The Internet: making you get in fights with strangers since the 90s! This week we dive into online arguments: how they happen, how to avoid them, and how to most effectively communicate when you find yourself in the thick of it.
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Jase: On this episode of the Multiamory Podcast, we're talking about Internet arguments. The Internet has created some amazing possibilities. It's allowed people with shared interests from across the globe to connect with each other. However, it has also caused people to become more and more divided and able to dehumanize each other when we don't have to see a real human being reacting to the hurt that we're causing when we argue with them.
Dedeker: Internet arguments, man, can you imagine if we found a way to use them as fuel? We would--
Jase: We would solve the energy crisis.
Dedeker: Every problem would be solved. We would need--
Emily: It's like some form of solar energy.
Dedeker: Yes, we would need for nothing.
Jase: Just harness all of the--
Dedeker: All of the angst and the rage and frustration.
Emily: I was wondering why we were talking about this simply just because I know when I'm on the Internet, if I see people going at it, I'm always like, "I'm not going to engage." Even if somebody called me out on something, I would probably just be like, "Oh, my God, I'm sorry," and not do anything else.
Dedeker: That's not a bad tactic to take, but it's just not a tactic that I think a lot of people, the majority of people, do take on the Internet.
Dedeker: Obviously, gosh, since the early '90s we've all experienced this in some form. If you've been on the Internet since its inception, you have witnessed to or more likely participated in some kind of Internet argument. I think it became very clear, very early on, the nature of Internet arguments being really like no holds barred and always inevitably devolving into talking about Hitler and Nazis and making comparisons between the two.
The thing is I think now we see this a lot. I think we especially see it in a lot of online polyamory or relationship focus communities, that inevitably there's going to be conflict, there's going to be disagreements, there's going to be arguments that fall along the spectrum of either being really horrible to really good interesting debates. I think the important thing is that as we spend more and more of our time and our interaction online, it's just inevitable that we're going to come across some kind of online disagreement that we're going to participate in either willingly or unwillingly.
Jase: Yes. I think that what you're bringing up about those arguments happening within more intentional communities, whether it's polyamory groups or queer groups or something that's already a subset of people who probably have somewhat aligned values, versus the types of arguments that you'll have in a more public forum like just on Reddit or on YouTube or somewhere like that, or Fortune, that there's definitely a pretty significant qualitative difference between the two, but I think that actually a lot of the same principles can apply in both sorts of spaces, which is what we do and going to talk about today.
This is something that we personally have spent a lot of time and energy on thinking about, both in terms of how we can create the best possible and healthiest possible space within our patron only Facebook community, but also in how we conduct ourselves individually in just in the Internets as a whole. Actually, funny little side story, I was actually in a study about online versus real life conversations when I was-
Jase: -in middle school, maybe.
Jase: Yes. It was--
Emily: Was that when online just started?
Dedeker: It had just began and they immediately began studying it and you were there.
Jase: No, not quite, but sort of. The study was being conducted at the college where my dad worked, and so that's how I ended up being part of this study. I think I made $5 or something for doing it.
Emily: That's a ton back then when you were in middle school.
Dedeker: Was it just a survey?
Jase: No, it wasn't a survey. It was an actual-- you had to go to the place and be part of the study. What they did is they put you in a group, and I think my group was just three people, maybe four. They put you in a group and would tell you a little story or a prompt for a debate. They used stuff that I now know or these questions that are used a lot for the purpose of debate. They're questions that have been engineered specifically so that people can argue either side and be able to back it up and that it's not slanted toward one side very much or the other.
One of the famous ones is the question of there's a man whose wife is sick with this disease that there's a new experimental cure for it that might cure it, but he's not sure. The only way that he could get it would be to steal it. It's one of those things where it's like, "Where do your values lie?"
Dedeker: They really wanted a middle schooler's opinion on this.
Jase: The point of it is not--
Dedeker: That matters so much.
Jase: The point of this is not obviously about the debate itself, it's about-
Dedeker: Of course, it's how people conduct themselves and how they communicate.
Jase: -how do you conduct. What you did is you were in this small group in person, and you'd get one of these prompts and you would discuss it. Why would you do this thing versus the other? Why do you think that's right or this is right? Whatever. Then, with that same group of people, you would do a different discussion, but it was all online. You were even just in rooms next to each other, but you were just typing and the purpose of the study was to see if people would-- again, this dates to the study, if they would flame more [laughs] which is the term used in the '90s to describe people essentially becoming aggressive online, being more aggressive, being more personally attacking or whatever.
Emily: Another reason why we're talking about all this is because the things that we are going to be discussing today cannot only be used in Internet arguments, but they can also be used in real life arguments; as in face-to-face arguments. Not that Internet arguments aren't real life, I guess they are, but they're virtual real life, so maybe they don't count as much.
Dedeker: It's a different dynamic for sure. I think we can all agree on that.
Jase: I think not seeing someone's face is a big part of it. Go ahead.
Emily: In a recent episode of the show Legion, on FX-- It's amazing, by the way. It's another fucking Marvel X-Men show.
Jase: I see.
Emily: It's really good and it talked actually about how everybody nowadays is on their phones or online, and they interact with people that way as opposed to interacting in real life. It makes the people out there just the other person or they're like a shadow of a person, is how they put it. They're not even real to us. When you actually see someone in real life, it's a very different interaction, it's a very different thing, but it also gives you the ability to feel as though you can just be a dick in a way that maybe you wouldn't be otherwise in real life.
Jase: Absolutely. There have been many studies and research papers and things written about how in moving to online interaction we lose the facial expressions and losing the emotions that we see in other people, and that's a big part of our conversation. So our language has evolved to incorporate things like Emoji and JK and LOL, little abbreviations that we can throw in there to get back a little bit of that nuance that we've lost.
Dedeker: A fraction of the nuance.
Jase: It's also been shown even before that with people in cars versus people-- if someone gets in front of you in line, the way you respond to that is very different from someone cutting you off in a car because you're-
Dedeker: Of course, because you can't--
Jase: -seeing their face.
Dedeker: Yes, that's true.
Emily: That's why I swear so much in the car. I'm like, "Fuck you. Fuck you." I would never do that in real life. I would be like, "I'm sorry. Yes, you can go ahead of me."
Jase: That's a good example.
Dedeker: That's true. That's a good example.
Jase: It doesn't mean you never get mad in real life or you never have arguments in real life, but it's those problems are amplified online.
Dedeker: It's also really easy for us to-- because, again, if there's this shadow of a person on the other side, it's also easy to do some transparency as in we build up that person in our mind, we fill in the gaps often to a degree of filling in that this is the worst possible person and so it's justified for me to be really aggressive or really dehumanizing. In my brain, I have filled in that this person is just like this other asshole that I used to date, or this person who's just like my dad who I have unresolved issues with.
Jase: Or just this archetype of a villain that we've been taught through like oversimplification of stories we're told in TV and movies and books and everything.
Dedeker: We're going to start off this episode today with the assumption that trolling is not a part of this. Trolling and people who are having a debate or having an argument purely for the sake of arguing or purely for the sake of trying to be inflammatory and trying to get people's reactions-
Jase: By causing trouble.
Dedeker: -just causing trouble. We don't consider that within the realm of what we're talking about today. We do encourage you to build that muscle of being aware of that, of when you're engaging with someone who's just trolling or just trying to poke at you, versus when you're engaging with someone who is actually trying to discuss or have an argument or whatever.
Jase: Both of those people could seem like jerks to you, but there's a subtle difference there of whether they're actually trying to have a conversation or it's just trying to cause trouble. If they are just trying to cause trouble, don't feed the trolls.
Dedeker: Exactly. What Jase always has to say to me.
Jase: When I have to feel like, "No, don't respond to that thing. Don't feed the trolls."
Dedeker: We can fight about this later. Anyway, I think it's really interesting that if you start to do research on best practices for having discussions online, or even having debates online, first of all, a lot of stuff comes up that's, what? It's super easy, just be logical and be nice. Present your research and don't get emotional and don't be a sore loser and don't be a sore winner. It's like those sound like great guidelines.
Emily: Easier said than done.
Dedeker: Obviously so much easier said than done, but it all goes flying out the window, especially online when we can't see the person's face and especially when emotions are present. Just because emotions are present doesn't mean that it can be part of the discussion. Of course, being logical, presenting facts, presenting research it can sometimes be effective in certain contexts. More often, it does cause people to just dig in their heels more or it can encourage people to go into something like tone policing, where it's like, "You're not being logical enough, I can't talk to you unless you calm down or whatever," even when emotions are maybe an important part of the conversation.
I think the other thing is that a lot of the content out there sometimes goes into this realm of like, "Here's how you can win every argument," or "Here's how you can never lose an argument." I don't like that because it implies that every argument or disagreement can have a clear winner and loser. It also implies that there should be a clear winner and loser, and I think that's where we tend to get really tripped up with a lot of this.
Jase: That's more where I would go. It's just this idea that there should be a winner, or that winning actually is good. If we're going to get to that a little bit more actually, in the second half of this episode of evaluating what winning means, but the way we're going to structure this episode is the first half of it is going to be about a little bit more internal work you can do for yourself. The second half is going to be more about some specific steps you can take and tools you can use in your online interactions. This first part here, a lot of this was inspired by something called the Quiet Ego Foundation. What this is is this--
Dedeker: By foundation, you mean a philosophical foundation not like an institute?
Jase: No, I actually do mean an institute?
Dedeker: You do mean an institute, I had no idea.
Jase: It's not like an institute exactly, but it's sort of a body of research that's being done right now specifically about having a quieter ego and we're going to get into what that means. Actually this is Heidi A. Wayment, PhD, and Jack J. Bauer, PhD. and I just love the idea of Jack Bauer doing research being like, "Tell me what I need to know," throwing people up against the wall and they're like, "My ego is not quiet enough."
Emily: This is what he did after 24, after the events of 24.
Dedeker: It's just his quiet retirement. "I'm just going to go into some ego and mindfulness-based research," but old habits die hard.
Jase: This research is based on combining parts of Buddhist philosophy with research done in positive psychology, which we've talked about on this show before, as well as basic humanist psychological research principles. The important thing I just want to preface here is that a quiet ego is not the same thing as a silent ego. A silent ego would be someone who has no sense of self at all. A quiet ego is instead finding this balance between understanding that you're someone who exists in a world with other people and other beings, this also includes animals, that you're part of something larger, but then you are also an individual yourself. It's about finding the balance between those two things.
I also want to make the distinction too, that having a quiet ego and there's actually been research, this isn't just sort of philosophical mumbo-jumbo, that having a quiet ego can promote better health, it can actually make you more likely to achieve your goals than the type A aggressive way of going about it, that we're taught at least in our Western culture.
That having a quiet ego is not the same as being self-sacrificing all the time. That actually being overly self-sacrificing is tied to more narcissistic tendencies in the research. I just want to make those of couple little caveats, couple of distinctions.
Dedeker: So it doesn't mean like being a doormat, and never getting into a discussion or anything like that?
Jase: Though in this research, they identified four overlapping principles and interconnected foundations. We're going to go through each of the four of those and talk a little bit about what those mean in general, and then also how those can apply to how you interact online. Take us away with the first one.
Dedeker: The first part of having a quiet ego is, again, it's a very Buddhist sounding principle, which is detached awareness. I take this to mean as this idea of having an attention to the present moment, having an awareness of the full spectrum of a situation; being awareness of both the positives and the negatives of a situation, being detached from an ego-driven evaluation of the present moment. I think that's things like immediately interpreting like, "This person's attacking me, this person is going after me, and this person is making me look bad." I guess this is having a little bit more of an expansive view of what the situation is.
Jase: I think that's where the detached part of the awareness comes from, right?
Dedeker: Awareness of like, "This is what's going on, but my first interpretation doesn't have to be about like, "How does this affect me? It's all about me, me, me, me."" The last part being that someone with a quiet ego attempts to see reality as clearly as possible, whatever they may discover about themselves or others. It's like really having a dedication to trying to be as objective as possible, which is really difficult for us as human beings.
Jase: For sure because you might not like what you find out.
Emily: The next one is going to be to have an inclusive identity. What does that mean? What they're saying is that people whose egos are turned down in volume, they have a balanced or more integrative interpretation of the self and others.
Jase: Tell us a little more about what that looks like, what that means.
Emily: An example of what inclusive identity IN a person can look like, is that they do things like they understand other people's perspectives in a way that allows them to identify with the experience of others. Empathy, I think is a good word to use there. If there were barriers up, they work to break those barriers down. They also have a deeper understanding of a common humanity and the people who they are having potentially an argument with or just a discussion with, that they understand there is a commonality between themselves and somebody else.
Also, they're mindful. Yes, this word that is thrown around a lot these days, they are more mindful and they are, again, more inclusive, especially in those moments where there's a lot of conflict going on. Where maybe their identity or their core values are challenged, they still can have this inclusive understanding and this mindful understanding of what's going on. Also, if your identity is inclusive, then you are more likely to be a cooperative and compassionate person and you're not just only working to help yourself, instead, you're working to help those around you as well.
Jase: So inclusive identity, meaning that your identity includes how you fit in with all of humanity. Like realizing this person who you're arguing with, that you have a lot more in common with them. It's like having your identity be part of the fact that we're all humans and seeing the commonality between us.
Dedeker: I guess kind of-- sorry, go ahead, Em.
Emily: I think that so many people, it tends to become like a-me-versus-them or an us-versus-them thing. Instead of being like, "Hey, there is pain here that is not separate from my pain. There is an understanding here that's not separate from mine." Especially right now, I feel like the country is at such a divide and it is very like,us-versus-them sort of thing here in the United States, instead of trying to work together.
Jase: The Internet makes it worse.
Emily: Oh, my God. Yes, Jesus, so many arguments and anger and people pissed off and name calling, all this stuff in there it’s just continuing to make that divide even bigger instead of understanding this is the commonality in us all.
Jase: That we're in a place where we can live in these little echo chambers of just people who agree with us and if we find someone who doesn't, we can block them or that we can shut ourselves in this box of like, they are others, they are hate-able and I'm not related to them at all. This inclusive identity is the opposite of that.
Dedeker: I just want to point out that it's not saying we need to go into this all kumbaya, we're all human beings, so none of our disagreements matter. We don't want to be eliminating the stories and lived experiences of people who, unfortunately, can't just fall into the this commonality of humanity kind of thing. It's kind of like being able to maintain a sense of that even when you're in disagreement with someone.
Jase: Yes, definitely. Sorry, I didn't mean for us to give that impression at all.
Dedeker: No, I just wanted to make sure that that was clear.
Jase: It's just having that in mind when approaching these things. Then, the third one here is called perspective taking. This is basically just reflecting on the other viewpoints. It's a quiet ego which brings attention outside of the self-increasing empathy and compassion. So definitely a lot of overlap with the others, but this, rather than being about how I identify myself and think about myself, it's about the just taking a perspective on the debate itself or on the things that are being discussed.
A part of this is also that the realization of one's interdependence with others can actually lead to a greater understanding of the perspective of others. This is something that's maybe for a larger philosophical topic another time, but something that comes up a lot in conversations in Buddhism, in Buddhist teaching, is this idea that none of us are self-sustaining, none of us are self sufficient, that we have this illusion, especially in Western culture, that we are, that we're totally self-sufficient, but you ignore the fact that you're interconnected to all of the people who built the place you live, who run the utilities that you use, who deliver your packages on Amazon, who make the things that you're buying on Amazon, who make your food, who grow your food, all these things, we are so interdependent upon each other that none of us truly are alone. None of us exist entirely self-sustainingly.
Emily: It feels like-
Dedeker: I think you can say that.
Emily: Sustainly. I feel like in Western culture too, there's this idea that we are supposed to be self-serving in a way or just sustainable, I guess, by ourselves or within our small group of people that we are around every day and that's it. Instead of looking at the bigger picture of ourselves within a larger community, or even our country or our state, or wherever, that everyone is working towards common goals, not just ourselves being separate from everyone else.
Dedeker: The fourth one here is growth mindedness. That means having a focus on development and change of yourself and of others over time. It means questioning the long-term impact of your actions in the moment. I do love this part because I think that there's a lot of discussions online about intent versus impact of, for instance, someone's comments is usually the context that comes up with it.
You can say it until you're blue in the face like, "Well, I didn't intend this. I didn't intend that. I didn't intend to hurt this person. I didn't intend to trigger this person. I didn't intend to do that." That is fine, but it's also being aware of possible impact of what you said and also taking a little bit of responsibility for impact and at least understanding that you do have an influence there.
And then additionally, understanding that this particular moment in the present is just part of an ongoing journey instead of an immediate threat to the self and the existence. What I take this to mean is this idea of, again, if we're going to bring it into the context of online arguments, that you're here and someone says something that really gets under your skin of understanding like, "Okay, this gets under my skin right now, but this is just one moment in a much bigger context. It's not like I need to rush to my defense like it's freaking life-or-death right in this moment," which a lot of us do in these contexts. I know I certainly have, that it's immediately like, "Oh my god, how dare they say that?" I need to go.
Jase: Like my whole identity is in crisis.
Dedeker: Exactly, my whole identity's in crisis right now when maybe, in reality, that's not necessarily the case. So growth-mindedness, also, having a sense of things are growing, things are changing, things are moving, I'm learning, other people are learning, and we're all on this journey as it were.
Jase: It's like the previous two, the perspective taking and the detached awareness and inclusive identity are kind of about seeing the bigger picture in terms of other people and other perspectives, and growth mindedness is like seeing the bigger picture over time. It's realizing that this one specific moment right here isn't everything that's ever existed, that it's all part of this longer journey and looking at, like you said, the impact of your actions, and what you're doing, rather than just your intent right then.
Dedeker: I feel like the whole quiet ego thing, it seems like what comes up again and again through these different facets is this idea of you have a part in this but it's not all about you essentially. It's like that's kind of the big takeaway that I think I would disagree.
Jase: It's the balance, right?
Jase: That you're connected to all of this but you're also an individual.
Dedeker: Yes. So just having that in mind that this is not all about you essentially.
Jase: Before we get into more specific tools and some specific examples of these things at work in online discussions, we want to take a moment to talk about how you can help support our show and to keep this going. If this is something that you get value out of, we would appreciate it so much if you could give some value back to us by becoming one of our patrons at patreon.com/multiamory.
As a thank you for doing that at the $5 a month level, we have a private invite-only discussion group online that you can join that's closed to other people. So people won't see that you're in that group unless they're part of it. This is actually a really great group for seeing a lot of these things at work, that I've seen some really great examples of people really trying to become more aware of themselves and have more constructive and more healthy and caring discussions online. It's something we've really appreciated about this group and, like we said earlier, why we've thought about this topic so much.
Also, at the $7 a month level, you get our episodes a day early with bonus content and no ads in them so you don't have to hear us talking about all this every time. Then, at the $9 month level, we have a monthly video discussion group which is another great way to have more of that face-to-face interaction with people through an online video call. With all of those, if you want to support us, it really makes this possible. It allows us to do things like the tour to keep growing, to add new features and more benefits for patrons, all of that is possible specifically because of your support at patreon.com/multiamory.
Dedeker: Another way that you can support us, you can go to multiamory.com/store and buy some of our merch. We have all kinds of things; we have mugs, we have t-shirts, we have lounge pants, we have notebooks. The most important part is the fact that we have a lot of merch that just has our logo on it, that does not say multiamory on it at all. We specifically wanted to have that as an option for people, because we realized that not everybody wants to loudly and proudly have something that says multiamory across their chest.
That's maybe going to invite questions or side eyes from people that they don't feel like responding to or explaining themselves to.
That's why you can buy a multiamory merch with just the logo. It's going to be your secret bat signal to other multiamory fans who are going to know exactly what it is that you're talking about. You're going to find some new best friends out in the wild. For people who don't know, it just kind of looks like, I don't know, it could be just like a generic ambiguously Celtic design that just seems cool. You can talk it off pretty easily. Again, if you want to do that, help support the show, go to multiamory.com/store.
Emily: If you don't want to support our show with money that also is okay.
No worries. You can do it in this different way by going to iTunes or Stitcher and writing us a review, which would be lovely because it helps us appear higher in search results and things like relationships or non-monogamy or polyamory, stuff like that. If people are searching for podcasts that have those things in common or out there and they're like, "Where do I go?" Then you will help us and we will show up higher in search results by giving us a review, plus we love reading them, it really affirms that we are doing something great for the community and hopefully helping some of you out there, like the four of you who get helped by this. No, I'm kidding, all of you. We appreciate.
Dedeker: Jeez, Emily.
Jase: Emily, so self-deprecating today.
Dedeker: I know, gosh.
Emily: No, I'm sorry. That's my bad thing.
Jase: Your ego's too quiet.
Emily: That's why I don't get online in Internet trolling events because [chuckles]--
Dedeker: Events, like of an establishment.
Emily: Because I'm self-deprecating.
Emily: Go to Stitcher or iTunes and write us a review. We would really appreciate it.
Dedeker: Well, if you don't want to participate in any of that, I guess, you can also support us up by checking out our sponsors. Our sponsor for this week's episode is Audible. Audible is a huge online library of audiobooks and lectures and--
Jase The online courses.
Dedeker: Fantastic online courses. Basically what you do if you sign up for the trial, you get the service free for 30 days, they'll also give you a credit for a free audiobook and then you can cancel it or you can decide to keep going with the subscription. I have, Jase has. Recently I've been listening to there's a couple of different compilations of Alan Watts lectures, again, not even really an audio book, just like a series of recorded lectures that are just freaking fantastic, I definitely recommend that. If you want to check that out and if you also want to support our show at the same time, you can go to audibletrial.com/multiamory.
Jase: And they will support our show whether you keep your subscription or not just for doing the trial. If you haven't done it before, go check it out. Get a free audiobook, I really enjoyed it.
Dedeker: Let's get back into it. We've talked about the whole quiet ego thing, some things to think about, some things to work on in yourself. I think, again, the quiet ego thing, also very applicable to in person arguments or conflict as well. Let's say, here you are, you're online, you're in your Facebook group, or your forum, or on Twitter or whatever, and something's happened where you're about to get into the thick of it. Maybe you posted something and somebody posted back saying like, "Well, I don't really agree with this, I actually take umbrage with this," or you see something that somebody else posts and you're like, "Oh, gosh, actually that really makes me uncomfortable. I feel like I need to say something."
Or maybe in a common thread, someone's started to disagree with you. You're here basically and you know that we're about to get into an Internet argument, what are some actual tools and approaches that you can have under your belt to make this less of a waste of time and energy for everybody?
Jase: The first one to start with and this one, I think, is maybe the most difficult to put into practice until you've had practice with it, until you've really like spent some time exercising these muscles and getting better at this. I think this one does lie at the core of a lot of this and is very much related to checking your ego and seeing what your motivations are, that is to pause before any of these interactions and ask yourself the question, "What is the real goal of this interaction? What is my real goal for this?"
Depending on your answer to this question, this can drastically change the way that you will approach this or whether you address it at all. In asking this question, again, assuming we're not in a trolling situation where your goal is just to cause trouble then get out of here, but ask yourself this question and you may be honest with your often come back with the answer of like, "My real motivation is I want to yell at someone. I want someone to feel bad for this thing they said."
If that's your motivation, really think about like, "What's the impact that's going to have? Are you going to feel better after this?" Scientifically it's been shown you won't. Really if that's the answer, take a moment and evaluate, "Is that really something that I-- a choice that I want to make in my life?"
Dedeker: You can have a variety of goals when you ask yourself that question, like you may-
Jase: Could be a little of each.
Dedeker: -sit and think and realize like, "Actually, I think I want to respond to this because I think it's going to make this community safer, or it'll make me feel safer if this person knows this particular thing, maybe about language or about what they've said." Maybe your goal is to actually have a debate. I mean a debate as in like, "Actually this seems like an interesting conversation, or actually I feel like I could stand to learn something from this, or maybe the other person could stand to learn something from this." It is possible to have those as a goal to but again, it's really important to check yourself to make sure that is your deeper motivation not just the more noble thing that you're hiding behind.
Jase: Well, and I think that's it though, is that based on your answer to this question, it will change. To use those two as an example, if your goal is to make this community safer for yourself or others, that response that you would write might be very different from someone who wants to be argumentative and just yell at someone.
Dedeker: That's true.
Jase: If you're unclear about what your goal is, or maybe your goal was both of those, "I want to yell at this person and I want to make this community safer," if you stop and go, "Okay, yelling at someone, maybe not actually a good thing to do, I'm not going to do that. If the goal that's left is to make my community safer, how can I approach this in a way that is achieving that goal." That's actually achieving that and that might even be something that's getting someone else involved, like talking to a moderator. That might not even be having this argument right here in the forum.
It could be, but it could not be but it might not be an argument. It might be instead more informative, but it can really change it depending what your goal is. If it's to have an actual debate, again, you're going to approach it differently. You're going to want to be sure you're not being combative in the way you talk and expressing your genuine interest in wanting to learn and not just to try to prove a point, which is actually the next one.
Emily: Moves on to the next point which is, are you just trying to prove a point? Do you see something that someone said, and you're like "No, that's not okay or that's wrong or something," and you just want to prove that that person is incorrect. Is that really a good thing? Do you really need to do that right now? Is that actually going to do anything helpful or kind or good in this moment really? Check yourself on that as well. Are you doing it just out of ego? Because probably if you're just trying to prove a point, that's just an egotistical way to be and you might be having a little ego moment there, and it's probably not going to be doing a good thing for the community.
Dedeker: Sometimes it's so hard to tease all these things out, because I think like Jase said-
Jase: Like I said, it takes practice.
Dedeker: -it takes practice and it can be a little bit of each; there can be a part of you that feels like, "Well, actually, I feel like I do care what this person says, because I hope that they don't continue to use that, let's say, that particular language or that particular label, because I do care about them being taken seriously," but then maybe there's a part of me that's like, "but I was stung by them using that label. I feel hurt and I also want them to know how I was hurt, but I also want to be able to prove that they're wrong and I'm right," that it can be a number of different motivations that can well up within us.
Jase: And that's why I think what Emily is starting to get out with these points too and what we were talking about earlier is say you have a few of them that are your reasons, that then you can look at them and decide, "Okay, which of these goals do I want to actually pursue?"
Emily: You can start teasing that out a bit and decide, "Okay, do I really need to add in the section where I'm like, "I'm proving a point here with your language, or with the tone in which you're responding to this other person."" Because I think, again, there were more diplomatic kind ways of presenting an argument or doing a teachable moment there, instead of just being like, "And you're a dick and you're wrong, fuck you."
Also, you have to ask yourself, are you just showing off? Are you being performative in this moment? Are you doing this so that people in this particular group cheer you on for beating someone up? Because I think we see that a lot and then it gets into this mindset, like pack mentality thing like, "It's all of us against this one person," and you're kind of the instigator of that, that's not cool.
Dedeker: Well, I think the whole performative thing is really interesting because, of course, by nature, most of our discussions we have online, have a performative aspect to it because of the fact that we're aware, everyone else is watching. That can be both a good and a bad thing, it can be good in that it's like people can stand to gain by seeing how a particular debate or conversation plays out, people can stand to gain some knowledge or some education or some awareness by seeing how someone else's conversation goes out.
However, it can also-- I think sometimes, what I see online is sometimes it can be very hollow, you can be like, "Well, I don't take any actual action about this particular issue in my normal life, but I can perform the action of going and attacking someone who disagrees with me, or going and attacking someone who maybe doesn't quite fit into this community or whatever." That looks like I've taken action to a certain regard, this is also a much deeper topic that I feel like we could get into much more in depth, but--
Jase: Well, I think it's like we're talking about if your goal is to make your community safer but then if you're honest with yourself, and you also realize there's this goal to show off the fact that I'm such a defender of other people in this group, that that can lead you to be a lot meaner and more cruel to this person, which isn't going to change their mind. Is not going to actually make the community a better place, except maybe making that person leave, but then you haven't made the world a better place, you haven't helped anyone learn anything. Because your goal was just for everyone else to be like, "Yes, man, yes," as you're telling this person what an asshole they are.
Emily: That takes a lot of self understanding to be like, "Hey, what is my true motivation here?"
Jase: I've seen this done by moderators of groups, in several groups, where someone will say something not out of ill intention, but just something that is a little bit offensive or belittle someone else unintentionally, and their response rather than being, "Hey, let's help you understand why that thing was upsetting so that you can learn and become a better member of this community," it's, "Fuck you, asshole. You're so privileged. You're whatever, whatever, whatever." Calling names, right? Jump into that, even to the point of after the person's left the group, people being like, "Yes, fuck that guy. I hated that guy. Fuck that guy. I'm glad you told him what for."
It makes you feel good, and so you think you did a good thing. When in reality, the world wasn't made a better place by that action. If they were honest with themselves about what their goal was, that might have been an uncomfortable realization to go, "My goal was for the people to cheer me on for telling this guy what a shithead he is."
Dedeker: Right. Well, I feel like, I mean, that's definitely something that if you also ask yourself the question, "Am I still motivated enough to have this discussion with this person in a private capacity?" "Calling someone in" as supposed to out, choosing to be like, "Okay, let's talk about this in private messages." If your motivation really drastically drops, then I think that's a signal of there's a part of this of knowing that other people are going to see this that is motivating me right now, and just to be aware of that.
Jase: Then on the flip side of that is to ask the question, "Am I making a point or entering into a discussion about something that isn't actually related to the original post?" To give a concrete example of this I think helps to understand it. This is something that I've seen variation of this happen many times. Here is the example. Someone posts in a group about some online dating profiles that they've seen, and they're saying, "Gosh, I'm so sick and tired of feeling like everyone on their dating profile says, 'I want someone who's fit, athletic, and attractive,' when I myself, I'm an overweight person. That really sucks. Feeling like no one wants me, and that just because of who I am, no one loves me." Something to that effect.
Then someone comes along and misinterprets the purpose of this post or the goal of this post, and says, "Well, it seems like it's okay that someone could express their preference. That's what dating profiles are good for, that you can state your preferences." I've seen this happen in various contexts, not just about being overweight but about race, or about mental health, or about any number of other things.
Essentially, what's happened here is that this person came along thinking that this was a post asking to debate about whether it's objectively okay to state your preferences in a dating profile. That's the conversation that they think is being had, and that's the one they're trying to have here. They get a very negative reaction to it because what was actually being talked about was how it hurt for this person's personal experience to feel like they're written off from the get-go just because of a quality of who they are as a person.
Their heart feels belittled and just tossed aside by this person saying, "Well, but it's okay for some to state their preferences, right?" The thing about this that's so frustrating is that the person who then feels really hurt and marginalized by this feels attacked. So often, the reaction is to react aggressively to that. Then other people jumped in performatively. They'd be like, "You're an asshole. You're so privileged. Whatever. Your thin privilege or whatever is related to that."
Then that person goes away saying, "I thought I was making a pretty reasonable statement, and everyone jumped all over me." It's because you were trying to talk about a point that wasn't actually related to what the person was talking about and didn't even realize it. That, like I said with all this, it's exercising those muscles of, "How do I get a better understanding of this?" I think one trick is if you get a reaction that surprises you, that's a cue to take a moment and consider, "Perhaps I missed something. Perhaps I misread something here or I miss interpreted."
If I posted a pretty reasonable thing, I would expect a reasonable response. If I get an angry response back, it's like, "Okay, I missed something." Rather than try to defend myself or explain myself, I'll say, "I'm so sorry, I didn't realize. Thank you for pointing that out." Something that's very much not saying like, "Sorry, but--" Just saying, "I'm so sorry," and then just take a moment to think about it and try to figure out what happened because that's actually going to grow you as a person and hopefully will help that community more rather than just trying to defend yourself or leaving.
Emily: It's like a triforce thing almost.
Jase: Related, yes.
Emily: Yes. I mean, they were asking for a number two just for some empathy, but then instead they got a little bit of three, like somebody telling them like, "Well, It's okay," or, "You should do this," or something along those lines which is also a kind of switch tracking and it's just the bunch of shit that we've talked about.
Dedeker: It's a lot other things. It's also the same thing of trying to bring logic to cancel out emotion. Because I think the message that gets picked up from that is like, "Well, you shouldn't be emotionally hurt because logically, maybe there's a basis for this thing to be okay which is like--" There's another time to have that logical, philosophical debate about--
Jase: This is about someone's feeling.
Dedeker: This is about someone's feelings and experience.
Emily: The next thing you can do is take a lap, or a few hours, or a day, or something. Just halt in this moment and ask yourself, "Okay, maybe I don't need to respond right now when I'm emotional. When I'm looking at this, am I hungry, angry, lonely or tired? Is it causing me to potentially want to say something or do something that maybe I shouldn't do?" It can also be a really good time to go do your own research on the topic that is being discussed. Read a bunch of opinions, read some news articles and not just ones that--
Jase: Not just ones that support your view.
Emily: Exactly. Look at the counterarguments to the argument that you want to make. There may be really good facts out there about the thing that somebody else is arguing for. Do your freaking homework, look at those arguments as well as your own.
Dedeker: I think, in practical terms, just to give out an example, maybe where I've seen this before is maybe someone posts like, "I'm so frustrated when men I'm dating sites do yada, yada, yada." Inevitably, the first one in the gate is some kind of "not all men" kind of response. Okay, so you have that experience of like, "This person said something about men, and I identify as a man. I'm like, 'I don't think that I do that.' I'm upset that they would say that."
Instead of responding right away, take some time, take an hour, take a day, like Emily was saying, that's a good time to be like, "Hey, maybe I should actually Google this phenomenon of what this person is experiencing on dating sites." Maybe that would also expose you to all the real common responses like the "not all men" response. Just do that labor ahead of times so that you don't come in sounding like an idiot, essentially. That's another thing. It's a good time to educate yourself instead of immediately hopping into a debate or immediately hopping into demanding that this other person educate you into that emotional labor, things like that.
Emily: Yes. Okay. Well, in addition to all of that, after doing your research or after taking time, you may realize that you don't even need to discuss this, or you don't need to participate in this big old argument.
Jase: I think that's so powerful.
Emily: Yes. I mean, really, honestly, again, in the moment when you are upset about something or when something sets you off, that is the worst time to probably start talking about something. In a regular argument, it may be the worst time to say immediately what's on your mind and just potentially say something that you might regret. The same holds true here. It's exactly the same kind of tactics that you might use. At the end of the day, maybe if you've taken that time, you realize like, "This is actually not a place that I want to go at this point." Then also-- Yes, Jase.
Jase: No, I was just saying, "Yes. Amen."
Dedeker: Amen. Hallelujah.
Emily: Also, if you've been called out on something, take the time to consider that it was probably really difficult for the other person to bring this up and that they might be a little afraid of the reaction that you might have to being called out. At least take a moment to consider that. Again, as we said before, don't act on it in a particularly emotional way. Try to maybe take some time and be like, "Okay, what is really happening here?" That's another time in which to look inward.
Dedeker: I can't even tell you the number of times that I see a comment, or someone makes a post, or someone sends this email, and my initial reaction is like, "That really sets me off," or, "No, I think they're wrong," or, "No, that's ridiculous." That's the kind of feedback that I'd be getting. If I take my time like seriously so many times, that within 24 hours, my opinion has completely changed on what I would initially respond to. Initially, it's defensiveness and wanting to fight about it, and then it'll be like, "Well, maybe I should talk to Jase or Emily about it," and be like, "What do you think about this? Do you think this is ridiculous, too? What do you think we should say?" Then usually Emily and Jase have a totally different perspective. I'm like, "Okay, I'll take that into consideration." They'll be like, "I'm going to take this to Google and see what other people think about this topic-
Jase: Google will know. [laughs]
Dedeker: -and see a wide variety of opinions. Then I'll be like, "Wow, actually, I hadn't considered it from this perspective. That totally makes sense." Then I'll just be like, "Okay, I'm just going to think about that or let that settle." Just so many times that when I give myself that space, that what I end up coming back to is like, "Actually, that person was right," or, "Maybe that person was really valid," or maybe my response is going to be just a lot more empathetic and a lot more respectful than it would be if I had chosen to respond right in that moment where I was feeling the most defensive, essentially.
Jase: I've also found that taking that moment, that little pause, can also help you to give a response that's better, but realize that you don't have to come to a final conclusion about this thing. For example, there was something that I said in a comment to something many months ago, and someone responded a little while later being like, "Hey, actually, what you said was a little bit ableist." My first reaction was to explain how in this context it wasn't or something like that to be defensive, essentially. I was like, "Okay, no. Not going to do that." Because I can tell I'm I'm feeling reactive about this.
Instead, I walked away from it for a little bit and then decided to come back and just say, "Thank you so much for calling me out on that and letting me know." That was it. It just stayed at that. I hadn't yet finished thinking about that, debating about that, and actually spent many more months thinking about, trying to learn about that. It's still an ongoing process, but I think that, too, it's okay to just say, "Thank you for bringing that up and letting me know." Especially since like Emily said, it can be challenging to be the one to say that and worry that someone is going to react badly to you when you call them out for something. Just taking a moment to say thank you for it and not saying that means you have to have finished thinking about it and come to your conclusions already.
Dedeker: Right. It's still ongoing process.
Emily: Both of those things that you had just said and what we're talking about here I think allows us to humanize the person on the other end of the computer, I guess, instead of just being like, "You are a shadow person, or you're just a bunch of words on a screen." Instead, be like, "Hey, this person has their own experiences. Therefore, they may be thinking about this in a completely different way than I am." That is incredibly-- It's something that I need to think about and at least like, "This is another human being. I'm not the only human. I'm not the only star of the show here." Think about the other person in that moment.
Dedeker: Let's say you've taken your time and maybe you have come back to the conversation, you have decided like, "No, I do want to participate in this. There is something that I want to say here that I feel like needs to be said here." The important question to ask yourself also is, "If I have this argument, what do I stand to gain and what does the other person stand to gain?" Just to really consider, literally, what is it that you would gain by continuing to push this? This related to our initial questions of what's really your goal here, what's really on the other side of this?
Because here's my thing, I think that it's really easy for us to get sucked into arguing based on the principle of something. For instance, where I see this a lot and where I've definitely experienced this personally is when there's arguments about particular language that can or cannot be used. I think that if someone's-- For instance, let's say in your instance, Jase, so someone's like, "Jase said that what you said was ableist." It can be really easy for someone in Jase's position to take that as someone's trying to police my language, someone's trying to tell me what I can and cannot say, someone's trying to control me, so I'm going to fight to regain my right to not be controlled.
In reality, that's not necessarily what you're fighting for. Are you just fighting for the ability to keep using these particular ableist words? How much value does that have to you? Is it really that particularly difficult for you to just use another word? That's something that's really helped me just to have a sense of like, "What is it that I'm actually fighting for here? What is it I'm actually trying to gain here? Is it possible for me to enter into this discussion in such a way that both of us could actually gain something?"
Jase: I feel like pride is so caught up in it. Whenever someone answers that, "It's the principle of the thing," what they're actually saying is, "I'm proud. It is my pride. I have to win regardless of what's actually better for me, or for the other person, or for the world." It's just about winning for the sake of winning. It's just about pride. I think we can have that reaction.
Like I said, I initially had a reaction to be somewhat defensive, and instead, did take that moment to check in and be like, "Okay, I can make a very small change in my life about either some language I use or about a type of comment I might use. That doesn't significantly impact the quality of my life but might be very positively impacting the quality of other people's lives."
In that case, I would be fighting a fight to win so that more people can lose, and I don't have to think as hard. Maybe I'll put more effort into fighting this fight than to actually just changing how I talk. That's, I think, a really good example of that, "Why? What do you have to win here? What are you fighting for?" Like Emily's thing, she always says, "This came from your mom, right?" They're like, "Is this the hill you want to die on?"
Emily: Yes, the mountain.
Jase: Is this the mountain you want to--
Emily: What mountain do you want to die on? Then my mom, "Which one do you want to die on?"
Emily: God. Anyways, what's the next one?
Jase: Next one is about knowing when to stop. There was a study at Cornell University that found the chances of a person changing the view of another person in an online argument falls dramatically after just five replies. Essentially, the more into the weeds you get, the less likely you are that anybody's going to change their mind.
Dedeker: That's not a lot of back and forth.
Jase: Yes, five replies is pretty quick.
Dedeker: It's like nothing.
Jase: That's right. [chuckles] After that point, it tends to be a lot of repeating and rehashing, often not even really rewarding things but just saying them again, often getting more and more aggressive, too. Just check to see if you can identify, is there a core disagreement underneath all of this? Because maybe you're each bringing up all these details or specific examples but keep arguing past each other. Perhaps there's a core disagreement somewhere more fundamentally, more earlier down the line that hasn't been addressed, that you just fundamentally see things through a different lens.
Dedeker: Right, right. I think that some examples of this could be situations where maybe you get into a debate with some friend online about non-monogamous relationships and about which ones are successful and which ones are not, and which ones are healthy and which ones are not. Maybe your friend is real pro, having a don't-ask-don't-tell relationship, and you're like, "No, that's not ethical. I don't like that." You're going back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, but maybe as you examine the conversation, maybe becomes more apparent that there's a deeper disagreement than that, there's a deeper sense of how the two of you view the world much differently.
Maybe your friend is really pro don't-ask-don't-tell because the way they view the world is that talking to your partner about being attracted to someone else or sleeping with someone else is hurting them, and you don't want to hurt your partner. Maybe that's just like the different lenses that the two of you see the world through, and that's not the debate you're having. That's also not your job in that moment to try to convince them otherwise. I don't know if that's the best example, but I feel like that's something close with being able to, I think, again, having the quiet ego, being able to detach a little bit, see the bigger picture and realize like, "We just really literally see things differently, and so it's not going to be a productive argument to argue about the pros and cons of don't-ask-don't-tell when there's a deeper disagreement here that this current conversation is not about."
Jase: I found my access point to that thing actually came in reading books. I remember this in my junior year high school English class is where this first occurred to me was this idea that realizing that conversations and thoughts that characters have in books all came from one person's mind, and that that person might view the world and view people in a fundamentally different way from the way that I do.
For me, this really came up in trying to read books by Ayn Rand. I believe I've stated this before, not a fan, but the reason for that, that I realized is that the way that she views how humans exist, how we think, what is important for us, how we exist with other people in the world, all of these very fundamental level perceptions about what people are are very different from my own.
In trying to read her characters and listen to them interact with each other, I was just like, "I don't fucking understand. I hate all these people. They all seem terrible, and their decisions don't make any sense." When I realized that it's because her view of the world is just so fundamentally different from mine, then it actually helped me to have an appreciation for her books in the way that they show me a perspective that clearly a lot of people in the world share that I don't.
Because she's an incredibly popular author, that it helped me to see like, "God, there's a lot of people in the world who see life very differently than I do." Even if I don't like her books or her values, I can at least appreciate the fact that she does give us a good gateway into seeing a world in a way that I don't.
Dedeker: Right, right. I think it's really important to recognize that, again, because of the fact that if we're always trying to convince each other, there does reach a point where someone's not going to be convinced unless you dedicate a lot of time, and a lot of energy, and a lot of effort, and they are also dedicating a lot of time, and energy, and effort to being open, to being convinced, or changing their world views that can't necessarily be reached in 10 minutes on Reddit, essentially.
Jase: [laughs] Right.
Dedeker: By the way, just as a little bit of an aside, that Cornell University study is super fascinating. There's a particular subreddit that is specifically designed for-- I think it's civil discourse or something like that where it's supposed to be having debates in good faith, where people are supposed to be more open to actually discussing things and maybe not so defensive and things like that. They just did this really--
Emily: Nice try.
Dedeker: They did this really in-depth study of, how do people get convinced? What are the markers that suggests that someone's more malleable? What is the language that someone uses if they are more malleable versus if they're less malleable on this particular topic? How quickly does someone respond? How much does that have an impact? Whether or not someone changes their mind. You can read the study for free online. I definitely recommend doing a little Google there. It's just really, really interesting. I think a core fundamental part of it is just knowing to a certain extent that some people are not malleable on certain topics, and arguing about it is not going to change that.
Jase: In fact, it will make them more firmly believe in their thing that you're trying to argue against.
Emily: Finally, we come to carefully state the disagreement, and then just stop just. You're done.
Dedeker: As in once you recognize that maybe we've hit this five-reply point.
Emily: Point of no return.
Dedeker: Yes. The point where we're just going to be rehashing the same stuff.
Jase: There's this really nice quote from journalist Pedro Burgos which is that, "If you lose an argument, you win some knowledge. If you win an argument, then you gain an ally. If you end in a stalemate which is by far the most likely result, then try to rephrase your opponent's argument and yours succinctly in a single comment so that everyone has an opportunity to win some appreciation for the debate."
You need to acknowledge what you learned and show empathy in that moment. I really like what he said here because, again, so many times, these arguments just end in people screaming obscenities at one another via the Internet or never heard from again, or blocked, or get thrown out of a group or something.
Dedeker: Well, I think it really calls into question changing our ideas of what it means to win or to lose an argument. Because, again, he brings up this idea of like, "If you approach it as in 'losing this argument,' it means that I learned something. Whether it's I learned about someone else's perspective or I learned about something I didn't consider before, or it's like I learned about which arguments to get into or to not get into, you losing the argument is winning some knowledge. Then winning is not like dominating the other person or making them hurt or punishing them in some way. It's somehow getting an ally. Can you argue in such a way that the winning scenario is we become allies?
Jase: Right. I think that's so fundamentally different from how online arguments are conducted almost all of the time.
Dedeker: This seems like a good strategy for battling out. If it's a stalemate, again, you're rehashing and just going in a circle of just being able to just simply say, "Well, we fundamentally disagree on this, and I learned this. Thank you for sharing this. Seacrest out." [chuckles]
Jase: Right. I think this is really interesting. I haven't done this one, but the idea of restating it, of trying to say, "It seems like you believe this thing and think this is true. I believe this thing, this is true. You brought up some interesting points, I'm going to look into those. Thank you. It seems like this is where we're at," and leaving it there, that's really interesting.
Dedeker: I feel a tricky thing, though, would be not trying to do parting shots with that or trying to be like, "Well, clearly, you believe that this ridiculous thing is true, and I believe that this very normal and rational thing is true. I guess we're not going to see--"
Jase: I think that's where the show empathy comes in.
Dedeker: Yes. Showing empathy and, again, checking the ego thing of really trying to not use that as your parting shot on the way out, essentially.
Jase: Right, but then to just be done and to even if they continue to try to engage on this, that is the end of it. Because like we said, science has shown you're not going to convince anyone at this point.
Emily: You're probably going to be happier going about your day at that point, anyway.
Jase: Healthier, lower blood pressure.
Emily: For sure.
Dedeker: Yes, because I can use some of that.
Jase: All right. Well, now, this is your call to action to go out into the world and make the Internet a little bit better place.
Dedeker: Yes, just a little bit better if you can.
Jase: Because God, it needs it. Internet can be shitty place sometimes, and we're hoping that we can help work together and make it a little bit better.
Emily: Yes, for sure.