September 14, 2012

Civil discourse

Yesterday I wrote about the mom-to-mom ugliness that often takes place online and the futility of getting dragged in to those exchanges. So how do we discuss important parenting topics without the situation devolving into name calling and insults?

Can we really listen to each other? Is civil discourse even possible? If I didn't believe it was an attainable goal, I would never have launched The Mom Pledge. But things worth doing are not always easy.

Remember that you cannot control the behavior of others. Focus on how you personally conduct yourself. Strive to present your position or offer your opinion in a nonjudgmental manner. With statements such as:

  • What worked best for me/us was... 
  • I tried (insert parenting technique here) and it just didn't work for me/us. 
  • I was most comfortable with (insert parenting technique here) because...
  • I was not comfortable with (insert parenting technique here) because... 
  • The technique that fits my overall parenting philosophy is... 

You want to present your position in such a way that you do not attack or demean opposing views. Compare this to the language presented yesterday. See the difference? Name calling, insults and hateful language never contribute to productive communication.

Be aware that if you say something along the lines of, "Not to be judgmental/critical, but..." you likely will come across as exactly that. And place others in the discussion on the defensive. That is when communication begins to break down.

If you want to try to understand where someone else is coming from, you can say something like:

  • What is it about (insert parenting technique here) that you like most?
  • Why do you believe (insert parenting technique here) has worked for you? 
  • Have you based your position on research? Instinct? Experience?
  • You are obviously very passionate about this subject. Tell me more about that... 

You have the right to your opinion. To have strong feelings about issues involving your child(ren). So does the other person. Your position isn't necessarily stronger than or superior to the other. It is different. Moreover, just because an opinion contrasts yours, that doesn't make it wrong.

You have your position, the other person has hers. In the end, neither will necessarily change. That should not be the end game. Don't think of it as a win/lose situation. You don't have to reach consensus. It is OK to disagree.

The goal should be to engage in a respectful, open exchange that enables you to gain valuable perspective on a topic you care about. To come to understand and learn to accept another point of view. That is the foundation of The Mom Pledge.

The words you choose and their tone make all the difference. The latter can be tricky when dealing with online communication. It is far easier to misinterpret the written word than the spoken. Which makes it so important that you think carefully about what you type.

Never respond in haste or in anger. Save a draft somewhere. Come back to it later when you are calmer and able to be rational. There's no time limit on expressing your feelings. When you do share a reply, read through it first and ask yourself, "How would I feel if these words were directed at me?"

The key to having a successful discussion is for both sides to be sincerely interested in and open to the other point of view. Be honest with yourself before you engage with someone. If you take a hard stance on an issue, what is the point of attempting to debate it? What do you hope to accomplish, and what are the chances you will do so?

There are some issues people feel so strongly about they are unwilling - or unable - to debate them. They are too passionate to be rational. Know what those issues are for you, and avoid getting into a verbal tug of war over them.

It is perfectly acceptable to share your position and then exit the discussion. You don't have to get sucked in to a debate. If you simply want to add your two cents, by all means do. But state your views in a respectful manner and in such a way that it contributes to the conversation.

It is possible to advocate a position without demeaning others. Realize that if you go on the attack, the likelihood anyone will listen to what you have to say is nil. And any points you may be trying to make are lost.

I often hear, "Attack the idea, not the person." I cannot stand that statement. Because the bottom line is, you are still attacking. And ideas come from people, who are emotional about them and often unable to be detached from their positions. So the attack is personal to them.

Don't allow yourself to get defensive. You don't have to explain yourself to some stranger on the internet. If you are confident and comfortable with the parenting decisions you have made, that is all that matters. No one knows better than you what is best for your family.

Avoid taking on a mob mentality. Ganging up with and against others is another way to shut down communication. Sure, plenty of people may be participating in the conversation, but no one is truly listening. The people on your "side" already agree with you, and the others won't once you attack. So what are you really debating?

Civil discourse requires introspection, self-awareness and a level of discipline some people are not capable of. Their communication skills have not developed to that level. There is nothing you can do about that. Your best option when you encounter someone like that is to disengage.

And be the example.

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