Here in the United States of America we have freedoms enshrined in our founding documents that people in other countries around the globe don’t have. We have individual Constitutional rights that empower the people, the individual, and limit the government. As a result of our individual freedoms and rights, the power of the individual has been multiplied and helped the United States grow into one of the greatest nations that the world has ever seen.
Part of what has made the United States one of the greatest nations the world has ever seen has been the power we have that’s rooted in free speech. Our free speech rights give us the right to freely discuss our ideas and opinions with anyone we choose without the fear of reprisal. [Suggested addition by slickwilly (see comment below): Without the fear of reprisal from the Government.] Individual free speech rights helps unleash the power to build upon the combination of ideas and opinions and in the process we combine the strengths of the individual into a powerful and united whole that can rapidly create something better or something new whether it’s something ideological or something physical. Free speech is an equality concept, your speech is valued the same as everyone else’s free speech. Without effective communication between individuals, based on the the equality of free speech, things start to break down and divisions begin to grow. Free speech is a fundamental core that makes up our society, without it we will become a less united society.
How we as individuals communicate with each other has been crucial in building a united front that has taken the United States of America from a fledgling nation in 1776 to a dominating world power in the 21st century. We’ve presented ideas and opinions, debated the pros and cons as individuals and as a nation, supported our debate and opinions with truth and facts, and in the end we’ve come to conclusions that are usually based on the truth and facts and that process has helped our country grow and prosper. Yes, we’ve faltered here and there and we’ve seen how the clash of core ideals and a severe breakdown of communication can end with dire consequences, like our own Civil War, but in the end we’ve been able to effectively talk through issues and reach amicable conclusions that help our nation grow and prosper.
Something has changed with how we communicate in the 21st century. The decline in effective communication has been growing at an alarming rate. In the past 20 years or so, how we interact with others in discussions is changing and the change I’m seeing is not good for us as individuals or society as a whole. There are false conceptions about free speech that I’m beginning to see creep into our society that’s putting the brakes on civil discourse and dividing the nation. These false conceptions are growing in popularity and as they grow they’re helping to destroy one of the core foundations that helped make the United States great, we’re losing our ability to effectively talk through issues. The false conceptions are…
We the people have the right to say whatever we want which makes everything we say right!
Arguments don’t need to be supported with truth and facts.
With the internet as an instant gratification catalyst, and the growing popularity of social media, online discussion forums, blogs and media outlet comment sections more and more people are actively discussing a variety of things in very impersonal and uncivil ways that most people would never consider doing when confronted with face-to-face conversations. Listening skills have dwindled, comprehension of the written word is fading, willingness to communicate at all with those outside of our ideological bubble is diminishing, and open bigotry (intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself) is becoming uncomfortably popular and in some circles it’s expected. There are people making choices to argue based on emotions instead of facts and logic, this is a terrible morphing of civil discourse in the United States. There’s a noticeable failure in the ability of some people to communicate opinions and arguments in a manner which is effective. There is a genuine lack of effort, ability, and/or willingness to support opinions and arguments with truth and facts. It seems that our ability to civilly “debate” with truth and fact based opinions and arguments has turned into short snippets of wild accusations with absolutely no truth or facts to back up the opinions or arguments. I’m seeing more and more online discussions, especially discussions of a political nature, where one side makes all kinds of questionable assertions about someone or something using targeted words to gin up emotions without providing a shred of supporting evidence to support the assertion; I too am guilty of wandering down this path sometimes before I catch myself. When a person making assertions is asked to provide something to support their claims sometimes they start making unethical choices like; shifting gears by saying they mean something else (move the goalposts) and when you ask them to provide supporting evidence to support the “new” claim they start dragging the goalposts all over the playing field, or they attack the questioner for asking while dodging their inherent responsibility to support their own assertions, or they clam up and refuse to reply and let their assertions hang out there like those from a hit & run internet troll.
To get back to a more civil manner of discussing things we all need to start following some simple rules:
He/she who asserts must prove.
If you are willing to assert then you must be willing to establish that assertion by supporting it with enough evidence and logic to convince an intelligent but previously uninformed person that it’s more reasonable to believe the assertion than to disbelieve it. Facts supporting an assertion must be accurate.
Don’t assert if you cannot support the assertion.
If you assert and you’re unable or unwilling to support your assertion then your assertion becomes unsupported and the equivalent to an unwarranted falsehood.
He/she who engages in discussion must expect to be challenged.
Engaging in a discussion is a two way street, if you are not willing to “discuss” then you’re just trolling. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.
Ask fair and clear questions that have a direct bearing on the discussion.
Don’t ask questions that aren’t on topic or deflect from the discussion.
Use rhetorical skills to build your own case and tear down the opposition’s case.
Don’t attack the person making the argument attack the argument.
It’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.
Don’t engage in discussion if you’re not reasonably capable of supporting your opinions and arguments. It’s better to sit back and learn from those who are capable of supporting their opinions and arguments.
These simple rules will help you show some basic respect for those you debate and will help foster in a new era of civil discourse which we, as a society, seemed to have lost. Be the pebble in the pond not the inciting internet troll under the bridge.
This blog post has been a long time coming so if this blog post is ringing your bell and you think it’s all about you (it’s not), then maybe you should reconsider how you’re presenting yourself in discussions. The choices are yours and yours alone.
Featured Image Credit: Background is a cropped photo that I found online, I added the quote to the photo.