Something we all can learn from, Simon Peyton Jones:
In writing this post, I am not seeking to discourage open debate, or expressions of concern. It’s worth separating two things
- Publicly debating an issue where judgements differ
- Using offensive or adversarial language in that debate
It’s fine to respectfully disagree with someone’s judgement (i.e. 1). It’s /not/ fine to imply that they have hidden (and bad) motives, or declare them incompetent or deliberately obtuse (i.e. 2). This has no place in our public conversations. The trickier the issue, the more careful we should be to express ourselves in a way that is respectful, and is visibly grounded in the assumption that the other person is acting in good faith.
I not attributing blame. There is no idle malice here, nor thoughtless trolling. It’s no good each of us pointing the finger elsewhere: our shared conversation is our shared responsibility.
Source: [Haskell] Respect
A good follow up read: How to Disagree
A good related post I came across at Shtetl-Optimized » Blog Archive » My Enlightenment fanaticism :
Before engaging in a debate, make it a point to clearly articulate and explicitly agree on the parameters of the debate.
Some parameters I would insist on:
- If not (ideally) entirely the goal, it should be at least a significant part of it to come closer to truth by unveiling and agreeing to discard demonstrated falsehood, misconception, and bias, rather than “winning”. That also means that conceding a point, if it contributes to that, can still be conceptualized as progress, rather than “losing” the debate.
- The first focus should be on finding agreement on facts. Agreement on facts precedes agreement on any argument because if two sides cannot agree on facts, further debate is pointless.
- Leave emotions out. If one side becomes too emotional in their arguments, the other may call for a short cooling-off pause.
- Attack ideas, not people.
- Try to not just understand the argument from the other side, but also the value system within which it is embedded. I believe ignoring this can become an obstacle to understanding what motivated an opposing viewpoint, and stand in the way of finding mutually agreeable solutions or at least a compromise. And if the values are authoritarian, bringing them out in the open may make it more likely that they will be reconsidered by those who hold them.