Is it possible to argue with someone without attacking them as a person?

This morning’s case in point [on the Twitterer] followed the traditional rules:

Person one responded to the president’s announcement that prisoners would receive the vaccine before regular citizens with shock.

Person two responded by humanising prisoners and introducing some context about their living conditions and need for the vaccine.

Person one responded with a generalisation of ‘stealing and murdering’ prisoners vs the citizens who contribute to the economy.

Person two came back with a link to a document that spoke to prisoner’s rights.

And then it happened: Person one dropped a sarcastic “Sorry, did I miss the law background in your bio?”

Argument over, right? Cos the likelihood of it coming back from there is small…

Although, surprisingly, in this particular case, after a little bit of engagement, person one did engage through all my pushback and we were able to return to the issue and leave the pettiness to one side. [More often than not these moments end quite quickly with an insulting meme or middle finger though so this feels like a win when it happens.]

My side is right and your side deserves to die!

One of the easiest places to spot this is in the Republican vs Democrat space in America. Although to be fair, the ANC vs DA vs EFF space in South Africa can also be quite volatile.

But we saw it a lot in the recent election in the US where there is absolute vilification of every person on the opposing party, to the point where we see family members farewell their family members for voting for the opposing party. Turns out ballot is thicker than blood.

We see it on social media all the time from movies to tv shows to music to religion to pretty much every conceivable topic, none more close to my heart than Pineapple on Pizza. [Which i absolutely play up as a joke, by the way – i will fight for your right to eat pineapple on pizza while subtweeting away as if i really cared about that even a little!]

Which left me wondering this morning whether it is possible for people to be on opposing sides of a belief or argument or decision and still not wish the absolute worst of life circumstances on the other person.

i decided to wonder out loud and came up with this tweet:

Before you jump to some of the responses, take a few seconds to reflect and answer that question for yourself… and also maybe take a moment to glance into the mirror and think about how you do and are when it comes to thinking differently to someone else about something and how it affects or not how you think about or treat that person…

Disagree social media

What followed, though, was one of the most amazing engagements i have seen on the Twitterer, and the rest of this post is going to be sharing some of the highlights. Because when social media works well, it works really really well. And this is evidence of that.

Let’s start with this response i had to Brad which gives a bit of my understanding and perspective on this particular angle:

What did you all have to say?

As mentioned, i was highly encouraged and inspired and challenged by so many different responses to my question. Follow the thread on the Twitterer as i could not get them all here, but some of the ones that jumped out the most to me were these:

Then there was this two-parter from Erno:

argument social media

Of course, Rumi would have such a much more elegant way of saying it than me. But i think – depending on the situation, and the arguer – i might stick with my less than subtle: i upped my argument, up yours! Just [mostly] kidding!

i thought i would end off with this exchange i had with Hans – who i only know from social media spaces as we have never met [yet!] in real life:

i appreciate it when people stick with me – even when i have gotten it wrong and maybe resorted to sarcasm or given in to irritation – and continue to engage, offering me the opportunity to learn or view something from a different perspective.

i don’t get it right all the time, but on my good days i respond with kindness and respect, even when i am strongly against the argument or statement or thinking that is being presented.

Imagine a world where everyone was able to disagree in the strongest possible way, with a strong argument and facts, stories or numbers to back it up, but with kindness and compassion and a sense of being able to see the humanity [some like myself would say ‘the image of God’ – imago dei] in the other person. A world where we didn’t rush to sarcasm or name-calling, insult, misdirection or a gif. One where we leaned in and committed to listening and being open to changing our opinions on things or coming to the conclusion that there might be an answer somewhere in between the black and white we like things to live in.

In fact this article dealing with binary mindsets is a super helpful read in the context of online arguing and engaging.

What if each of us simply commits to being a little bit kinder online? A little more authentic. A bit more loving. More vulnerable.

Two years ago, one of my sisters-in-law gave me a poster she had made for me which hangs in my man cave and which reads: Don’t be a dick! When she gave it to me i saw it as a message to a lot of the people i engage with online as one piece of advice that would really help people be better to each other. But as i am typing this now, i secretly wonder if it wasn’t just a directive she was aiming at me. It definitely applies to me more often than i would like it to and reading it regularly reminds me of the posture i need to adopt when i head online and when someone starts disagreeing with me or even saying/writing unpleasant out-of-line things.

Huge thanks to everyone who engaged in this conversation today and let’s continue to make the online spaces as we would love the offline spaces to be. Let’s continue to build and create and challenge and invite and co-create and dream and imagine and let’s hold firmly to Love, Compassion, Justice, Kindness, Dontbeadickness!

[For a post i wrote on some thoughts about the phrase and idea of ‘Political Correctness’ click here]