Unfortunately for myself, and everyone else, I’ve found myself involved in various disputes online for the last two decades (or more, but who’s counting). Over the years, I’d get in arguments about almost anything: technology, the news, religion, politics, the economy, art, you name it. I’ve spent a good portion of my time online throughout my life debating with a wide array of people. I’ve been in countless online arguments. This is not a good thing. This is not something to brag about, and frankly I’m embarrassed by it on some level. But to be honest, I love arguing. This is because I’m a selfish and arrogant person who thinks people need to hear my point of view because I’m right and they aren’t. This is a character defect, and I readily admit that. No, I’m probably not willing to change. But sometimes, I try to do better. Like in college where I monetized it and had a scholarship for participating on the Debate team. The activities listed above has mostly been an exercise in futility. Not because I lost arguments and looked stupid (I did). More because even when I won or ended arguments, I still failed to convince my counterpart of anything. I can’t recall many arguments where the person at any point said “You know what, your argument really convinced me, and I’m changing my mind.” I’m sure I did win someone over at some point, but I don’t remember that happening. Which makes my efforts appear even more absurd. Arguing with someone, beating them over the head with facts and logic, it just hasn’t been productive for me. Maybe arguments not being effective is somewhat unique to American society, as we have a strong tradition of anti-intellectualism. Whoops, there’s that arrogance again… But in any case for me arguing hasn’t worked very well. Maybe the cable news channels have effective arguments, but I’m just not seeing it. I think they are simply catering to the belief system their audiences were indoctrinated in. At the end of the day, arguing doesn’t change hearts and minds. Or if it does, it doesn’t do it well, or often.
What does change hearts and minds? In my own experience, the initial motivator for change has usually been pain and suffering. Nothing else has been nearly as effective. And I want to be clear, I don’t mean pain inflicted by an argumentative stranger on the internet. I mean life pain. I mean falling flat on your face pain. I mean losing your job, or your relationship, or worse. Life hit me with a truckload of that stuff, and sure enough, I responded. Because I didn’t like what was happening, I didn’t like how it felt, and I didn’t like being completely powerless. That kind of experience forces self-reflection on a person, and it can also motivate action. Of course, there are those reasonable people out there who when faced with a problem can change course. Sidebar: [ This is not a scientific essay, by the way. These are anecdotal, social observations based on my life experience] But even that change is still often motivated by pain or at least discomfort. A reasonable person facing a mild issue of some kind is much more likely to hear what another person has to say. They are also much more likely to take that advice and run with it.
What’s the takeaway here? Treat others with empathy and lead by example – be the change you want to see in the world. That will motivate others seeking change more than scolding them or attempting to argue them into a corner on the internet.