For the past week or so, I have watched a few debates spring up on various Pagan blogs and in a handful of online forums about one thing or another. Oddly enough, where I have always watched these debates with interest, this time around I have been a bit turned-off by what I read. In the past, many debates have been framed around positions of respect – there have been some contentious moments framed around the discussions, but that was typically centered on the point/counter-point part of the debate. Very rarely I have seen points of personal conjecture being sprinkled into those debates. However, that all has started to change over the past few weeks. There have been a few veiled personal insults tossed around in these “debates” – including a lot of smashing and bashing of particular faiths in forums that trumpet a position of “fairness” to any faith.
Here’s the rub – and I am trying to be as honest as I possibly can here – I am going to include myself in that group of people I am railing on at the moment. As a self-proclaimed Pagan, I have substantial issues with some of the adherents of the Christian faith. Particularly those who want to limit my freedoms to practice my own beliefs and follow my own Path to my personal Spirituality. I have been known to throw a few biting comments of sarcasm and derision towards these particular adherents of the Christian faith. But, its actually the wrong thing to do.
That is correct, I believe it is the wrong thing to do – and here is the real catch to my statement – for me. I have no right to tell anyone else how they should or should not act or believe. I can express my opinion where that is concerned, but that is all it is – my opinion. And I truly do believe it is the wrong thing to do. Here is my rule of thumb concerning it…
I place myself in their position. It is not as difficult as anyone would have you think it is. I hear people ridicule and lambast my personal beliefs all the time. Sometimes they do not realize that I am within earshot, and sometimes it is made so that I can hear what is said. Is it hurtful to hear stuff like that? It certainly can be. Depending on the individual making the statement, and the manner it is made (and heard). Should I get extremely pissed off and go off in that person’s face over what they have done? Not really. There are times I certainly feel justified in doing something like that – but then I remember that it is not going to solve anything. In fact, doing so will likely create more problems than are needed. In my opinion, there is no need to borrow trouble in that situation. But If I do need to respond, a calm, collected response will have far more impact than letting my emotions fly. If my response receives an even deeper and far more emotional response…it will simply suffice to walk away.
But that is face-to-face. In online communications, it is far easier for the offending individual to remain anonymous or relatively unknown behind a nom-de-plume. And let us be honest, anonymity will just embolden someone to do things that they would not in a face-to-face environment. I see it all the time in online “debates” – when a person seems to be losing the conversation or is simply looking for a way to be an irritant, they resort to personal attacks. For me, this immediately kills any chance of a conversation continuing. I simply will move on and find something else to occupy my time with. I have plenty of books adorning my shelves that are just crying out to be read.
But let us continue along the “open and honest” trail here. This is the internet. This is where a lot of us spend our free time when we are away from work (or even at work, provided your employer does not care much). This is where we tend to do the lion’s share of our socializing, sharing information with friends, reading our news — let us just call it “being entertained.” The likelihood that someone will just walk away from an online debate – particularly on something as sensitive and personal as religious beliefs or even politics – well, that’s slim to none. And slim just caught the bus heading out of town. That typically means that many people will get sucked into these negative sinkholes of “debate” where the discussion turns from a topical nature to one of personal insults and possibly even threatening language. For me, it still becomes an issue of knowing when to just walk away from the entire debacle.
I try to live my life according to two particular frames of mind. First, pick your fights and causes very carefully. Second, if you do decide to go into the fight, be prepared to go all out for that cause. If you do not feel the need to go all out, see the first frame of mind. And this is why I do not participate in online debates and arguments. I will read them as a bystander, but that is about as far as I will move in that arena. Sometimes, I can get some piece of information that will help me either sway my opinion on a topic or cement my thinking even further with another great example. And honestly, I am not into conversations to argue a point – I get into conversations to talk about differences and similarities so that I can get a better understanding of a subject. For me, a conversation is not about winning or losing, its about learning. A debate – in my mind – is a contest between two or more parties trying to win over the court of public opinion on a topic. Just not my bag, baby. I work off this blog, and run two podcasts so that I can provide perspectives for readers and listeners on a particular topic. I am not here to win anyone to my point of view. I am just here to share my opinion and any information that I may have gathered in forming that opinion. Anyone is more than free to disagree with me, and even tell me how they disagree. Provided, that they do not sling personal insults in telling me how “wrong” I am…
Online debates are going to continue on subjects from here to forever – or as long as the internet survives as a communications platform for the public masses. This little blog post is not going to change any of that. But like I said, I can choose what fights I want to be a part of. I can also choose how I wish to partake in that fight, as well as when I choose to walk away. I can also choose how to respond to threats and insults. Everyone has that choice. And a whole lot more.