Sunday, August 5, 2012

Debate or damage?

by: Joelle Charbonneau

I love debate.  Even if I agree with someone, I am happy to debate the other side of the argument just because it allows me to look at something from a new point of view.  That may not change my mind, but seeing an issue from all sides is the best way to understand it.  Personally, I think that the more information I have, the better I can make a decision.

Unfortunately, no matter what the issue – self-publishing, which books should be eligible for what awards, politics, fast-food CEOs and their religious beliefs—I have found that a great number of people do not take care with the words they use when discussing the topic at hand.  I have seen US political leaders likened to Hitler (which—yes, we have problems, but NO none of our current US leaders are killing millions in gas chambers) and publishers referred to as the devil.  The employees at the polarizing fast food chain (and if you’ve lived in a bubble this past week and don’t know which one I mean – I’m jealous!) have been called evil for needing their paycheck and have been praised by some patrons for beliefs that they do not support.  And up and down my Facebook newsfeed I see messages that bash those who do not hold the same political or social ideals.


Technology is wonderful.  It puts information at our fingertips.  We get to communicate via Skype and social media with people we might otherwise forget to pick up the phone to call.  However, technology—specifically social media, websites and blogs, have given many the impression that because they are communicating to the masses via a screen that their message doesn’t not do damage.  They throw around highly charged words like “Hilter and “Against God” and call people who hold certain beliefs names all the while not believing that they are doing anything wrong.

And maybe you don’t believe they are because—hey—the first amendment says that we all have the freedom of speech.  Do I believe in free speech?  Hell, yes!  But I would argue that much of the discourse I have seen could be considered a form of bullying.  It is one thing to say “I support this idea.”  It is quite another to say that anyone who supports something else is ignorant or evil.  Saying that there are questions you have about publishing or self-publishing is valid.  Saying that anyone who makes a choice to traditionally publish is an idiot and is a traitor to their creativity is just silly.  And let’s not get me started on what people were saying this week about those who supported the fast food chain and those who protested it.

People!  Yes, there is free speech.  Yes, I believe in it.  People I know and love have gone to war and fought for our right to have that privilege.  But they didn’t put their lives on the line just so people on Facebook could browbeat and bully their friends who dare not agree with their stance on certain issues. 

As writers, we know that words matter.  Words can evoke tears.  Prompt laughter.  Cause pain.  Whether face to face or behind a screen, words should be chosen with care.  Debate should be encouraged, but while debating we should hold ourselves to the standard that we would hold our children to.  Think of many of the posts that you see by your friends on Facebook, on blogs or on other social media sites today.  How many of those if posted by a teenager to their friends would be considered belittling or bullying?  How many could cause them trouble with parents or get them expelled?

So, I will say it again—words matter.  Please, choose the words you use with care.  By doing so, you will encourage others to do the same.  Once we have taken the anger and intent to damage out of our discourse, debate is possible.  And debate—a true exchange of ideas—is a wonderful thing.


Anonymous said...

Damn you for choosing your words so carefully it's impossible to argue. Well said. Bravo.

Nigel Bird said...

With you Joelle. Free speech is a responsibility we all carry and there's no need for mean speech most of the time. Free speech is also a pure concept; I tend to hold with a social contract model which shaves off some of the liberty. And comparisons to Hitler are often simply lazy pieces of thinking.

Joshua Corin said...

I think you hit the nail on the head (which is where the nail should be hit - as I've learned from experience hitting nails on the stem).

The problem comes from people confusing discourse and discussion with debate and defiance. It's not enough for some people to share their opinions; they need to make sure to belittle any opinions which run contrary. This usually results from possessing a Tootsie pop center of insecurity...although more and more I'm willing to attribute such behavior to simple assholitude.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Absolutely correct, Joelle! There is a big difference between free speech and mean speech.