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Have we forgotten how to debate?

I don’t know when the cut-off point was, or if it’s something that’s built up gradually, but posts across social media platforms are much more brutal than they used to be.

Diane Hall


Business man and woman debating terms.

I don’t often put my opinion forward on social media as I know I’m likely to get my head bitten off. It’s a shame that I feel that way—and I imagine some of you reading this also filter your words when posting anything online.

We seem to have lost the art of agreeing to disagree.

There’s no way, with all our different personality types, backgrounds, life experiences, likes and dislikes, that we will always see eye to eye with everyone we meet. But the level of vitriol and personal jibes often directed at people for daring to say what they think has escalated dramatically to what it once was. Labelling the ‘haters’ as trolls or keyboard warriors is common…I wonder how many of them would actually voice what they’re happy to type out if they were face to face with the person they’re responding to.

Some people probably would, but the majority wouldn’t…out of respect, fear of confrontation, manners, values—whatever. If this is the case offline, though, why should it be different just because there’s a screen in the way? Have we lost sight of the fact other human beings are on the receiving end?

It’s entirely possible to get across a difference of opinion without resorting to personal digs, name-calling or insults. A difference of opinion could be a chance to learn something new, to see a topic from another viewpoint, but most people are more concerned with being ‘right’ than opening their mind up to alternate thoughts. Being ‘right’ isn’t an option with most topics anyway; there are numerous shades of grey concerning most things in the world.

Anyone can react. There’s no competition to be the most outraged or offended. However, it takes a bigger, wiser person to accept the views of others, even if what they believe is different to your own take on things. It doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t agree on another topic, or that the other person is any less of a human.

Woman with Black hair holding a Greta Thunberg book.

Woman with Black hair holding a Greta Thunberg book.

Greta Thunberg, the climate activist and someone who regularly receives unkind comments, said, “When haters go after your looks and differences, it means they have nowhere left to go.” She’s right, isn’t she? If someone opposing her views had anything constructive or informative to say they would have said it; that they resort to picking on her looks or personal attributes practically confirms her opinion. They can’t debate, so they hate.

Another quote, this time a meme attributed to Morgan Freeman (he may well have said this, I don’t know): “Just because I disagree with you, does not mean that I hate you. We need to relearn that in society.” Amen, Morgan, amen. An opinion is just that: a thought, an idea, a belief. It’s not set in stone and it can be changed. That said, if someone stands by their opinion even after others have offered their own point of view, it doesn’t reflect on anything other than that one train of thought. It has no bearing on how kind that person is, on the success of their relationships or career, or how good a parent they may be. Having a different opinion doesn’t erode the things they’ve achieved, the ambitions they hold or what they want from life. And anyway, do we really want a world where we all think the same?

Freedom of speech is something past generations gave their life to uphold. I doubt they would celebrate their sacrifice if this practice was only used to hurt, belittle and silence others. There really can be no defence for that.

The sad thing is, because social media is such a hateful place most of the time, the more rational people don’t bother proffering their views, which only gives even more space and airtime to the ‘trolls’. My mum used to tell me when I was a child that if someone says something nasty or hurtful, it says more about them than you. Much of the more hateful things said on these platforms stem from a person’s jealousy or envy. Rather than trying to emulate someone who’s successful, learned, proactive, they put all their energy into tearing them down to the low point they’re at, to erode the other person’s self-esteem, because they themselves have none. How sad. When you think of the things they could achieve if they redirected their energy into something positive…not just for the wider world, but to enrich their own lives, too, it’s hard to understand why they don’t do this. I mean, who actively wants to wallow in a pit of self-loathing? Why would someone rather spend their time insulting strangers over the internet than doing something creative and enjoyable? I just don’t get it.

I don’t know where the world goes from here. For every post that asks others to ‘be kind’ there are five more full of vitriol. Maybe we need to flood the internet with nice, rational, kind words and flush out the negativity. Maybe we should make it a New Year’s resolution that, for every horrid post we see, we’ll post two nice ones in reaction. And maybe then, once we’ve reclaimed our ‘social’ media platforms, we can once again use them in the manner for which they were designed, without fear of negative comebacks: to add ideas, to voice our thoughts, to share aspects of our life, to promote healthy debate.

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