Forum Opinions or Convictions?
I was recently in a forum where ethics was the topic of the thread. I usually don't enter into the forum discussions. The few I have visited from time to time, seem to have quite a few responders who come across as shallow or self-serving. I don't like to enter into discussions with those types of people because my experience has taught me that there's usually no way to have an open and lively discussion where a trading and examining of ideas can flourish.
I'm not referring to those with strong convictions about their beliefs. I'm referring to those who are simply opinionated. These are people who can not and will not open their minds to any point of view but their own. The only real difference between someone who simply has an opinion and someone who has convictions on a subject is information.
We form opinions every day about a multitude of topics, anything from whether a certain dish detergent is the greatest cleaner to hit the market to whether we back our government's involvement in another country's unrest. We talk to other people who pass on their opinions through friendly conversations, company meetings, and internet social sites. We read newspapers, watch television, and surf the internet. All of these activities lead us to form our own opinions based on what we've experienced, seen, and heard.
Some of our opinions are very strong, while others are not, depending on the level of importance to our personal value systems. Opinions are feelings held in confidence though not substantiated by positive proof. While you may feel that new dish detergent is the very best through your own observations, you can not with certainty say it is the best for every one. The circumstances of your use of the product will not be the same for everyone who uses it. Unless you are someone paid to give your opinions of a product, you won't be doing any research on how well this detergent works in hard water verses soft water, whether altitude affects its abilities, etc. It's simply not that important to you.
Other issues will strike you to the core. You may be someone who has blithely wandered along through life, accepting what you were taught as a child, never questioning the validity of your education. Then one day, you're smacked with a headline that leads you to believe that something might have been wrong with the information you accepted blindly. The natural next step is to talk to others, seek out their opinions. If the issue is important enough to you, there will be a seeking of information through every means possible. After working your way through the mountains of evidence both for and against your newly formed idea, you will make a decision based on your knowledge. In other words, you will either be convinced that your opinion is the right and true one, or you will be on the other side of the fence. Either way, you will be convinced by the information you have digested.
As I was drawn into the discussions in this particular forum, many questions were being raised in my mind. The forum was on a writer's website. Aren't writers responsible to know their subject? Shouldn't a writer be able to produce some kind of “proof” such as citing sources for the information on which they formed their opinion? I don't advocate that all responses should be followed up with “and you can find the information I've used to come to this conclusion at ….”
Most discussions begin with an exchange of ideas. If an opposing idea is questioned, the person presenting the idea should be able to back up their statement with more than an attitude of “because I said so.” Unless that person is a documented expert in the area being discussed, his or her statement is only as valuable to others as the respect they may hold for that person's right to speak.
A forum is a place to exchange ideas, information, and engage in discussing the merits of the topic. Do you agree or disagree?
I enter a forum because....?
I think most people start threads in forums because ...
Another question I needed to give thought pertained to my previous observations that many of the people responding in forums were shallow and self-serving. Was I being fair? Probably not since I only entered a few and formed my opinion rather quickly. I took some time and entered a few other forums, reading the topics before going on to examine some of the responses in the individual threads. While there seemed to be several well-thought out answers, there were many more that were simply briefly stated opinions which clearly reflected a somewhat self-centered viewpoint.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with stating opinions which are based on personal wishes and needs. Most of our convictions begin that way. We usually will see an injustice when it occurs to us or someone close to us. That is what may have drawn our attention to the issue. What I noticed was happening in many of the forums, was a “taking sides” type of behavior. Very few folks elaborated on their points of view. I wondered, was this really the purpose of the forums? My understanding had always been that a forum was a place for open discussion about ideas presented.
If my understanding was correct, then what was the problem? It finally occurred to me that many of the responders were relatively new to the website. They were simply following good advice to get involved through forums, reading, and commenting. Those who had been around for a long time, certainly took the time to enter the forums, but due to their longevity with the site, had tons of work to perform besides writing and posting in the forums. These old timers have many hubs to monitor, responding to comments left, tweaking and editing them for greater exposure, not to mention, writing is their passion, so of course they spend a large amount of their time pounding on their keyboards.
There was another possibility as to why many of the responses were less “meaty”. Sometimes, there is someone present in the forum who has very fixed ideas and there is no way to have an open conversation with them. Fixed ideas is okay. Tell me why you believe so strongly. You might present me with some information I haven't yet been exposed to. I'd like very much to learn something new. However, many of those with such fixed ideas, also have issues with self-esteem, finding anyone with an opposing view as a threat to their sense of self.
Using my experience, this type of person can be very insulting and demeaning, attaching the opposition's lack of intelligence, education, and ability to understand their position. They wrongly believe that if others don't agree with them, then those others can't possibly be capable of understanding the full scope of the situation being discussed. They are so certain of their own skills, that they can not give credence that anyone with a like set of skills could have a different view.
The end result was that my opposition took offense to what she considered was ridicule and ignorance, and decided to close up shop. She left a message stating her intention to leave the website, while removing all her work. She continued in her harangue about the ignorance and lack of education of those in the forum. I read her final posting with mixed emotions.
A part of me wanted to be childish and laugh at the absurdity of her behavior. Judging from others' responses to her diatribes, she had clearly performed in a similar vein many times before. It was obvious from some of the comments posted that no one was viewing her leaving as a sad event. I thought about what her presence in forums might have meant to those there with her. Was she one of the reasons the responses weren't quite full bodied? Did her derisive attitude serve to put a muzzle on those who simply didn't want to be consumed with fending her off? If that was the case, perhaps we are better off without her.
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There was another part of me that didn't really want her to go. I truly believed she probably had some very valuable ideas. I felt that what was holding her back from getting her points across was her anger at being opposed to begin with. Until she began making comments about the audience's failure to be educated, I didn't feel one way or the other about her. She was entitled to her beliefs, no matter how much I disagreed with them. So why didn't I want her to go?
She made me think about my responses. It wasn't enough for me to state my case in a few simple sentences. She insisted everything was wrong, implying my beliefs were not founded in anything beyond my ignorance. I had to take a serious look at why I believed the way I did. I was forced to sort through my computer files for information I had stored there, in order to find the articles which had helped me to come to my personal conclusion.
The end result was good for me. I am now extremely aware of exactly why I believe the way I do. Sometimes, we form ideas that gradually turn into opinions without consciously being aware of how we come to our conclusion. A re-examination of our reasoning can help to uncover possible leaps of logic that has impact on our reasoning. I was happy to discover that my logic was fully in tact, at least in my opinion.
The final questions to be considered are: Do we ignore people like that? Do we spend valuable time engaging in a possibly fruitless discussion? Or do we avoid them, altogether? If we ignore and avoid them, are we doing a disservice to the new members who might be dismayed to believe they've joined a den of vipers?
As for me, I believe I will welcome their presence. They serve as a fierce reminder not to become opinionated, but rather a woman of convictions. I won't be allowing myself to spend quite so much of my time responding, as it takes away from my other responsibilities. However, it was a good exercise in patience and fortitude.