It’s Debatable. Or Not.

canstockphoto6397204I spent the good portion yesterday arguing with myself. A few of my posts lately have brought out some strong feelings in not only myself, but readers and commenters as well. Everyone has their opinion and while most people are respectful, I hesitate before responding to some of them.

The argument in my head is about the nature of debate and what to do when we disagree. When political debate happens, it is less about, as the media and pundits would have us believe, a winner or a loser. It’s about showing both sides of an argument to the public for decision making purposes. I think blogging is like that. If someone respectfully disagrees with my point of view, I don’t necessarily need to respond in defense, but I do need to approve the comment, so that people can see other sides to an issue.

I’m not fond of debate for the sake of debate. If my intent is to win people over or convince someone that I am right, then I should be willing to go the full nine yards and engage in a volley of discussion. It makes me question the virtue of posting an opinion for public viewing. Am I inviting debate? In which case, is it passive aggressive to post an opinion and then not willingly engage in a discussion?

My husband has, on occasion, found this infuriating, as I will simply announce “I’m done” in the middle of an argument and get on with whatever I was doing. Let’s not beat the proverbial dead horse.  It’s exhausting and we will still end up with exactly the same result. You’re wrong. I mean, we disagree. Give me an hour to process the argument and I might return with a more reasonable approach. Push me to continue arguing and I am done.

I’m not fond of argument or extensive discussion about anything on which there is patent disagreement. I will read up ad nauseam on a subject so that I can look at something from different perspectives. Sure, I’ll trust what you say, but let me verify it from five alternative sources. I don’t see the point of two humans going back and forth about something on which there will never be conciliation, because at some point, no new information is being introduced into the debate, so you’re just battering each other.

The amygdala of the human brain is on alert when someone disagrees with you. It’s an emotional reaction of the fight/flight/freeze ilk. On occasion, I can feel the heat in my body rise and part of me wants to punch somebody in the face. There are other times when a sickening feeling makes my stomach churn and my heart begins to pound rapidly. Running away seems like a really good idea. Most of the time, though, I’ve learned that I will not be a reasonable person if I’m worn down by continual argument.

Some people can go innumerable rounds on a subject. They enjoy engaging and parrying. It’s a game and they’re the kind of people who say things like “that’s not logical” or “that’s a fallacy”. They’re engaged in deductive and inductive reasoning and think, because they use those inferential skills, that winning is assured. Especially if they keep at it long enough.

Wearing someone down is not quite the same as winning. At some point, you’ve lost my attention and I’m just looking for a way out. If I throw up my hands in mock surrender and say “Alright already, you win!” Rest assured, you haven’t won and I am actually thinking about whether or not I should just fall down and play dead – anything that will stop you from talking to me.

Reacting to prolonged debate like it’s a bear attack is not the only approach. You can cover your ears and say “Lalalalala – I’m not listening”. You can silently stare at someone until they stop talking, prompting them to say “What?!” Then just smile knowingly, like they’re out of their minds with paranoia. Rank immaturity is not only successful, but it’s fun.

I haven’t reached any universal conclusions on how to handle disagreement. I am not fond of the phrase “Let’s agree to disagree”. First of all, it sounds like a cop out and secondly, that’s not actually what I’m agreeing to – I am agreeing that you are wrong and that I want you to go away. Other people rarely make me change my mind on the spot. I need time to process different perspectives so that I can change my own mind, organically and at my own pace. I could be wrong, but I’m not going to argue with you about it.

How do you handle disagreements on your blog or in life generally?

56 Comments on “It’s Debatable. Or Not.

  1. The question many fail to address IMHO is “does it matter if we disagree?” Agreement can be comfortable but often it is unnecessary.

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    • That’s a very good point and I think it is one of the reasons that I don’t feel compelled to be a dog with a bone on issues. It’s fine if someone disagrees with me, as long as they aren’t disappointed when I don’t return the volley.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

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  2. I guess I just don’t stir people up. I guess my topics aren’t disagreeable. I can see your point at not getting into a detailed fuss just because someone finds your post disagreeable.

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    • I don’t post on particularly controversial topics, either, but lately I’ve had a few that certainly brought some disagreement. I think WordPress is also a softer environment. If I disagree with someone’s point of view, I generally move on and I think many people do that as well. If I have something to add to the discussion, a different perspective or I enjoyed reading it, I’ll usually comment, or just “like”, if I’m short on time. If I full on disagree, it’s not worth it for me to start a debate, because at some point I’ll just be done.

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  3. There hasn’t been a disagreement on my blog. Yet. I’d welcome sensible comments that created a discussion, but that rarely happens on my blog. I don’t know why. I suspect I’d handle it much as I do in life, which is, if I believe someone’s argument to be implausible, hand them a microphone. “I’m done,” usually follows.

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    • “I’m done” is generally my favorite response when I’m fed up or don’t really have the interest or energy in going another round. I think, too, blogs are not necessarily a debate environment, since it’s so easy to move on if you don’t agree. I’ve just always wondered if my approach is a bit on the chicken side or if I’m just very lazy rhetorically.

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  4. Since you and I have disagreed on some points, I’m assuming I’m one of the people you’re writing about. Let me start with something that is key to me: I fully believe two people can be in full possession of the facts, be fully rational, and still have different view points. Another way to put it is I do not believe there is a single correct answer to most interesting questions. It is not the case that, if we simply understood the issue, we would all agree.

    I think this is important, because many do not believe this. They hold that there is one correct answer to any question. Given that it’s usually their answer, debate is generally impossible. Their goal is always only to correct your misunderstanding.

    I will also confess that I’m someone who loves a good debate. I consider it a form of mental exercise. I also genuinely consider it a way to test my beliefs in the “public market place.” If I put an opinion out there, and it is cut to ribbons, then my belief had a poor foundation. One of my goals in life is matching my beliefs to reality, so I want to know that my ideas are sound and grounded.

    It is the nature of the human mind that stuff sounds great inside your head. It all holds together with beautiful logic. But then sometimes you take that idea out for a test drive and the wheels fall off. Having sound ideas is important to me. I debate with others to qualify the soundness of my ideas.

    That said, the ‘web rarely engages in actual debate. It’s more of a park filled with people on soap boxes all proclaiming their beliefs. How often do you see anyone change their mind on the ‘web? (I know it must happen, because it happens to me regularly.)

    I was told, by someone I considered to be very wise, that in online “debate” say your piece, back it up to any offered counter-arguments, but know when to quit. Mostly just don’t repeat yourself. To me the debate can continue so long as new thoughts are being added. Once you’ve covered the ground, the debate is pretty much over. Disengaging at that point is really the right thing to do.

    And I’m fine with agreeing to disagree. Since rational people can have all the facts and disagree, sometimes that is the only resolution possible. Where possible, you find a way to enable both sides; where not, you compromise somehow.

    You posed the question of whether blogging was inviting debate. I would say absolutely yes. Assuming the comment section is enabled, that’s exactly what you’re doing. For some readers, you’ll be preaching to the choir. Others won’t agree with your sermon. If someone then hands you a “Yeah, but” your fielding of that is the one chance you have of changing the world a little.

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    • I think we’ll stop going around about things, Wyrd, if you’d just do the right thing. “Michelle, you are completely correct. I bow to your wisdom.” What? Not happening any time soon? I’m just going to fall down and play dead then.

      Seriously, though, long arguments/POVs, written or verbal and I’m toasted. Maybe then it’s not an issue about debating, but more about my attention span.

      I still am not fond of the “agreeing to disagree” phrase. It seems a bit disingenuous, like generating a false level of respect so that I can run away. Or at least that’s what I’m planning on doing.

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        • Wow – that’s never worked before! I think you may be setting me up for some false expectations.
          Wait…that’s kind of diabolical. It’s another way to get out of arguing – even more subtle than the bear attack response.

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        • Actually, yes. The suppressed, oppressed and enslaved have used it since ancient times. “Yes, sir. Absolutely, sir. Right away, sir.” [And then pees in the coffee.]

          But I just meant it as a bit of humor.

          Although… fact is, in most cases, Michelle, you are completely correct, and I agree with your wisdom. 😀

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      • Seriously, though, maybe you’re just not someone who enjoys debate. I would imagine it’s a bit like roller coasters or martial arts sparring (or lots of things on the extreme-ish side); just not something everyone enjoys. There’s no reason everyone should.

        I know the physio-emotional reactions that can occur in debate. Not unlike the reactions to stage fright or fear of roller coasters. You said it; flight or flight reaction. Adrenaline. Not everyone gets off on the feeling.

        Given the background you’ve shared, I can easily imagine you’re someone for whom conflict brings with it a huge amount of bad freight.

        Maybe disabling comments, or highly restricting them, on debatable topics is a thing to try if you’d like to go on record on a topic without inviting debate. I’ve seen blog articles that do that.

        FWIW, I’m thinking of writing a “Gun FAQ” post that lays out my views (at this time) so any future debate, I can just point to that article. I’m not sure I want a long debate on the article itself, so I might take a restrictive tack of some kind. (OTOH, so far none of my posts have invited much controversy, let alone trolling or hating.)

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        • You’re probably right – that debating is not something I really enjoy. I’ll be interested to read your “Guns FAQ”, because it’s such a tough, complicated subject.

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        • It’s an example of what I mentioned: changing my mind on a topic due to debate. I may “win” a debate (or we might walk away disagreeing), but that doesn’t mean I don’t think about what was said. And sometimes I find the other points were strong enough to make me reconsider mine. It never results in a 180 shift, but it can change my heading.

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  5. I am all for ‘discussion’. And good discussions usually include a healthy dose of disagreement. If we all agreed, there wouldn’t be much to discuss. I have had a few posts, particularly one on privacy, which resulted in a lot of opposing view points. But it never became argumentative. I think that’s always my tipping point. Whether it’s on or offline I never want to feel badgered and bruised. I do believe we all have the right to our own opinions; and we have to the right to explain and defend them. And then to walk away (and agree to disagree) when we’re just stuck there. There are times I will be swayed by a persuasive argument and there are times I won’t. And vice versa. My attitude is, c’est la vie.

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    • I am okay with discussion until I recognize that there is a huge divide in perspective that no amount of debating will bridge. My tolerance may also be a little low for talking repeatedly about the same subject. I’d rather just shrug my shoulders, walk away and indicate as you did, ‘c’est la vie’.

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  6. I frequently post on debatable subjects. Sometimes the discussions are helpful, and I try to convince folks that I am right. That’s what I do for a living so I am generally on the winning side. I generally have plenty of evidence for a strong position, and a good background in history with a smattering of logic thrown in.

    But when I posted Newtown (http://fiftyfourandahalf.com/2012/12/14/newtown/), I was unprepared for the comments. I have family in Newtown and my niece and nephews grew up there, went to that school. So when someone I didn’t know, had never had comments from before, kept posting comments about how safe she is because she packs a gun, I lost it. I argued rationally for a couple of rounds, with steam coming out of my ears. But I failed. Ultimately I responded to her comment by saying “ENOUGH!” and told her to take her position to her own blog and that additional comments from her would be trashed.

    It was hard for me, because I really do love a debate. I love them especially when I am winning, I will admit. But sometimes people are just wrong and keep repeating themselves. From now on I will have not hesitation to say “Enough.”

    You have handled these debates well. And you know, we all go on to other posts …

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    • I was hoping to hear from you – I did read the post you were referencing. I really think that it’s an instance of this person’s point of view being so far from your own that common ground for productive debate is hard to establish.

      There are blogs that I read, where I’m very surprised by the vehemence of commenters, but maybe that is what the blogger intended. I’m pretty middle of the road and even people who disagree with me are respectful and try to lay out their reasons why. Even then, though, I just feel a big weight on my shoulders in trying to respond. Blogging in and of itself takes a lot of time and energy. I’m not sure I’m up for extensive debate, since that is not my intent in blogging.

      On the other hand, Wyrd Smythe made a good point in that if comments are enabled, that’s basically an open invitation for debate.

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      • That is a good point!

        Sometimes I blog for fun. Sometimes it is to make a point. Sometimes it is because I want to point out idiocy in the world. Sometimes I just want to tell a story.

        But we can control the debate whether by winning or ending it.

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  7. When it comes to arguments, I would give anything to be able to say ‘I’m done’ rather than continue rehashing what everyone’s already said. But I’ll keep going until I’m tired or run out of steam and just go ‘let’s just drop it, clearly we’re not going to agree on this’ – thankfully, most of the times I get into an argument that hasn’t been stopped by the other person by this point, they’re quite happy to walk away with this answer.

    Course, the worse part is that moment in the middle of a heated argument where you realise you ARE wrong…haven’t quite figured out how to save myself from that one yet.

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    • I just get stuck in the moment – I need time to stop talking and think about things before continuing or else I fear I will quickly devolve into “You’re an idiot”. Some people are simply more quick on their feet and can come back very quickly in a debate. I’m just not one of them!

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  8. It depends. If it’s a proper argument with someone I care about, I usually get very defensive. But I love debate to an extent, I think a healthy discussion can be good, it keeps your views fresh and your mind open. I never want to get to a point where my mind is so closed I can’t even listen to another point of view.

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    • Well, I think I’ve established that I’m not fond of debate. But it’s not about keeping an open mind or not being open to other perspectives. I think it’s the way information or perspective is delivered. In person discussion I have patience for on a limited basis. I can read and weigh different perspectives much more easily. It’s about the immediacy of disagreement and if the other person takes the tact that they are going to convince me, well, that’s where those face-punching feelings come into play. I need to time to mull things over.

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      • Oh I hope you didn’t think I was directing that at you, I meant only to explain why I like debate personally – not that it’s necessarily about those same things for everyone!
        But I know what you mean. In a proper argument or disagreement, I tend to get very rattled very easily. Sometimes it’s better for me to conduct an argument in writing, as I get my point across more articulately than when I’m getting all mad and stumbling over my words.
        I only like debate when it’s a friendly kind of discussion. Like me and my best friend, we have differing views about a lot of things and we’re always arguing over them – but its not an actual fight its more…discussion? I always lose though…

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        • You make a good point – the tone of the debate or discussion makes a huge difference. If it’s just 2 people using the same talking points over and over, it ends up being an exercise in futility. I have discussions with people about things that are interesting, but not things I feel strongly about – I get frustrated and emotional too easily and am useless in a debate. Writing is a better vehicle for me.

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        • I agree with you in those situations. Sometimes 2 different people’s opinion can be irreconcilable.
          I am sorry if I came across wrong in my earlier comment. I don’t mean to come across as argumentative – although I suppose the irony would be pretty delicious on this particular post!

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        • I didn’t take it that way at all – although, argumentative is fine. I certainly don’t mean to suggest that people shouldn’t post different opinions here! I may not answer on the 4th time of going back and forth if it’s going to become a big argument, but I do want to read about other people’s approaches and perspectives. And I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment!

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  9. That’s how we learn from each other. Different perspectives sometimes bring up emotions that are not pretty but interesting. Ahhh, human nature! The challenges of being up front with humanity.

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    • I’m fine with differing perspectives. I’m just not sure I want to get locked in debate. Being human is certainly a challenge, since we all think we’re right and everybody else is just wrong.

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  10. Once upon a time, I used to be a bouncer in a bar. I had the body for it, but not really the temperment. I got tired of people calling me a certain part of the human anatomy when I’d ask them for ID’s. I decided that rather than put myself in the position of being called names, I would introduce myself that way: “Hi, I’m Dave and I’m an ***hole. May I please see your ID?” It stole people’s thunder and they usually just handed over the license and got away from me.

    As far as my blog goes, I tend to present my material in the written voice of a buffoon – so any criticism is not really at me so much as at the persona of my writing voice. In the rare event that I do write something a little more serious, it’s usually a topic about which no one in their right mind could disagree, so there have been very few dissenting opinions.

    Now that you bring it up, my avoidance of conflict may be part of the reason that I write the way I do….well, that and my being an ***hole.

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    • It’s an interesting point – having a different writing voice that keeps things from being more personal. I tend to write from a personal perspective, although admittedly my “rants” are less close to the heart – like air travel and malls. I try to write like I’m a reasonable person, but in offline life, I’m likely just as big an asshole as the next person – so much of one that I feel compelled to not use asterisks when I type the word asshole. At least you have some manners.

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      • Actually, I prefer the traditional spelling of asshole, but as I was commenting on your blog site and not on my own, I thought using asterisks was the polite thing to do.

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        • See? Manners. I need to remember that when commenting on other people’s sites, too. Although I don’t think I do use swear words unless the blogger has already led the way.

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  11. I have this whole thing where I am terribly opinionated, but I abhor confrontation. So I struggle with wanting to voice my strongly-held opinions and not wanting to make a scene.

    But if I’m comfortable with a person, it’s a different story…

    I have this bloody-mindedness, where if I think I am right (or I know I am right), especially when regarding human rights and so on, I wont accept another’s opinion. I want people to hold my own (what I believe to be) fair and loving opinions and I can’t accept it when they dont… or wont!

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    • You point out something that is probably true. We all hold indelible opinions (like on human rights) that won’t be swayed by opposing views. I can be opinionated, but tend to be a little reserved in expressing it out loud. Blogging has provided a vehicle for that, which is nice, but writing also forces me to be more thoughtful and to support or defend my opinions, probably more so than I’d be willing to do in person.

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  12. I also am not worn down to a new point of view on the spot, unless it is factual and I am blatantly wrong. I think that an “I’m done” or “agree to disagree” motion may often end a conversation where it needs to be left. If there is no new information, neither party will move from their stance because they see no reason to.
    I’ve never had disagreements on my blog. I think blogs are personal to many of us and we can (and should) voice our opinions. Not everyone will agree with you, but the point is you are sharing your opinion as they are their’s. I never see the focus on a post to change someone’s mind. I am just putting forth an idea and people can run with it, or walk away from it, as it suits them.

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    • The nice thing about blogging an opinion, unless it’s something very controversial, is that readers will either add to the discussion or go on their way. I don’t write with the intent of debating about it, but as one commenter pointed out, if the comment section is open, everything is fair game.

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  13. I feel exactly the way you do – what’s the point of all this arguing? Although, once in a while, I do learn something from a back and forth discussion. Rarely, though, is it enough to change my opinion right there and then. I’ve been on blogs where the discussion just goes on and on and on. And the other readers are left out. I don’t think that’s good blog policy. We do have other readers to consider. There are some issues I’ll never give an inch on anyway, so I’m not likely to discuss it at all.

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    • I can learn something or hear something I’ll mull over later from a discussion. You bring up a good point about going back and forth in blog comments – that other readers might feel left out of a discussion. I try to recognize when the back and forth is going to continue and just approve the person’s last comment and leave it at that. I always hope that they won’t take offense, but sometimes you just have to break the loop.

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  14. I think blogs like yours that can sometimes be topical are more open to debate than mine are – I mean what are we going to argue about – the shutter speed? But I find myself following thoughtful blogs because I appreciate commentary that makes me think. I always weigh out my words because I like discussion – but I hate arguing. In my life I like things settled and not left hanging on bad feelings, so I try to avoid conflict in my virtual life as well. The exception to this is when I see someone being unfairly treated – then I tend to jump in. This is probably due to my upbringing and although it sounds noble enough, it’s often just me throwing down in fight that I don’t have a dog in. I really want to understand positions different than my own and see discussion as way to see what we really have in common.

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    • I love that expression “throwing down in fight that I don’t have a dog in”. That makes a huge difference, too, when having a discussion. It’s much easier to have a discussion when you’re neither invested in the outcome or even much in the topic. What is always a surprise is when you meander into a mild discussion and suddenly the other person becomes fully invested in the outcome and plans to duke it out until a winner is proclaimed. That’s usually when I use an exit strategy!

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      • I know that there are those trolls who just look for a fight – hiding behind their anonymity – but I have been fortunate not to encounter them much here on WP. Maybe I need to add that exit strategy thing to my repertoire. Honestly, I haven’t encountered much of that yet. I had someone recently take a discussion in a direction I hadn’t intended, but it was interesting none the less.

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  15. All those comments made for a very interesting, and cordial, debate. I don’t moderate comments on my blog, but I don’t post on controversial topics either. When it comes to debating in person, I try to keep my mouth shut since I seem to have a gift for making statements that are misconstrued. When I comment on a controversial blog I try to be very clear about what I’m trying to say.

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    • You’re mentioning a whole other aspect to dealing with comments – whether or not you are both communicating effectively. It’s very easy to misread tone and intent. I moderate comments on my blog, only because it reminds me to respond.

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  16. Love the idea of playing dead, Michelle. I will give that one a try. I just got off the phone with my Dad who was adamantly trying to convince me to see the world his way. At the end, I just said, “I appreciate your concern, Dad. I love you.” I think this was better than “Let’s agree to disagree.” Maybe when I get in arguments I will look for something to thank the other person for. “Thank you for taking the time to post such an extensive comment on my post. I love that you took the time to respond to something that I wrote. Have a great day.”

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    • You’re taking a positive approach that I can certainly learn from, although if I am getting steamed under the collar, I am more likely to just let the person know it’s time to move on. On the blog, I usually stop after a few exchanges, in the interest of time and my lack of willingness to still engage on a topic. Your response is much nicer than I feel like sometimes!

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  17. I would love to be able to debate just for the sake of it – if I was knowledgeable (like you, I want to have the background information) and if I could quickly come up with new facts or ideas. As that usually is not the case, I prefer to stop arguments early or not even start them if possible 🙂

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    • That need for a little research also prevents me from going unarmed into a battle of wits! I think there’s a big difference between a discussion and an argument – I wonder if I stop doing one, just so I avoid the other.

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  18. That’s a good point. I was using the two words to mean the same but I would say that if one is emotionally invested in a discussion it can more easily turn into an argument.

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  19. I appreciate your thoughts in this area. I feel there is a time and place for debate as long as both individuals feel respected in the exchange. If one begins to feel hemmed in or coerced into changing their point of view, they have every right to stop and say, “I’m done.”

    I’ve watched people on-line argue about things for hours and I can’t believe they would want to do that, but they do. I feel much like you do. I like to express what I feel, allow someone to express what they feel…and then allow them to go to their way if we don’t agree. It’s all about mutual respect.

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    • Sometimes, too, people start in such intractable positions, that there really is no room for discussion, just arguing. I think respectful discussion is important, but your description of feeling hemmed in and coerced is a very apt one for where many discussions are headed.

      I have also seen blogs where the back-and-forths go on and on. Someone pointed out earlier that this might actually alienate other readers who want to make a comment and participate in the discussion.

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