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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Breaking Confab

If you're like me, you sometimes feel the need to ruin your otherwise benign day by reading comments to political or current events articles on Facebook. You may have been the one to post said article, or perhaps you are reading an article a friend, distant relative, or even more distant acquaintance posted. Regardless of how it made it to Facebook, this article, which may or may not validate or support a stance you have on a particular social matter or policy, has spurred a catalog of commentary. Naturally, the quickly-evolving dialog and its participants will rapidly fall into one of two groups; Side Yay or Side Nay, both of which are completely fucking ignorant and woefully misinformed according to members of the opposing team.

How do I get to the highway?
Not only is your stance on the issue wrong, but you're also likely to hear why it makes you a bad person for having that particular viewpoint. Luckily, you'll receive this personal critique in a calm and insightful manner. Hah! Just kidding! It'll be the most heated, vitriolic feedback that a human being can possibly offer. Sometimes, this type of exchange is meant to offend, or belittle; other times it's meant to insight an equally antagonistic retort. Eventually, the seething masses cool off, return to their corners and everyone goes on with their day, at least until the next provocative piece is posted. It's almost as if the state of online discourse has begun to resemble the behavior of Chain Chomps from the Mario games.

Like this, just slightly more intelligent.
Having witnessed (and having previously undignifiedly participated in) this type of idea exchange online on almost a daily basis, I am frequently left wondering, what in the hell happened to civil rhetoric? Whatever happened to the thoughtful, considerate expressing of opinions without deteriorating into scathing attacks against another's character or views? While I admit I have let my emotions get the better of me when trying to passionately defend a belief, I eventually reflect on my behavior and analyze how I can better approach a similar situation in the future. I think about how I can be more respectful of the opposing viewpoint and its proponent. I seek to try and understand why that particular individual may have that particular stance. I aim to find a way to clearly convey my stance without it seeming like I'm trying to demean or convert my counterpart. Will I always succeed in my next attempt? No, because I'm human, and therefore I err.

True words of leadership!
Why do I bring this up here? Why talk about it in a Student Affairs-ish, blog? I talk about it, because we must talk about it. On several forums (granted all online) I have encountered this type of "debate" with other Student Affairs professionals. From discussion forums on The Chronicle of Higher Education's site, to numerous, and not so anonymous, Facebook groups populated by fellow administrators. How can we call ourselves educators, if we cannot rise above the very same tactics we discourage our students from using? How can we be viewed as role models, when we cannot even model the behavior ourselves? If we can't, or just choose not to, then we should look no further than ourselves, with regards to culpability, when discussions of race, inequality, gender identity, social justice, sexual misconduct, inclusion and other crucial trends deteriorate into palpable campus tensions. If we are indeed mentors of future leaders that we like to imagine we are, then we need to be the example for civil discourse. If our students mimic our bad behavior now, just imagine the type of divisive, combative leaders they could evolve into.


1 comment:

  1. This is always a fun topic in my Public Speaking and Group classes. Is it possible to take part in civil rhetoric anymore? Is it generational? Is it solely political? Are those with the intellect just sitting silently by? I feel it is the latter, as I know for me, I don't engage. I feel little to no point in it. It's sad. -_-