alias?
- Is the person flaunting personal credentials or the credentials of others?
“People will accept your ideas much more readily if you tell them Benjamin Franklin said it first.” — David H. Comins
- Is the person listening or is it just talk, talk, talk?
- Is the person looking me in the eye?
- Does the person express his opinion using sound reasoning and verifiable facts?
If people pass my behavior filters there’s a good chance we can have a spirited and friendly discussion about anything. It doesn’t matter what they do for a living.
“The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy…neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.” — John W. Gardner (1912 – 2002)
Nor do I care how many college degrees people have or don’t have, how famous or obscure they are, or how simplistic or eloquent their words.
“When ideas fail, words come in very handy.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I don’t care how old they are, whether they are male or female, ugly or attractive. Neither race nor religion is relevant. Reasonable people from any background or demographic group can have a great debate on any topic within a protocol of civility. If a discussion ever breaks down into a shouting match, it’s all over.
“The most powerful factors in the world are clear ideas in the minds of energetic men of good will.” — J. Arthur Thomson
We need a lot more goodwill in our conversations. We all need to develop the discipline to discuss controversial opinions the same way we share positive ideas like goals and dreams. That is, with both passion and respect so that we part as friends. At least that’s my opinion.
© Copyright August 2008, Clancy Cross. All rights reserved.
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