I love arguments and discussions. Over the years I’ve had the honor of having many marathon debates particularly with guys like Ketan Panchal who while disagreeing with my views always keep it clean, and never get personal no matter how absurd they think the conversation is becoming. Perhaps it’s because I’m becoming old, but I’m growing less and less tolerant of arguments that don’t remain “clean”. So in hopes of clarifying what I expect and to establish a standard for comments, here are a few guidelines for those honoring me with their time and effort. I feel everyone benefits from good arguments, so here they are:
1. Don’t get Personal – Ever
I get it – you disagree with whoever you’re arguing with. But always argue in good faith. Don’t make assumptions about the other person, accuse them of being “one of them” (whoever them happens to be), question their intelligence, their ancestry or whatever. This is the single biggest cause of discussions going off track. Keep it clean.
Some people defend getting personal by saying “It’s criticism”. Criticism is welcome only when it specifically applies to the arguments. Attack the argument. Say such and such sentence is illogical because of so and so, that xyz view is ill considered because of abc reasons etc. Never, never get personal. If it helps, pretend that you’re talking to a disembodied voice who’s not a person if that’s what it takes for you to get into the proper mindset.
2. Use Citations Properly
In any debate, people will use citations and references to back up their arguments. That’s normal. However, to make things easier, please include a little snippet of the relevant sentences that you’re pointing to. It’s no good if you link to a multi page PDF expecting the other person to run through it all searching for the relevant point. If it’s not possible to give an exact snippet, describe the article/paper in your own words. In short, a citation is only for later perusal. The “meat” of the argument needs to be included in your comment.
A third party reader should be able to get all the information necessary just by the comments. Citations without explanation are confusing and not very helpful.
3. Stay on Topic
Sometimes long comment threads meander into unrelated topics that have nothing to do with the blog post. If you see this happening, politely inform the other person that in your opinion the discussion has strayed off track. Again, I’m thinking of third party readers who will have to wade through a lot of irrelevancies.
These are not difficult rules to follow. But they greatly help in improving the quality of discussions.