Col6_DebateAs an editorialist, I tend to walk (erm…write) on the “controversial” side of the spectrum. Touching upon subjects like whether religion or science has caused more human catastrophe, whether certain behaviours should remain gendered and/or whether humans have the right to play “God” via technological intervention, for example…I’m sure you get why I tend to piss a lot of people off.

But, of course this is NOT my motivation, but rather a symptom of the fact that individuals frequently get emotional when one expresses strong convictions about well…just about anything. I must be doing my job right however if I’m at least getting you thinking; after all, you wouldn’t be reacting emotionally unless that were being accomplished. Just saying…

The problem, in my view, does not lay within maintaining opinions nor expressing them. As someone who gets paid to tout her thoughts, I’d be a huge hypocrite if I were not always readily and happily available for a good debate. Instead, the problem rests in our reactions upon hearing something that flies in the face of everything we believe, likely always have believed and/or hold dear to our hearts. When it comes to differences of opinion, what sets apart the psychologically mature and immature then comes down to three distinct characteristics:

1) the former does not cling to his/her values, attitudes and beliefs in ignorance (ie: he/she has strong validation, if not research to which to refer to back up his/her opinions. In a word, such an individual is “invested” into who they are and why they believe what they do. There’s that good old introspection again!)

2) the former is willing to admit errors in judgement upon the acquisition of new information and therefore adjust his/her views accordingly

And finally and most importantly, 3) the former is respectfully accepting of the opinions of others, even when they directly contradict his/her own views (ie: he/she will simply “agree to disagree”)

With all of this said, I hope it is obvious that it is NOT the receipt of impassioned emails I receive from readers pointing out the “flaws” (in their opinions) of my views that bothers me. In fact, I ALWAYS (and you can quote me on this) take the time to read through their arguments and respond in an objective fashion. The issue I have is when my simple expression of a given opinion somehow transforms me in my entirety into an individual characterized by a derogatory comment, particularly when it’s being uttered by someone who doesn’t know a thing about me other than the fact we do not see eye-to-eye in ONE area. This is what is known psychologically-speaking as a “personal attack”. But before I get into that definition, I’d like to point out what I feel are two important pieces of information to consider from my perspective in this equation (sorry for all the numbered lists!):

1) I don’t recall ever forcing anyone to read my writings

Moreover, 2) I don’t recall ever forcing anyone to accept my opinions as their own

Now, in any disagreement with another individual, you always have a clear choice in terms of how maturely you will phrase your reactions. Admittedly, we all get heated at times and say things out of turn, but a huge aspect of developing psychological maturity is getting a handle on one’s emotions (ie: both being able to control oneself and further being able to understand why one reacts the way he/she does).

With all of this said, there’s a HUGE difference in terms of strongly disagreeing with someone on a given subject matter and not liking them as an individual altogether. I should know being the hippie artistic child of a highly successful entrepreneurial businessman father: when it comes to the subject of the value of money or the government’s right to taxation, we couldn’t possibly be singing from more different song sheets. Our difference in opinion however is not “just cause” for me hating my pops nor calling him a selection of profanities. So why has this unduly treatment been issued to me and other entertainers/personalities? Well a few reasons (oh man, another numbered list?! I know, I know I apologize in advance.):

1) when you work under the public’s scrutiny, “the common joe” seems to believe that your feelings don’t get hurt as easily or as much when shit is slung in your general direction, and/or you can or SHOULD be able to take more shit than the average person. FYI this is NOT always true.

2) when a psychologically immature individual is faced with evidence that may cause him/her to re-examine (or examine for the first time) the rationale driving his/her beliefs which is an aspect of his/her self-concept, instead of being introspective, he/she will often react defensively and emotionally as a means of self-preservation (something we discussed last week)

and 3) this week’s discussion: the concept of anonymity. The individuals who send me and others “hate mail” don’t truly “know” who we are as people and therefore have no obligatory ties to us. In sum, unlike if I were to call my dad a dick for believing something I could not even begin to conceive of, the aforementioned “hate mailers” suffer little to no consequences for their actions.

As explained by Rider University’s Dr. John Suler in, CyberPsychology and Behavior: “Anonymity works wonders for the disinhibition effect. When people have the opportunity to separate their actions from their real world and identity, they feel less vulnerable about opening up. Whatever they say or do can’t be directly linked to the rest of their lives. They don’t have to own their behavior by acknowledging it within the full context of who they ‘really’ are. When acting out hostile feelings, the person doesn’t have to take responsibility for those actions. In fact, people might even convince themselves that those behaviors ‘aren’t me at all.’ In psychology this is called ‘dissociation.’”

As you’ll recall, I earlier stated that I always take the time to write back to my “hate mailers” and probe them further to question themselves as to why they hold the views they do, while gently reminding them that a difference of opinion is not grounds for verbal abuse. Interestingly, I NEVER receive responses; a fact that very much confirms Suler’s analysis that those engaged in “dissociative anonymity” do not categorize their actions as an encompassment of who they are. To respond would force them to own up to their actions, whereas failing to carry on a dialogue and actually getting to know me as an individual allows them to maintain their prejudicial views. It isn’t a stretch to consider then that racism is commonly based upon similar foundations (ie: lack of exposure to/ignorance of other groups outside of one’s own immediate periphery).

In sum, while issuing “personal attacks” may allow the instigator of such to achieve a temporary feeling of quasi-“superiority” based on an avoidance to look within, from a psychological stance, it’s a logical fallacy to divert an argument to belittling unless the goal were to determine who is willing to sink to a lower level (see political “muckracking” campaigns if you require more proof). Likewise, it’s a logical fallacy to possess feelings of hatred toward strangers and/or label strangers hurtful derogatory comments seeing as it literally does not make sense to harbour such strong feelings when there is no actual emotional connection (yet another indication one should look within, instead of outward). In other words, and as we’ll cover more next week, by all means go forth and debate, but first learn the art of “fighting fair.”