Friday, January 31, 2014

The lost art of conversation

We seem to be devolving into a nation of people who have lost the ability to talk with each other. We want validation, not discussion. We make statements but don't want questions or comments that suggest less than 100 percent agreement with whatever it is we've said. It doesn't matter if the topic is one that's potentially contentious (e.g., politics) or totally innocuous (a purchase from Menard's). If someone asks a question, the original speaker freaks out. It's a personal attack. The questioner is being an elitist, a jerk, a socialist, a fascist, or whatever the preferred insult of the day is. Or, and I really don't get how this is supposed to be an insult, it's "an attempt to start an argument."

Well, what's wrong with that? Healthy debate is how we learn stuff. And it doesn't even have to be actual debate -- just kicking different ideas around, different perspectives on a topic where you're basically in agreement but coming at it from slightly different angles can be good. Besides, if you're secure in your knowledge, happy with whatever it is you may have said, why should you feel defensive about it? Why assume that if someone is less than effusive in their praise of your opinion that you're being attacked? People used to be able to have discussions, debates, arguments, whatever, without participants reacting as though their interlocutors were attacking them personally. You could ask someone why they supported a particular position, whether it was a model of car they'd bought or a choice of a political candidate, without that person freaking out and accusing you of trying to start a fight or calling them stupid.

Should I blame the Internet? It can do a lot of damage. It's real easy to find yourself a bunch of cheerleaders when you're wandering around Facebook or the blogosphere. There are lots of what the S.O. refers to as "circle jerk echo chambers" available. Don't want to think too hard about anything? Just find groups where everyone agrees with you, whether it's which NASCAR drivers are total asshats or where Barack Obama was actually born. Have a weak ego? Start a blog and then chase away anyone who says stuff that isn't some variation on you're so wonderful and everything you say is a sparkling pearl of wisdom.


  1. Coming from a background of history and political science and being stuck in the business world, it always amazes me how thin skinned people are. If you tell me something then you better damn well be prepared to defend it. Of course I can be the biggest asshole around but even innocous questions can cause angst. As you wrote, that interaction skill is pretty much gone. As is relavancy. Our Senator, Amy Klobuchar, puts out FB posts from time to time. No matter what she says the same dickheads attack it and her in the same boring way with comments that have zero to do with what she is posting about. I think we are indeed becoming a confederacy of dunces, with apologies to Mr. O' Toole.

  2. You hit it: on our blogs we welcome discussion but we also want validation. That is a human condition - among nations as well as people.
    the Ol'Buzzard


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