I've hesitated to post this because I know that numerous examples can be found of me violating my own advice – but then that is how people learn. Please forgive my hypocrisy. I'm speaking to myself here as much as I am to anyone else.
Maybe I'm getting soft in my old age, or maybe I'm managing to continue learning from my experience, but I think my blogging has evolved over the six years that I've been at it. I feel like I've learned a few lessons along the way, and of course I learned most of them in my usual style – the hard way. There are people who won't speak to me to this day for some of the roundhouse kicks and spinning elbows I used to throw.
Probably where I did the most damage was during the impeachment fights here at dkos. I was adamant that impeaching Bush was an imperative and even accused anyone who disagreed with me of being traitors. That's pretty strong language and however wrongheaded they may have been (in my opinion), it was probably wrong of me not to allow for the possibility that they had reasons for their positions that were not necessarily traitorous. That however wrong they may have been, they remained honorable and worthy opponents in the debate. People are allowed to be wrong.
It was clumsy of me to attack my philosophical adversaries and probably pissed off a lot of good people who I might have otherwise persuaded or influenced had I not treated them so roughly. I've come to believe that it's important to respect people even when you have serious disagreements – not that I always achieve it – but I am evolving in that general direction.
It's not uncommon for a person to have a messed-up idea or two floating around in their enormous brain. It doesn't make them less of a human. It shouldn't surprise us to find messed-up ideas in others any more than it surprises us to find them in ourselves. Sort of goes with the territory, part and parcel of the human condition. It's a good thing that a person is not their idea. I have to remind myself of that when I come across people who support war. Though I can't imagine their reasoning, I try to give them the benefit of the doubt. To remember that they are, like me, fallible human beings but who, in this case, just happen to be tragically mistaken. It's not for me to condemn them for it. There is simply no point in that. The only job there for me is to persuade them to see it differently. And to remember that they are not their messed-up idea. That they think that way can be remedied. Ideas are changeable.
But you can't beat enlightenment into people. It's a job that calls for a gentler approach.
I've become less interested in confrontation and more interested in dialog. Confrontation is easy, its effect often marginal or even counterproductive...though not always. There is a time for confrontation, but it's important to know when it's time for something else. Dialog is harder to achieve, it requires restraint, thoughtfulness and measured language, but the payoff is potentially much greater.
I've learned this in part by watching guys like Meteor Blades and others who write in ways that are self-possessed, measured, tactful and even diplomatic. Their impact is usually greater if for no other reason than because more people can read their words without blowing a fuse. I've seen many strong diaries at dkos that addressed important matters, but that could have been made even stronger and more broadly accessible (IMHO) by toning down the harshness a tad or adjusting the framing just a scooch. Is that dishonest? No, it's good writing.
If you are filled with righteous anger and your intent is to express that, by all means, cut loose with it...righteous anger certainly has its place, but please do give it some thought. There is a time for shaking ones fist in the face of others, but there are also times when a calmer more subtle approach may accomplish more. It is self-defeating to kick your audience in the nuts and then demand that they learn from you. Tact has its place. Diplomacy has its place. Restraint has its place.
If your purpose is to vent, then rant on my friend. Far be it from me to question the value of a good rant. But it is always worthwhile to consider your intent. Upon reflection, when not in full on rant mode, I often find that my primary purpose is to persuade. When that is the case, tact and diplomacy can go a long way toward attracting and holding onto your audience. It profits you little, if you are endeavoring to persuade, educate or enlighten, to start off by spitting in your audience's face like one kossack did recently just before flaming out and getting banned: “Here's some ammo you're too stupid to know how to use.”
I understand that individual has some issues right now. I am sympathetic and I mean no personal offense to him, nor am I judging him - just making a point and his is the perfect example. A lot of people do similar things. They think more about themselves than their audience, and any good writer owes their audience more than that. To the greatest extent possible, it is probably wiser to assume the best of your audience rather than the worst. And whether or not it is truly wiser, it is certainly more attractive to your reader...you know, if that matters to you.
I know that blogging is often about smacking people around, deservedly so as often as not, but I'm not sure it is always the best use of the power. And that power, which can be substantial, is what you make of it.
You may find that your essay is just as strong without that last sentence that drives the dagger in, that last flippant 'fuck you' to anyone who disagrees, that gratuitous insulting adjective that adds little other than some sharp elbows. I often find that I can improve my essay and broaden the audience for it by the considered removal of insulting or aggressive language that snuck in during the writing and in the final analysis is unnecessary because it adds nothing. Extraneous insults or misplaced aggression often detract from an otherwise profound sentiment, statement or thesis. I'm not saying be a milquetoast or to betray your position or your passion, I'm just saying be thoughtful and, where possible, be kind.
When expressing a difficult or contentious truth, IMO you will go farther by saying it without insult. If you want your audience to calmly consider your point, don't twist it into a giant insult and slap them upside the head with it. When you do so, you rob the reader of the opportunity to consider your point calmly and rationally. You explode their heads, and your argument dies, simply because you frame it as an insult.
I often write when inspiration strikes and it all takes place 'in the moment.' My best rants often take this course. I've gradually learned the value of rewriting, self-editing, and pre-publication reflection. I sometimes find myself writing with a particular audience in mind, often one with which I am fed up or angry. I've too often neglected to consider that the actual audience I'm publishing to may be quite different from the imaginary one in my head as I wrote. Do the people I can realistically expect to read my piece deserve my anger, my scorn, my derision? Maybe, maybe not. At any rate, it's worth considering before you hit 'publish.'
Don't rob yourself of an opportunity to fine-tune your message so that it's clear to whom it is directed, and ensure that you don't inadvertently pummel those who would be your allies or push away those you might otherwise persuade. Don't be a bull in a china shop. If your intent is to do damage, let it at least be targeted. Avoid collateral damage when you can. I think it's important to be specific, avoid broad brushes, and question the necessity and/or effectiveness of insulting language.
I would advise, where possible, to make friends not enemies. You can never have too many friends, and Internet enemies are just a terrible waste of time and psychic energy. I know that ideological arguments are unavoidable but don't pick fights or inflict bruises just to fight or bruise, and try not to hold grudges. There are better ways to use the magic.
We need more reasons to cooperate and not hate each other. It's easy to imagine a world filled with hate, it's the world we live in, but we are going to have to change that if our species is going to last much longer.
We face daunting challenges, and to have any chance of success we are going to need to come together in a spirit of cooperation – and that's going to take a lot of dialog and mutual respect. If we can't manage that here at dkos where we share so many of the same values, what are the chances of it happening in the larger world? I think it's important that we make every effort to hold it together, to strengthen and improve our bonds, to strive for understanding, communication, tolerance and compassion - even amidst our disagreements, as serious as they may be.
Also, understand that dkos is not a monolithic or static thing. It is a virtual ocean of people. The only broad label that can be made to fit is that it is a pro-Democratic ocean of people – and even that is an amorphous approximation subject to various tides and currents. There is plenty of diversity and dynamism here. So if you find yourself addressing dkos as a singular entity you can only be partially right, at best.
It is the very urgency of the issues we face and the profundity of the causes that so many of us care so deeply about, that drive us to extreme language and fierce argument. Sometimes that's appropriate and helpful and sometimes it's not. I think it's important to understand that, and to make peace where peace can be made.
There will always be people who don't agree with you. Accept that with grace. Pour all that psychic energy into persuasion, not animosity. A modicum of restraint here and a soupçon of finesse there will make you a stronger blogger. This is jiu jitsu, not demolition. Seek to cooperate, not annihilate. In this way, you might have real impact and do your cause some righteous justice. And you won't drive away those who may be persuaded to agree with your premise or cause but who can't get past your take-no-prisoners approach. If you can teach or persuade one person to love peace, hate war, support real progress, acknowledge difficult truths or see our mutual obligations with new eyes – then that is a wonderful thing. It is well worth considering just what constitutes the wisest way to go about it.
Though I sometimes forget, fail or fall short, I try to remember:
- to not publish something just because I wrote it
- to ponder my purpose
- to consider my audience
- to consider such issues as timing, tone and impact
- to make friends and allies wherever possible
- to make respect for others my default
- to master the kung fu of not fighting
Like I say, I'm speaking to myself as much as I am to anyone else. My own hypocrisy is both acknowledged and repented. I hope someone finds this material helpful - and I hope I get better at following my own advice. Thanks for reading.