Ah, internet arguments. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’re now part of our reality.
And they’re so easy to get sucked into.
One minute you’re minding your own business, looking at cute puppy pictures. The next minute, you’re typing in all-caps to some SOCIALIST who’s KILLING BABIES by PROSTITUTING HERSELF to the SATANIC DEMOCRAT PARTY.
Or, depending on your political leanings, maybe it’s a WOMAN-HATING MISOGYNIST who’s PERPETUATING SEXIST MORES by BENDING THE KNEE to THE CHIRISTIAN-REPUBLICAN AXIS OF EVIL, or perhaps it’s a WAR-MONGERING GOVERNMENT-LOVER who’s STEALING OUR FREEDOM by KOWTOWING to the TYRANNICAL TWO-PARTY SYSTEM. You get the point.
No matter what your political views, we’re all capable of being ridiculous. Yet, in the heat of the moment, it’s always the other person who seems ridiculous.
How can they hold such obviously wrong views when mine are so obviously right? we ask ourselves as we type out our angry diatribes.
I always feel a bit stupid after getting sucked into these arguments. I re-read what I’ve written, and my arguments are never quite as well-reasoned as they felt in the moment I wrote them.
In essence, we get drunk on these internet arguments. It isn’t until the morning after, in our sobriety, that we realize how foolishly we acted. How, then, can we avoid getting drunk in the first place?
1. Assume the best intentions
Believe it or not, your opinions don’t make you a good person (or a bad person).
People adopt opinions for a variety of reasons. But you know what the most common one is?
Because they think the opinion is right.
In general, people like doing the right thing. And in pursuit of doing the right things, they want to believe the right things, too. So, if someone believes something, you can assume they think it’s right.
You probably think your opinions are right, too. You wouldn’t believe them otherwise.
But just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t make them evil.
Let me say that again for the folks in the back: Just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t make them evil.
Nobody wants to be evil. Nobody tries to be evil. You might think someone else’s views are evil, but never assume a person is evil just for holding those views. It’s untrue, it’s unfair, and it won’t help you win an argument.
After all, don’t you want to convince them that your views are correct? How will personal attacks help you achieve that? Attacking people’s character will never change their minds.
Again, for the folks in the back: Attacking people’s character will never change their minds.
So what will?
2. Ask questions
When I was in middle school, my dream was to become a gotcha journalist. I kid you not. I wanted to hunt down people I disagreed with and trick them into admitting their evil, horrible views. Eventually, I realized the ethical issues with this career goal, but I still get the urge to play “gotcha” from time to time, and maybe you do, too.
If your goal is to entrap people, are you seeking truth, or are you seeking your own validation? I think the problem with many internet debates is that we’re seeking to lift ourselves up, not to lift truth up. And if you’re a Christian, that’s a big no-no. Remember Matthew 23:12? “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The most powerful question you can ask in an online debate is, “Why do you think that?”
The more you ask “why,” the better you will understand the other person’s point of view.
Some other great questions are:
- What is the best evidence for your position?
- Can you clarify that point for me?
- If I understood correctly, you’re saying ___. Is that what you meant?
The better you understand the other person’s point of view, the better you can explain your view to them. And the better you understand each other, the clearer the truth will become.
3. Know when to give up
This may shock you, but debates are supposed to end eventually. They’re not supposed to drag on for days. In a formal debate, you’re given a set amount of time to make your case. When your time is up, it’s up. Later, you can rebut your opponent’s position or defend your own, but your time is still constrained. The problem with internet “debates” is that there are no such limits.
If you’re going around and around in circles, with no end to the conversation in sight, it’s fine to bow out. Will the other person think they’ve won? Probably, but that’s okay! If the pursuit of truth is what matters to you, you shouldn’t care whether you “win” or “lose.” Reality doesn’t change just because you lost an argument. You don’t have that much power.
Being a jerk will never help your case. It will simply encourage people to dig in their heels. You may land some sick burns, but you won’t change minds!
Want to have better debates online? Be willing to listen. Explain your opinions calmly and respectfully. Resist the urge to attack your opponent. If you humble yourself in this way, then you will be exalted.
Here are a few great ‘ole resources from C.S. Lewis that are a great read and possible help for your upcoming debate: