Discussion, Debate and Blogging Etiquette

One of the most amazing things about joining the blogging world is the opportunity to learn from other people. I don’t always read something I agree with, and I’m sure that many people don’t always agree with me. But, by reading other people’s ideas and perspectives on life, I clarify my own stance and often even understand issues from a different perspective.

I love the exchange of ideas.

When I first started blogging, I didn’t make many comments. I was afraid that commenting on other people’s posts was somehow intruding and that nobody really cared what I had to say. But, eventually I came to realize that a post without comments might as well be a post into a private journal. If that is the case, and if you are not going to interact with fellow bloggers, then why blog in the first place?

There is a danger, however, in commenting and responding to comments. It lies in the fact that we are communicating only through technology. Without face to face contact (and sometimes even with it) meanings can be misunderstood and interpreted incorrectly. Perhaps someone makes a sarcastic comment in good fun, but if you are only friends via this virtual tool, sometimes that sarcasm can be misunderstood.

Yet, as I get to know my fellow bloggers, I feel like I’ve established a relationship based on trust and a mutual respect for each other. We may not agree on everything, and life would be boring if we did, but we respect each other’s right to their beliefs and their right to write about those beliefs.  If I completely disagree with a person, I either do not respond, or try to respond with a question to promote discussion.

While I doubt my stance on things like religion, politics, women’s rights, war, education, etc. will ever do a complete 180, I am always open to a new way of looking at things. I don’t believe that any issues is completely black or white, but that every issue and situation needs to be judged from a variety of perspectives.

In other words, there is no ONE truth, but multi-faceted truths that lie somewhere between two sides.

I now find myself unintentionally embroiled in a debate of two truths. I’m not going to go into specifics, although most of my readers will know what I am talking about. Basically, the problem comes down to two people who don’t agree and one person who won’t let go. It also boils down to the issue of blogging etiquette.

What is blogging etiquette?

This complicated world of blogging introduces so many challenges in communication, that once in a while it is good to stop and think about how we interact with others. Here are some of the questions that have popped into my head at one time or another, followed by my (uninformed) opinion on the answer. Feel free to add more ideas below:

  • When is it good to respond to a post? I think commenting on posts is valuable at all times, but only if you have actually read the post and have something to say. I admit to sometimes skimming people’s posts when I am in a hurry, so for those ones I either hit the like button, comment briefly, or don’t comment at all.
  • What kind of comments are acceptable on posts? Comments that respond to the actual post are acceptable. Perhaps you don’t have much to say about the content, but want the writer to know that you’ve read, understand, or support what he/she is saying. Then it might be okay to write a very short supportive comment. Otherwise, I think comments should be substantial (ie contributing to the conversation) without being long. If you find yourself writing a long comment on a topic, perhaps you should write a post about it instead.
  • When should comments be blocked or deleted from posts? This one can be tricky, because if you want honest discussion it is important to include all sides, even the things you disagree with. However, if the comment attacks the writer or the readers of the blog in a disrespectful way, it doesn’t need to be kept. If the comment has absolutely nothing to do with the post, why keep it?
  • When is it okay to not respond to a comment? I try my best to respond to comments on my posts, but sometimes it is impossible. As most of my readers know, I have been dealing with a lot in the past month, including moving, no internet and other craziness. So, while I wanted to respond to comments, I had to prioritize, which meant I let a lot of responses slide. I made sure to explain that in posts. I tried to respond to any new readers, because I believe you can only build a relationship through commenting and visiting each other’s blogs. Ultimately, though, I don’t think you have to reply if the comment is something simple like “That’s great!” or “Thanks.”  You should, however, respond when someone has taken the time to submit a well thought out part of the discussion.
  • When is it best to simply remain on the sidelines and observe the conversation? You know the mantra “If you have nothing nice to say . . . “? Well, that might be a good guideline. If you have an opposing perspective that you can phrase respectfully, go ahead and join that conversation. But if your response is going to be simply to rant and rage, without any openness to discussion, perhaps you should keep your opinion to yourself.
  •  When should you make contact with someone outside of the blog, either through e-mail or through actual in person meetings? I have had contact with several bloggers outside of the blog, through Facebook, one phone call, e-mail, and once in person. Sometimes I’ve initiated the contact, sometimes the other person did. When I’ve initiated contact, it was because I felt like I had something to share with that person that was best shared privately, rather than in the public forum that is a blog. I try not to be too aggressive about contacting bloggers in other ways, but I always feel honored when someone reaches out to me.
  • Should you include links to your blog or other sources when commenting? It’s possible to find many debates and discussions on this topic, as including links can seem like simply trying to promote your own blog. I have, however, included links when I have a post that furthers the discussion or adds a different perspective. I also, occasionally, will add a link to some web page that provides information to the writer. However, I have it set up that all comments with links must be approved. Why? Because I don’t want to be linking to sites that make me uncomfortable. I often allow those posts, but if the links seem to lead to disrespectful stuff, bye-bye comment. Comments with excessive links often get sent straight to spam, which means they sometimes disappear quickly.
  •  When is it acceptable to use all caps? This relates to the challenges of communicating electronically rather than face-to-face. Capital letters have come to stand for YELLING! Nobody likes be yelled at. In addition, capital letters are harder to read. So, I suggest using them sparingly, to emphasize or show excitement. I don’t like reading posts that have lots of caps, and I would guess many readers agree.

This is obviously not a comprehensive list, and it is only my opinion. I’d love to hear more of your suggestions or ideas (even if they disagree with mine) in the comments below.

Update About Related Posts: This post has sparked a lot of interesting discussion, both below in the comments and in other people’s posts. Please go check out the following for more interesting perspectives:

If you’ve come across any I have missed that should be added to the list, let me know.


The Responsibilities of Thinking

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Yesterday a friend started a discussion about gay marriage vs. polygamy. This discussion isn’t about that, although she raised some interesting issues for me.  The discussion led to some really passionate responses on both sides of the issue, but very few thoughtful arguments.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have some pretty strong opinions as well. But, what really struck me about the entire conversation was the idea that we, as a society, tend to react rather than think and act. We cling so passionately to our belief systems that somehow we can never meet  in the nebulous middle where honest discourse and discussion can occur.

I wonder how the world would differ if we could learn to enter discussion through thought rather than through passion. Of course, that could make things worse because people would be forced to see that there are multiple sides to every issue not just two. That makes things complicated. But maybe, through honest discussion of complexities more could be achieved.

But, humans are passionate. In America, we cling to the idea the idea that we are free to think as we wish. We are free to express ourselves as we wish. We are free to worship as we wish. Those freedoms make us powerful, but could they possibly weaken us as well because we cling so tightly that we cannot let go. We can never meet in the middle. We can never follow intellect without passion dictating some of our thought processes.

On the other hand, do I really want to live in a society that is only guided by intellect and not by passion? My answer to that has to be “NO!”.

So then, where does that lead? what are our responsibilities to ourselves and others as thinking passionate beings? I don’t know how to merge the too successfully, but I believe that somehow we need to find a way.

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