2016-07-28

Dialogue, Not Monologue

As I see it, one major problem with the media through which people communicate their ideas is that they are insufficiently participatory.

For example:

  • I might commit my ideas to a blog. I might even solicit and receive comments from the public. But if I don't read the comments, and think about the comments, and reply to the comments (either directly, or via a follow-up post), then I'm not really collecting the feedback my ideas need in order to grow. I might receive a  lot of bad comments, but if this happens consistently, then I ought to consider how I'm delivering my message, and ask myself why I get bad comments instead of good ones. The other possibility, of course, is that the "bad" comments I might receive aren't really bad at all; it's my attitude that's bad.
  • I might describe my ideas in a scholarly journal. I'll be peer-reviewed, edited, challenged, and so on. Setting aside the potential corruption in the academic journal system, the main drawback here is that both my articles and the peer reviews are themselves lengthy monologues, some of which might be true, some of which might be untrue. Making heads or tails of it all - especially within the context of the full issue - requires a level of dedication and intimacy with the subject matter that few will possess. Even among those who try to possess it, many (most?) will fail. Some crucial piece of information will always elude us. It's one thing to be wrong about a few points, but it's quite another to never have sufficient context surrounding an issue to really offer a workable idea.
  • I might present my ideas in the political space, and subject them to the contorting influence of ideologically motivated reasoning. This is unsatisfactory for all sorts of reasons: first, because it's unpleasant; second, because it's factually inaccurate; and third, for every other reason.
  • I might seek the counsel of a trusted friend or confidant. But if I'm not receptive to the reply - even if it's not the kind of reply we expect. What if my confidant tells me that I'm wrong and that I need to change? What if my confidant says something I never expected and didn't want to hear?
If conversation is to be productive at all, we have to be receptive to the feedback we actually receive. We can't just furrow our brow and say, "No, no, you simply don't understand what I'm saying. Here, let me say it again..."

The world doesn't exist as a platform for you to voice your opinion, give your take, offer your perspective, and then disappear into the night. Once you send your own thoughts into the world, they join the collective dialogue. The desire to control the kind of feedback we receive is for one thing childish; yes, it's childish to wish to control the thoughts of others.

But more importantly, it's disingenuous. It suggests that you were never really interested in the truth or accuracy or value of your statements to begin with. You wanted to say something, and you wanted to be right. You did not want to have to consider the alternative.

Join the dialogue.