A Communication on Communication
Subject: Your Facebook Response
Dear Stew Dent,
I didn’t want to put this on Facebook, because I think that the best discussions happen without the burden of publicity, but I still feel that this would be an important conversation to have. I’ve been thinking a lot about how you replied to my article. I’m glad that you cared enough about my work to respond to it, but I also feel somewhat disrespected and very confused.
I’m a decent person with a functioning brain, which I’m pretty sure you knew when you read my article (I’m not sure why you’d be interested in reading my writing if you thought otherwise). You’re also a decent and rational person, as far as I can tell, and I’d like to conduct a meaningful conversation with you. From the way you write, though, I’m not sure that you want to.
You see, I put a lot of work into that little piece, as I clarified my position, gathered evidence, and organized my thoughts. I also edited it a couple of times, and had a few friends read it to give me constructive criticism before publication. The article was released at noon exactly, and I noticed that your response was posted by early afternoon. I don’t know how it is that you read my article, disagreed with it, collected your thoughts, composed a draft, edited it for content and for style, and put it on the internet within those few hours.
I totally understand the instinct to issue responses on Facebook: It’s quick and easy, and it’s a really good way to get your thoughts out to all of your friends. Plus, conversation happens online at the speed of type, and to stay current is to stay a part of that ever-flowing stream of electronic dialogue. And, to be completely honest, there’s something nice about hearing ourselves speak, a feeling which we can indulge quickly and easily on social media.
At the same time, we’ve all participated in conversations where we talk around each other, composing our responses instead of contemplating what our partners are saying and engaging in exercises of linguistic gymnastics rather than clashes of dueling ideas. The better performer is rewarded in such discussions instead of the more precise thinker. The internet as a medium rewards this kind of dialogue with “likes” and “comments,” but rarely with the greater clarity of thought that real communication is able to achieve.
I also want to express discomfort with the adjectives used to describe me and my work. We’d be engaging in a farcical imitation of dialogue if neither of us could call the other’s argument wrong. But insulting my intelligence or questioning the sincerity of my motives isn’t the same thing. I made a proposal. If you disagree with it, explain why. If you think it would cause great damage, explain why. If you think that it violates some moral principle, explain why. I put my ideas out for public consumption, and I expected that some might retch when they tried a bite. But I didn’t open myself up to have the same vomit thrown back in my face.
Gosh, I’ve really rambled on, huh? I’ll try not to go on much longer, but I’d like to share a few thoughts which impact the way I write.
Give yourself some time to develop a response. Worthwhile ideas are like fine wine; they improve with age. Nobody will fault you if your critique comes out a week after my article. In fact, they might appreciate it more if they know you put careful thought into it.
Try to understand the other side. I know that you disagree with me, but let’s, just for a second, play devil’s advocate. If your life depended on your ability to defend this claim which you find patently false, how would you do so? I don’t expect you to change your mind, though my own has been changed by just such an exercise. If you do change your mind, great! I’m glad to know that we agree, and you can use the time it would have taken to write the response in far more productive ways. If not, at least you’ll have a better sense of what I really believe. Maybe you’ll write a better response for it, or maybe you’ll just have succeeded in giving me the benefit of the doubt.
Share your work with a friend for editorial suggestions. We’re people, so we’re not perfect, but we have a better chance of getting it right if we work together. Your friend might point out an inaccurate or misleading phrase. She might notice an internal contradiction that you glazed over. He can temper your tone if it’s overly aggressive or not forceful enough. You’ll be a better writer and thinker for it, and it’ll show.
Looking forward to hearing your response,