September 19th, 2013
I’ve been thinking about how to respond to certain negative things I’ve seen over the years, particularly on the internet. I’ve struggled, and tried on outrage, indignation, logic, rationality, ridicule, and other responses. Frankly, I haven’t been happy with most of them, and watching other people overdo them has really made me cringe. I could write down a long list of incidents, current and past, and I bet everyone could write down their own list. I don’t think boycotts, bullying, bluster, and the like are the right response to someone with a different opinion. Even an idiotic and offensive opinion. If you have the better idea, you should be able to win the war of ideas — if not with the offender, at least with those watching the war. Every little infraction, even those that are simple misinterpretations of written comments without context, seems too often to be the worst thing ever and brings out calls to die in a fire. Really? Is such a response really the best response? It’s just destructive.
I’m also not finding pure reason the best way to go in some situations. With no emotion, there’s no passion. And some positions are just the result of bias that is not rooted in reason, but rationalization. Some think that their own opinions are facts, when they’re not. Arguing with a global warming denier who denies the greenhouse effect isn’t an argument — it’s explaining physics to a pre-recorded TV show.
And I’ve also been thinking about how often we scientists, with our system to root out bias and promote objectivity, still wind up too often bitching about poor or offensive referees for our papers. Anonymity there, as for the internet, seems to give some people the green light to be rude and condescending even when it’s not justified.
It’s hard enough dealing with referee’s reports without also having to deal with the emotions of being insulted. (This doesn’t happen every time, or even most of the time, but enough of the time that it’s depressing.)
I’ve decided I’m going to try to be constructive in my dealings from now on. If I’m trying to teach a pig to sing, it does waste my time and annoys the pig, so when I’ve got a true believer (or denier as the case may be) who is not arguing in good faith, the most constructive thing to do is to disengage. It’ll save me some time. If I come across some offensive behavior, I can and should point it out, but I don’t have to be holier-than-thou in a way that will cause people to dig in their heels deeper. Adversarial interactions rarely bring about the changing of minds or hearts.
It’s stressful to hate, bad for your health. Don’t give the haters back what they give you. Instead you could spend showering love on someone who deserves it.
There are situations where you can’t walk away, I know. Also situations where walking away cedes the field to the hateful and the biased, I know. Responding to hate and outrage with the same isn’t constructive, however. Always try to find the best possible outcome and how to get there. Look for win-win solutions. Be constructive. Make the changes you want to happen, happen, without tearing down others to do so. And lord I know there have been a few I’ve wanted to tear down myself, but if it’s not necessary, we’re all the better for it.
I’m sure I’ll fail to live up to this ideal from time to time and rant and rage about this and that, but I want to live in a world with fewer insults, fewer unnecessary fights, fewer vendettas, and fewer howls of outrage. We can critique each other’s ideas without trying to destroy each other, and there are few people who are truly so evil that they deserve to be destroyed. Look to create first before you look to destroy.
Look to be constructive. Build a legacy. Let people look at your life and see a zone around you where the world is a little better, there are more smiles, and more things of worth are being accomplished. Cultivate positive people around you who don’t tear you down at every opportunity. We can have a better world. I know my own personal world will be better.
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