Assertion v Aggression
It has been said that the best way to start an argument on
Twitter is to tweet something.
Look up the word "argument" in a dictionary and the first
definition you'll find has to do with: a quarrel or an altercation.
Obviously, in this day and age, that's how arguments go. They are no
longer "a process of deductive or inductive reasoning that purports
to show its conclusion to be true" or "a sequence of statements, one
of which is the conclusion and the remainder the premises" but
rather a reason to get downright nasty and hurl insults at another
Personally, I love a good argument in the classical sense: a
discussion in which reasons are put forward in support of and
against a proposition, proposal, or case. Having attended many a
panel discussion, I've never walked away without having gained
something insightful; without having learned something.
Now take, for instance, a Facebook friend who posts a pretty
picture with beautiful printing that spells out something like:
"When you quit learning, you quit living." Then go to that person's
timeline and locate a place where someone disagrees with that
person. Does the battle turn bitter? passive aggressive? or just
outright name calling?
Disagreements do not have to be disagreeable. But if you post
that learning is living, implying that you are open-minded and yet
you hate being wrong and will fight off anyone who disagrees with
you, then you are a liar.
Having taken up journalism for some twenty years, I know
something about being wrong. Journalism is more than reporting. It's
researching, re-researching, and then reporting on that research.
The overall objective is all about uncovering the truth. And since
we are humans, sometimes no matter how comprehensive and meticulous
our research is, we still make mistakes.
As a journalist, I don't relish being wrong, but I do relish
learning something; and that being the case, I always print a
retraction and pass that learning on to my readers. You see, the only
thing I don't like about being wrong is that I had worked so hard to
be wrong. You'd think that hard work would make you right, but
that's the chance you take when you start investigating subjects new
to you, and the chance you take when you sum up your experience into
an article that is read by anyone who stumbles across it. To be a
good journalist, you have to work hard. To be a great journalist,
you have to be open to being wrong. If you find out you are wrong
and neither learn from it nor make corrections, you're a hack.
In my business: You never have the right to be right unless you
can admit you were wrong.
But why is it that, in this world, if we find something to be
wrong, why canít we just offer someone a correction and have that
person take that correction to heart and thank us? Why can't the
average person take a bit of criticism? Why can't you challenge a
person's belief system without suffering an embittered and hostile
There are people who spend way too much energy proving themselves
right while proving others wrong. I refuse to deal with
because their sense of being is a castle built in the clouds. They
are nothing beyond an overblown sense of self, derived out of
There are those individuals who, if you engage them in a bit of
argumentation, will very quickly take everything personally. We all
know them. We have, at times, been them.
Let me start with this: Cartesian thought begins with "Cogito
ergo sum" or "I think, therefore I am."
If we take it one step further, we can conclude that "I am the
thinker," and one baby step further, "I am my thoughts."
Thus any attack on my thoughts is an attack on me.
Now let's jump ahead a couple of centuries and we find John Paul
Sartre who said (I'm paraphrasing), "Wait a minute. I am not my
thoughts. I am aware of my thoughts just as I am not that chair over
there, but I am aware of that chair."
Thus Sartre concluded: "I think. I am 'aware' that I think.
Therefore I am."
This is truly a quantum leap, if you think about it, for not only
are we not our thoughts; we are not the thinker. We are the person
"doing" the thinking. We are the person aware of the thinking.
This is truly an awakening for some, while ignored by most.
Far too many people are heavily invested in their thoughts, their
beliefs. An attack, no matter how slight or harmless, on those
beliefs is taken as a personal attack by the person invested in
When we "awaken," we realize we are not our beliefs, but
rather we possess those beliefs. We are not just the thinker of
those thoughts; we are the person "doing" the thinking, and
ultimately, these thoughts can change, given new data.
Attachment v Detachment
Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter that triggers a protective
state when we believe our thoughts have to be protected from others.
One who is attached to a belief system who comes up against
arguments contrary to that belief system experiences a rush of
"fight or flight" chemicals such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and
cortisol, normally associated with survival. In this defensive
state, the primitive part of the brain interferes with rational
thinking and the limbic system knocks out most of the working
memory, physically causing narrow-mindedness.
No matter how innocent or valuable an idea is, the brain has
trouble processing it in this defensive state; those ideas otherwise
would be thought of as helpful, were that person in a more rational
To someone detached from a belief system, new information is
accepted readily and contrary information is processed rationally.
It is this detachment that the philosophers speak of, because it
opens up channels to higher creativity, allowing the individual to
experience the ever-present and eternal now.
The first step in achieving detachment is first to realize your
attachment. The moment you realize you are attached is the moment
you start to sever that attachment.
Next time you read, hear, or see something that starts to set you
off, feel it. Feel its intensity. It's a bodily feeling, not some
sort of separate emotional feeling. You can feel it up and down your
spine, affecting nerves throughout your body.
The next step is to use your imagination.
Let's say you're at your computer and you find a comment to one
of your posts that lights you up.
First admit to yourself that the comment has affected you. Feel
Then sit back, stare at the comment, and picture it coming at
your body. But your body is transparent. You watch it go right
through you and beyond, dissipating into the universe.
You will actually feel your bodily response fade, fade, fade
Then, and only then, will you be able to respond to the comment
clearly, cogently, and concisely.
Unless, of course, you just want to be a troll and start flaming
away. Then have at it.
It always boils down to your own choice.