On Discussion

June 22, 2007    By: Jacob J @ 5:47 pm   Category: Bloggernacle

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:

  1. Ideas being challenged.
  2. Clarifying questions being asked and answered.
  3. Points of agreement being discovered and acknowledged.
  4. 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.


  1. I like discussion too. And I like to blog with people who seek real discussions and are willing to occasionally give ground on a position. We have lots of those types around here I think.

    Of course to everything there is a season. So sometimes a good snark or a good joke or finding someone to vent to is enjoyable as well. I often save those things for private discussions but sometimes a public version hits the spot as well.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 22, 2007 @ 6:55 pm

  2. I believe that “understand someone else’s view” is worthwhile to my development but “occasionally give ground on a position” (just to make nice) isn’t.

    Comment by ed42 — June 22, 2007 @ 9:15 pm

  3. How about when you see your position is wrong, ed42? (That’s when I had in mind)

    Comment by Geoff J — June 22, 2007 @ 10:44 pm

  4. I think two other things discussion covers besides discovering where we disagree are:

    1. breaking away the irrelevent areas where we disagree to discover the core things which we agree on. (as opposed to the opposite.)
    2. asking questions we simply don’t have an answer for, to gain a range of opinions to inform our own future opinion.

    I think an issue with certain ideas is that people in the bloggernacle are committed to for a long haul.

    For example, Blake is in the middle of publishing a series of books on Mormon thought and is probably not going to say “Wow, I was really wrong in book two, it’s time for a course change.” The same could be said of Jacob’s Dialogue article, J.’s MHA findings, and so on. I think being published makes it more difficult to be tractable on new ideas. Geoff has done this on some ideas, for example, he has given up on O. Pratt’s spiritual atomism. I’ve seen J. and Jacob change views on a few items as well, though none are coming to mind as quickly as the O. Pratt example. (I remember once about 3 years ago, J. told me (something like) the idea of eternal marriage was not taught by JS, and I presented a journal entry to him, and he was quick to say he was wrong and I was right. I have always admired J. ever since then.)

    I think a big risk we take with this line of thinking is that we have a tendancy to lump people who will not agree with us when we present the “obvious” (sarcasm noted) in the “bad” and people who do agree with us inthe good. I could say ECS is totally nuts for not seeing that John Widtsoe was talking about how presiding didn’t mean ruling of as early as 1920, so the proclamation’s use of preside was already couched in these non-authoritarian ideas, but maybe she does have a perspective I don’t have and she is a person with real thoughts and feelings, equally as valid as my own.

    One of the things I like about NCT is that Jacob, Geoff, Blake, Mark D. and even J. have noted differences from me when it comes down to our perspective on the nitty gritty of things. I think that keeps it fun and fresh, even if I think some of the ideas put forth are not what I would consider correct.

    Comment by Matt W. — June 23, 2007 @ 8:09 am

  5. I’m with Geoff. I have yet to meet someone so smart that they didn’t have occasion to give ground on a position after someone made a good counter point. And I agree that NCT generally does a great job of encouraging discussion. In fact, I think many of the people who gravitate here do so for this very reason.


    I think you are right that publishing something (even on a blog) and defending it over time tends to invest a person in their ideas. Part of that is natural since after defending an idea over many years, you tend to see all of the relevant arguments and understand the ins and outs of a position. I think even then we can stay open to new ideas.

    For example, Blake is in the middle of publishing a series of books on Mormon thought and is probably not going to say “Wow, I was really wrong in book two, it’s time for a course change.”

    Compare and contrast to this comment.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 23, 2007 @ 10:08 am

  6. That is a really good example from Blake.

    I guess one of the key things that makes me want to blog is trust. If I can’t trust someone to admit when there wrong or teach me where I’m wrong, there isn’t much of a relationship.

    Comment by Matt W. — June 23, 2007 @ 3:17 pm

  7. Yep, I feel the same way Matt.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 23, 2007 @ 7:42 pm

  8. I completely agree. Thank you for explaining is such a detailed manner. I love comments on my blog posts, and always try to encourage additional discussion and conversation. It helps me to connect with people; and in doing so, I learn more about myself, others, and the world. It keeps me grounded and focused, while aiding me to see the bigger picture.

    Comment by Marie — June 23, 2007 @ 8:26 pm

  9. Thanks Marie, welcome to the Thang.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 24, 2007 @ 10:19 am

  10. I realize that it isn’t always applicable, but I like the idea of Hegelian dialectics. Part of what that process requires different perspectives. I’ve often found that months ofter a discussion where I remained intractable, I suddenly realize that my perspective has changed.

    Comment by J. Stapley — June 24, 2007 @ 9:01 pm

  11. What conclusions, if any, should we draw from “bloggernacle-ness” when

    Of course personal revelation is our ultimate epistemological trump card!

    gets over 400 comments and

    The Home Teaching Problem

    gets 10?

    Comment by Mondo Cool — June 24, 2007 @ 9:18 pm

  12. What conclusions do you draw from that Mondo?

    Comment by Geoff J — June 24, 2007 @ 9:24 pm

  13. Possible ends of the conclusion spectrum:
    – Discussion enhances and enriches our “doing.”
    – Home teaching isn’t as sexy as discussion.

    Comment by Mondo Cool — June 24, 2007 @ 9:38 pm

  14. It seems to me it probably reflects the fact that people are a great deal more passionate about the issue of personal revelation from God and how they might use it to better understand the true nature of all existence and reality than they are about the details of home teaching in Matt’s ward.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 24, 2007 @ 9:50 pm

  15. Geoff J. (#14):
    Gotta agree with you. I’m there also. But, James has been onto me today.

    But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

    For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:

    For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.

    But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.

    If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.
    Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

    Deception – not cool.

    Comment by Mondo Cool — June 24, 2007 @ 10:23 pm

  16. Ahh — I see where you are coming from better now. Well I always think there is value in understanding the “why” of what we are asked to do in the church. Once that why is seared in our hearts the doing part becomes much easier. I hope the kinds of discussions we have here help people get a deeper understanding of those why’s. (And certainly discussing the gospel is not a totally useless way to use our time I think. Besides, I suspect that there is a lot of “doing of the word” going on by our commenters here.)

    Comment by Geoff J — June 24, 2007 @ 11:03 pm

  17. J,

    I make a concerted effort not to know anything about Hegel, but I think you are referring to his idea that we arrive at truth by trying to synthesize opposing points of view. If so, I think you are right on the money. We aren’t usually very good at providing opposing views to our own (or doing them justice) when we think about things by ourselves–not nearly as good as other people are when we engage them in discussion. I am always amazed at how much I get out of having someone force me to confront their point of view. This is along the lines of what I was after in the first paragraph when I said the disagreement is the interesting part, the part which is most likely to lead to us learning from each other.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 25, 2007 @ 12:20 am

  18. Mondo (#11),

    There are actually a whole bunch of different things I might use to explain the comment differential, but it seems that is probably a red herring. I gather your point is that it is no use sitting around bloviating about revelatory trump cards (in the land of theory) if we don’t care about home teaching (where the rubber meets the road so to speak). I agree with your point, even if I don’t think the comment counts on the two threads really illustrates it. Home teaching is important, no doubt about it.

    By the way, where is your comment on that home teaching thread? You can make it 11. Be a doer of the word, not a hearer only. (That means we all need to post comments, not merely lurk, right? (smiley))

    Now, back on the red herring of the Trump Card post. One reason that post has so many comments is that it is not our most shining example of “discussion,” as I’ve described it in the post. A fairly decent percentage of the comments contain someone saying the same thing they had already said ten times before to the same person. The part about narrowing in on the heart of the disagreement and examining it with increased scrutiny is not always easy, as it turns out.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 25, 2007 @ 12:39 am

  19. I think there is a fundamental difference between the two posts. Some Discussions are longer than others. In the HT post, I asked for input, received it, and then was done. I wasn’t arguing for a particular idea. In the Trump Card post, Geoff was arguing for a particular point of view, recieved feedback, responded to that feedback, and then recieved more feedback. This will always generate more comments. Thankfully, Geoff doesn’t pay me by the number of comments I produce. (He actually pays me be the average number of typos I can incorporate into a single sentence.)

    Soe I thinc ther too poasts our jus differnt.

    Comment by Matt W. — June 25, 2007 @ 6:46 am

  20. I think Matt W. can testify how much I like discussion. Why no comments from me on HT in Matt’s ward? I’ve just been released as HPGL & had responsibility for HT, so I know exactly what Matt was talking about. I was kinda hoping for alot of input.

    Therefore, another idea implied in my question is: What would it be like if there were 410 comments with suggestions and encouragements about HT and 10 comments about “the true nature of all existence and reality?”

    BTW, I was not singling out “Trump Card” becuase of its topic, but rather the number of responses in the number of days.

    Another BTW, I have incoporated bloggernacle discussions in my HTing.

    And, finally, I understand “differnt” is proper spelling and pronunciation in some rocky mountain states. No?

    Comment by Mondo Cool — June 25, 2007 @ 7:32 am