A Better Way To Argue On The Internet

There are few things I love more than arguing on the Internet. To many this is a foolish pastime, but when done well, there’s nothing quite like it. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not always the best idea to hash things out in writing in a venue rife with misinterpretation, but I find I gain a lot from a heated online debate.

I tend to have strong beliefs. I’ve found that they are best shaped and formed through vigorous conversations with others, especially those who tend to disagree with the way I see the world. When I first started sharing my thoughts in public this got me in a fair amount of trouble. My impulsivity often led me to shove my foot in my mouth (digitally speaking), and I’d occasionally find myself attempting to have a conversation with people who had no interest having one. After a few unfortunate incidents (read: after I made an ass out of myself one too many times), I decided that I’d be better off focusing on my own writing and keeping my thoughts about the opinions of others to myself.

While I managed to keep away from online debate for a short while, my tendency towards impulsivity inevitably drove me back. The time away proved useful. I’ve returned not only with a new vigor for online debate, but a better idea of how to go about it.

Stop Surrounding Yourself With People Who Always Agree With You

One of the greatest dangers of the web is intellectual homogeneity. There’s no shortage of contradictory ideas on the web, but we often ignore these in favor of those that mirror our own. We seek out complementary ideas and avoid those that challenge our beliefs. There’s nothing wrong with finding those who see the world as you do. It’s important to find like-minded souls who help you to fully form your ideas, but don’t stop there. Seek out those who challenge your thoughts and listen to what they believe. This will do far more to make you and your ideas stronger.

Stop Arguing With People Who Have No Interest

Most conversations gone bad on the web occur when one person is very interested in the conversation and the other person is not. Just as there is no shortage of ideas, there’s no shortage of people who share them. If you find yourself attempting to have a conversation with someone who isn’t interested, stop. Don’t push them, don’t yell louder, stop. If you really want to have it out, seek out someone who is just as willing to participate. I assure you, they exist. There’s nothing less interesting and more desperate than a one-sided argument.

Stop Trying To Be Right

When talking about your views, you want to present them in the strongest way possible. When listening to others you need to let go of your convictions. You can and should be fierce about your beliefs, but when listening to others, you need to take a far softer tone within your own thoughts. Don’t listen to others only to find a way to prove them wrong; take what they are saying at face value and compare it to what you already believe. You may still walk away feeling that you’re right, but this approach forces you to reinforce your beliefs rather than just stubbornly holding on to them.

Stop Being Desperate To Win

I hate to lose and love being right. Chances are you do, too. This is a dangerous combination as it often causes awful and desperate things to come flying out of our mouths and fingers. At a certain point, especially if we feel like we’re “losing,” we aim lower rather than higher in our debate. We get desperate. Too often we’re fighting to win. Too often we’re just fighting to fight. If you’re going to argue, argue to learn. Forget about winning, because no one ever does. It shouldn’t even enter into the equation. Go into an argument to strengthen your ideas and to attempt to influence the thoughts of others, not to claim a prize. When we focus on winning, we usually end up going too far and being right at the expense of another person or at the cost of your own dignity just isn’t worth it. No one learns anything and no one really looks all that bright.

Stop With The Challenge The Idea, Not The Person Crap

So often we pretend that the idea is separate from those who hold it. We do this to put a bit of distance between the disagreement and the people having it. In practice, this is a noble idea; in reality, it leads to an awkward conversation where people are afraid to use tangible examples for the sake of not offending. If your point is to offend, well, stop it. If your point is to provide tangible examples that help clarify your ideas, do so, but do it respectfully. Talking around people isn’t going to help anyone and the awkwardness it brings forces you to make a weaker case for your idea. Talk about the idea, talk about the people who hold it, just do it with respect.

How Do You Know If An Argument Was Worth Your Time?

If I get into a debate and don’t have at least one of my ideas changed, I either a) chose the the wrong person or b) didn’t listen. The ideal debate or argument, at least for me, is one where I’ve had a few of my thoughts changed, but strengthen my overall resolve. I know it was worth my time when I feel a greater sense of logical clarity than emotional frustration.

Go into every contradictory conversation with the hope that you may be wrong. You may not look as good in the moment, you may not feel as bold, but you’ll learn a lot more.

Do We Need A Better Way To Argue?

We do not lack for venues and formats to talk through our differences. What we do lack is a solid approach for engaging in them. All too often we rush to our own sites and social presences to share our own thoughts, and by share our thoughts I mostly mean tearing one another’s down. In this case, our technology is not the problem, we are.

If you disagree with someone, by all means challenge their ideas. Point to their thoughts and then share your own, but avoid tearing their thoughts apart when they’re not in the room. Invite them to have a conversation. See if they’re willing to challenge their own ideas by discussing them alongside yours. If they’re not interested, move on or find someone who is up for the debate. You may not get the spectacle that traditionally accompanies online arguments, but there’s a far better chance that you’ll have a conversation that is worth your time.

If You’re Going To Argue…

Try to remember that person you’re calling out, the one you’re tempted to call an idiot, probably isn’t one. Try to get over the fact that they likely feel the same way about you. The truth is you’re probably both a little right and a little wrong and the truth lies where it usually does: somewhere in the middle.

Disagree? Let me know why in the comments, it’s what they’re there for…

2 Responses to A Better Way To Argue On The Internet

  1. Mike,

    I really appreciate this post. (Not exactly fighting words I know) The one section that really resonated with me was the idea of surrounding yourself with people who actually have different views. I’ve been writing and podcasting about that particular topic a bit lately and it’s something that is keyed up on my radar as I make new friends. I don’t want to argue endlessly with my friends but I do want to be challenged in relationships because that is where I learn.

    Not to mention somewhere in this batting around of ideas respect grows. As I polled my own most valuable friendships be they in my real life or my digital one, the people I respect the most are the ones I genuinely like the most because they are not afraid to draw some lines in the sand and defend their lines. It shows they have backbone and only inspires me more to grow a little bit more of that in myself.

    Thanks for the post! Gary

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