Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Critical Thinking, Personal Experience, and Dialogue on Facebook

   My recent blog on Sexual Assault Awareness Month, if you read it, highlighted some of the ways that our own experiences can shape our perspectives, but opinion alone should not always the sole element that defines our perspective. One must understand the perspective of others. It is always hard to wrestle with different notions that confront our own gender/religious/social world view. Here are some things to think about when we debate and/or use our Critical Thinking abilities in dialogue with others.

1) Understand Your Audience

My own recent dialogues on Facebook (something many might call a 'bad idea,' but I disagree) has highlighted the importance of understanding Audience. For example, I might make a post about a TV show I really enjoy - Game of Thrones. Seeing as how I know some people who dislike the show (and those who want to avoid SPOILERS!) I should be conscious of what I post about it.

NOTE - Given the point I am making, ie: using a silly TV series to illustrate how possible very important topics can be received in a public forum, I hope people do not think that a post about a TV show and, say, religious issues are the same. They are not. Still, understanding that posts made to an open audience will draw/generate different debates is worth knowing.

My choice to post will always be my own and that carries certain emotional responsibilities. The first is not backing down if somebody challenges your opinion of the points you make. If you believe something you should not delete/remove your post just because somebody disagrees with you*

*NOTE - this means if they are just disagreeing with you, ie: complaining/being upset without evidence and/or supportable data/dialogue that justifies how your post is in some way wrong. We'll get to to that in a second ...

The second thing you need to do when you post to an open audience is to comprehend the possibility that those who respond to you will have different agendas for posting. Some might want to educate you, some might want to confront an issue (but not explicitly you), some might want to debate, and some might want attention. Agendas are as different as the people who hold them. Do not be afraid to ask "Hey, I see you made a response to my comment that does X. Why did you feel the need to post so I can understand how best to answer your question/post/etc..."

2) Be Kind

I know, this might be really, REALLY difficult, but consider this - you might be the only generous and compassionate source of an issue somebody may ever have, up to that point in time.

Seriously. This is important!
Let me give you an example. I sometimes post 'religious' posts, ie: I question many things about religion. To some my comments are considered inappropriate, some think them interesting, and others find them good launching points for debate. What I need to always do is (try?) to state that something is my expressed opinion alone (not a fact, in many cases) and to make sure I know where somebody else is coming from when they respond. My aim is to generate thoughts with what I say. I hope somebody might read this hypothetical post and consider something, whatever that may be. As I am posting in an open forum I have the responsibility of doing my best to think how I am representing myself and my opinions. I have known certain people to be highly inflammatory in their posts/responses, and that is OK because I don't take that personally. They are who they are. That does not mean then I have an excuse to do the same. I am sure I have made errors and (to my knowledge) I have always desired to rectify any/all rude posts/comments I might have made.

3) Use Evidence Where Possible and Avoid 'Concrete Language' if Possible*

'Evidence' to some is 'Opinion' to others. Do not be
afraid to ask about why somebody could see one
as the other.

*NOTE - With some issues this may not be possible, so, consider if this can or cannot be done

I LIKE GAME OF THRONES BECAUSE IT IS MY FAVORITE TV SERIES - this uses opinion-specific language. It lets somebody understand that my comments are rooted in my opinion.

GAME OF THRONES IS THE BEST TV SERIES EVER MADE - this uses concrete language and neither explores how this idea comes from my opinion, nor does it allow somebody who disagrees to post without (possibly) sounding like they are confronting me directly.

*YET ANOTHER NOTE - I know, again with the very silly examples that might seem out of place when you frame them next to important issues. The important thing in this guide is not the content of the examples but rather the mechanics of how that content is presented. Again, as I said above, concrete and opinion-based language might not always be possible, but still consider if you can use one or the other and why you want to do so.

If I confront a person about a topic where the poster says "It Is Predicted That By 2020 All Schools Will Be Free," and I think that person is wrong, the role of the poster should be to confront the data, not the poster. If you, as a responding poster, desire to provide evidence that refutes a claim, go for it ... but understand that this means your own evidence might get picked to shreds, you could offend the poster if they uses concrete language and you do not state your trying to debate a point and not the person, etc... Responding to posts has responsibilities as well as posting.

Some things will not allow for evidence. If Game of Thrones really is my favorite show, you cannot sway my opinion. You can however clearly share your open opinion and state why you might hate the show, so long as your explanation is not meant to override my own.

In a sense, "You opinion's or data's authority ends where my own experience and views begin IN THE CONVERSATION*." What this means is that you might have evidence that Game of Thrones is THE most violent TV series ever made and you might have the opinion that the show is bad because of this. Your data supports the perspective of your opinion ... but if it does not change my mind well ... the data you presented and all the opinions you want have no authority IN THE CONVERSATION. A poster should always be polite and say "Eh, I see your post, but that data and your opinion will not change my mind" and leave it at that. The right of a person to have made up his or her own opinion is just that - his or her own right. This does not mean that person is making the best choice, depending on the data/opinion he/she is discrediting, but everybody has the right to their own choice is what they believe. Obviously, how the act on that belief is another story and is subject to the rules of law, ie: anybody who believes women are second-class citizens, unfortunately for some, has the right to mentally think that, but he thankfully cannot/should not act on his sexist, wrong beliefs in the real world (like, in the work place) without consequences.


To most, reality. To others, the best Stanley Kubrick film ever!
If the poster makes a comment that the Moon Landing never happened, and you give data that shows it clearly did? And the poster declines to accept the authority of your data and your opinion? That does not mean the Moon Landing never occurred. It just means somebody has an opinion, saw data/evidence, and still accepted his original opinion without wavering. If this happens, remember Point #2 (Be Kind) and understand that you did your best. If you know the person who posted you and he/she will know if you can continue to debate and exchange data/opinions. That will always be a personal choice and something that is decided between two or more individuals.