Before there is discussion, I have an idea in my head and you have one in yours. The ideas might be the same, but more likely, there is some difference (i.e. disagreement). Discussion is a process of progressive clarification. By identifying and clearing away points of agreement, we slowly but surely narrow in on the substance of our disagreement. The disagreement is the interesting part; it’s where we have the best chance of learning something from one another.
Of course, discussion is also a process of exploration and discovery. When someone says something smart that I haven’t thought of before, I try to integrate it into my view so I can be smart too. If the idea is hard to integrate, sometimes I have to alter my view somewhat to accommodate it. My mind is changed. Good discussions invariably broaden the perspectives of the discussants. In a discussion, we are asked questions we would not have thought of ourselves. Our ideas are applied in contexts we would have neglected. We discover not only what someone else thinks, but we also discover what we ourselves think.
It is easy to spot a discussion; you just look for the following:
- Ideas being challenged.
- Clarifying questions being asked and answered.
- Points of agreement being discovered and acknowledged.
- Points of disagreement receiving increased scrutiny.
However, if you see people making comments to one another and these things are not happening, you know that what you are witnessing is not a discussion. If you find yourself reading a comment looking for a way to score points with a killer rebuttal, rather than trying to understand and sympathize with the point of view expressed, you are not really trying to discuss something. If you respond only to the poor point someone made while ignoring their excellent point which you can’t readily answer, you are doing a disservice to the discussion that could be happening if it weren’t for you. I do those things sometimes (which is one reason I know about them), but I don’t generally fall into this trap because it’s not why I’m here.
For me, the value of blogging is largely found in the virtues of discussion. I come here for discussions. I enjoy discussing things, and I enjoy learning through discussion. There are other good things about blogging, to be sure. Sometimes I learn something from a post just by reading it. Sometimes a post or comment makes me laugh. But in general, my goal is to engage in interesting discussions and learn from them.
In my travels around the bloggernacle, I have learned that the goal for many people is not discussion. Many people are primarily concerned with making their own views known (without a corresponding desire to understand someone else’s view), or finding people with the same opinion so they can bask in agreement, or demonstrating their superior knowledge of history or the Bible, or venting their frustrations, etc. Although I’ve put a negative spin on it in the preceding sentence, not all of those things are necessarily bad; they’re just not what I am usually looking for.
I wonder, how many of you are like me?
Lest anyone think this is commentary on some recent exchange in the bloggernacle, I should say that I wrote this sometime last year. I stumbled across it today on my work computer (where I rarely write blog posts) and I liked it, so here it is.