A “conversation,” a “discussion,” an “argument,” a “healthy debate,” you can call it what you want, but it all leads to the same thing: someone saying something stupid.  Not always, but pretty much.  I have my opinions like everyone else, and they may be right or wrong, significant or trivial, but they’re there.  I don’t think we should be afraid to share those opinions, and I don’t even mind respectfully debating my opinions with someone else from time to time.   I think it’s good to do that.  It educates you on another person’s point of view and helps you refine your own ideas.  But whether in person, on Facebook, or in the Blogosphere, we all need to follow a little “healthy debate etiquette.”  Although I really don’t like it when people spout assertions without any evidence,  or making connections that aren’t there, that’s their right.  But what I can not stand is when people get pushy with their views, especially when it’s not appropriate, dismiss you as stupid, make fun of you, attack your character, and/or dismiss you as unimportant.

For starters, I hate it when people get all up in your face about something.  It would be infuriating if people were literally in your face, but since that rarely happens to me, I’m talking figuratively.  There was this one loud and rather boisterous guy standing in line at a Michael’s craft store one day, and he was going on and on about how he’d bought the only thing in the store that was made in the USA, a pencil box.  If you want to buy things only made in America, that’s fine.  But no one in line at Michael’s cares.  Especially when you continue shouting about how you only buy such products because of your belief in God.  As if one naturally leads to the other.  Do atheists only buy from Guatemala?  Agnostics from Sweden?  And again, if he wants to make connections where there are none, that’s his prerogative, but does he have to shout?  Call me cowardly, but I think that most of the time we can all live by our ideals quietly in our own way and share our opinions with others in an appropriate private setting without yelling it to people who are just trying to buy a skein of yarn and get out of there.  But no, we were stuck in line (why are the lines at craft stores always worse than the ones at Disneyland?) with the guy who then started bagging on Steve Jobs and denouncing him as a murderer of Chinese children.  By that point in the tirade I was leaving so I didn’t hear what he said next, but one can only imagine.

Then there’s the type of person who, instead of arguing a point, will just dismiss you as stupid.  Let’s just say as a hypothetical situation, not real in any way, that you are “discussing” the issue of capital punishment with some friends of a friend on Facebook, and that one certain friend of a friend, instead of saying what he thinks about the subject, just says, “Get the facts, people.”  Really?  That’s it?  You’re going to tell me I don’t have facts?  After the studies I’ve cited?  And how can you tell me to “get the facts” when some things aren’t a matter of facts, they are a matter of opinion.  Whether or not murderers should be allowed to live is a matter of opinion.  Good people can differ on this issue.  Of course, my opinion is the right one, but still, you are entitled to be wrong.  Seriously, though.  State your opinion, don’t just tell me to “get the facts.”  It’s a cop-out.

And don’t get me started on the bully who makes fun of other people for having a different view on an issue.  Let’s say just as a hypothetical situation, not real in any way, that you are again “discussing” with some friends of a friend on Facebook.  This time it’s about the issue of gay marriage.  And you respectfully share your side of the issue, compassionately understanding where people are coming from, and not making fun of anybody.  Of course.  That would be horrible.  But then someone starts to make of you and your religious practices.  All I can say is, Oh no you did not just go there!  It’s despicable and it hurts your cause by degenerating the discussion into a mud-slinging event.  It’s worse than immature, it’s shameful.

But the queen mother of all discussion infractions is when you attack my character or dismiss me completely as being unimportant.  Again, just as a hypothetical, let’s say that you are “discussing” the issue of racism with a friend of a friend on Facebook.  This person’s assertion is that everyone is a racist whether they know it or not because it’s that ingrained in our society.  I disagree with that assumption, and frankly get more than a little annoyed when someone lumps me into a category with racists.  To me, that’s just an attack on my character, because it is awful to be a racist.  I’ve never been a racist, and never could be.  It’s simply not in my nature, nor have I ever been taught to think in such a deplorable way.  Second, after a long, drawn-out debate on whether or not everyone is racist, that friend of a friend straight-up says to me that because I am white that my “OPINION DOESN’T COUNT!”  That was the end of that conversation.  Once somebody tells me I don’t count, what more is there to say to that person?

Many of my friends and family think differently than me on various issues, but I still love them.  And while usually avoiding hot topics with those that are particularly close to me, I don’t mind having a different opinion or debating an issue.  I just mind people being thoughtless, unkind, and intolerant.


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