Saturday, January 14, 2017

Facebook Wars and the Art of Persuasion

Whatever happened to civility and common decency?  When did it become acceptable to call people names and publicly castigate those who disagree with us? This is not a political commentary, so before you fire off a response on Twitter or Facebook, hear me out. 

Now, more than ever, we must practice tolerance and understanding. We must seek to find common ground for our differences. To do otherwise is to foster a climate of aggression and hate. In an age of technology, we must remember that words without the benefit of gestures, intonation, a smile or a wink, can easily be misconstrued. Therefore, we must choose our words carefully. There is no substitute for a face to face meeting where ideas can be shared and debated openly and without rancor. 

Our country was founded on the premise of diversity and acceptance. Our forefathers did not agree on everything, but they debated both sides and sought consensus and common ground on which to build our nation. Limiting the defense of one's position to 150 characters on Twitter does not allow for the building of a logical base for discussion. Instead, it only stokes the emotions of dissent. Arguing with strangers on Facebook, when you don't know the circumstances of their argument is futile.

That is not to say that one should never express an opinion in writing, However, one should be prepared to provide solid and substantial evidence in support of that argument. No one wins or is convinced by an argument based solely on emotions. Only the facts can convince someone to change their minds.  If those facts are absent or false, there is no argument. 

I am not naive. I know that sometimes even the facts are not enough to move someone whose beliefs are solidly ingrained. In that case, it's best to recognize the futility of the effort and move on. Save your energy for those who are willing to listen to reason and critically weigh the evidence.

At no time in history has there been a greater need to teach the skills of debate and critical thinking in our schools. This does not mean that educators should take sides in the debate. They should simply teach the art of persuasion as a tool for success in the workplace and in life. At some point, our children will need to convince a superior of an idea that may be different from current practice. They will need these skills to make their case.

But perhaps most importantly, our children need to be able to recognize and analyze the difference between truth and propaganda, even if the adults do not. Our future depends on it.