Monday, 11 June 2012

To Debate or not to Debate - that is the question. Is it good for our psychological well being?

Facebook is a Debating Society. The way it is set up makes it that way. Whatever your status, it is bound to get some sort of attention. Just of late there has been some ruffled feathers concerning historical debate. Debate is meant to be contentious, especially if it is in the public interest and whereas a subject about a historical topic may not be necessarily one of the most inportant issues in a modern society, it can provoke great argument amongst  both the professional and amateur historians. We are taught in college and uni that when you join a debating society, you are likely to hit upon some emotions that no one ever thought existed within themselves and others, but that although joining in a debate that contains emotive an subject may get argumentative and aggressive, it doesnt mean you get personal and nor do you take things personally because thats when the topic becomes void, when people begin responding to what they believe to be a slight or an insult.

Equally, when you put a 'contraversial' idea out there, such as an author's suggestion that one of our historical King's was actually the son of someone else, you cannot expect people to not question this and you must be prepared to respond. Both the questioner and the responder need to do so politely and without aggression because although its a debate, we're not at college or uni and these aren't our colleagues, fellow students or mates. These may not be people we've ever spoken to before. Debating on FB should not be the same as the rigorous debating groups we maybe used to in our academic places. What I often find disturbing is that friends and fans often come to the 'rescue' of the debated and I've seen some pretty nasty things said to people who are asking for sources or putting over a different perspective or argument. People need to remain calm and allow people their views without trashing them personally.

It often pays to play it cool. I'm a bit of a hothead myself and used to get fired up about stuff but really, people stop focusing on the subject and focussing on my behaviour then and that only helps them deflect the topic from the real issue which is not the desired outcome when trying to get an argument over. Plus I have often over-reacted to something and then felt really awful with an emotional hangover that makes me feel even worse. I have been learning that debating on FB means you are often taking the safety of your mental well-being into your hands . you have to have thick skin and broad shoulders not to be hurt by some of the really inflammatory things that are said. I am saying this because so many of my friends have been hurt bey things getting personal and resentment is an evil powerful tool with which to batter ourselves with. I know I have to stay away from anger as it is not an emotion that serves me well as my past history will tell me.

People need to react more calmly to people's views, don't give in to that little voice inside your head that wants tor bite back otherwise the whole debate is lost and noone is the winner, certainly not the person/subect, you are trying to defend or defame which ever it be.

Recently I posted a piece about Anger and shared this very wise line: "Resentment is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die", it isnt going to happen cos very often they're calmly and happily asleep at night in their beds while you toss and turn and play your next argument or what you should have said over and over in your head. Debate, but don't get personal.


  1. Paula I agree. Wise words. My personal philosophy is do as you would be done by and 'play nice'. It is counter-productive to get in a fluff. State your case, and if you reach a point where it's agree to disagree and the discussion is going round in circles or turning sour, then disengage for your own well being. There are better, more positive things to spend one's life on than getting one's knickers in a knot and trying to have the last word. :-)

  2. My sentiments exactly Elizabeth, thanks for your comment.

  3. Very wise words Paula. I have belonged to a number of forums that became so bad that people were being threatened simply because of their views. Those sites were-believe it or not- Robin Hood sites! Even when a private site was started by academics, and I was invited along, it degenerated to personal attacks by some members.

    I have learnt over the years to simply step back from historical debates and embrace the vast spectrum of personal views. This way I can avoid getting my boxers in a twist!!

  4. Thanks Clement for your comment. We should be able to discuss history without feeling as if we have gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson which is sometimes how I feel just watching others at it let alone doing it myself. I think when it starts getting nasty and personal, it becomes pointless. The trolls and the nasties cant play the game on their own.

  5. I like that quote Paula - "Resentment is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die". The problem with social network sites, there are a few people out there who either stir up trouble intentionally, or cause it because they can't see the wood for the trees. They start shouting because they disagree - but fail to see that, actually, all they are doing is making themselves look silly (and somewhat boring).
    Trolls are people who make comment after comment on a post (usually saying the same thing worded differently) coming back again and again to argue their point, refusing to accept any opposing view, while being determined to prove they are the misunderstood victim and everyone else is not playing fair. And trolls usually come in packs - Troll and Trolleys... the groupies who join in with the baying for blood. In past lives I expect they sat knitting while heads rolled, and cheering while the Christians were fed to the lions.
    So what is the answer? Don't put anything in a post that could be even remotely contentious? Keep schtum? I don't see why we should interest and views should be shared, discussed - and even hotly debated, but do not play by a Troll argumentative rules. When the children start screaming and chucking their teddies out of the cot - leave the teddies on the floor.
    Good post Paula. And hear hear to your reply to Clement.

    1. 'refusing to accept any opposing view'; failing to 'see the wood for the trees'; 'determined to prove they are the misunderstood victim'; 'groupies who join in with the baying for blood'; 'screaming and chucking their teddies out of the cot'... Yes, I was subject to exactly this in a recent facebook discussion, which was then moved to a 'secure location' so that no-one could join in who didn't agree! My disagreement was written off as lack of interest and close-mindedness, not a particularly mature response! I think there are some people on facebook and elsewhere who are so used to their 'groupies' agreeing with and hanging off every word they say that an outsider who doesn't immediately fall into line, or who presents an opposing view, or who asks awkward questions is greeted with horror and ultra-defensiveness. As for anyone's supposed past life... well, I guess if it makes you feel better you can believe anything you like! But an implicit expectation that others will, too, might just cause some debate. And debate, if it's done the right way, is a healthy thing. Stifling it? Well that's about as healthy as stifling freedom of thought and freedom of speech.

    2. I'm sorry you seem to have taken the subject personally nevilfeast, but you have jumped to a wrong conclusion. I was actually talking about the unfortunately increasing problem of Trolling in general.
      I know of several friends who have joined discussions on Facebook these last few weeks who have experienced varying degrees of unpleasantness. One close friend telephoned me in tears regarding a discussion about cats (it seems there are quite a few cat-haters out there). Another got himself involved in a nasty "debate" which had degenerated into accusations of a disturbing racial nature. Both threads were, thankfully, removed by the moderators.

      But, yet again, I repeat- I have NOT removed the Facebook discussion you mention to a "secure location so that no-one could join in who didn't agree!" That is a false accusation.
      It remains fully available for anyone to view and leave a comment.

      The only comments I removed from the original thread were those made after both myself and the FB site moderator requested the discussion to close (& it was not my fault people ignored this request!)and some of the comments that were repeats of those already posted, plus a couple that were completely off topic. Otherwise, nothing has been censored, re-worded, removed, made private or manipulated. Your words are still there, as you posted them.
      Go to:
      the Facebook Discussion is clearly there on the menu bar. (direct link is:

      I decided to move my personal posts from the blog to a "private" setting because I felt, in the aftermath of the FB discussion, that I preferred to share my personal experiences with like-minded people who shared the same interest in this particular subject. There is nothing sinister or underhand in my decision. As I have made quite plain, anyone interested is welcome to contact me & I will forward the link. I will be more than happy to forward it to you, should you wish to see the new location for yourself.

    3. Oh, I haven't taken it personally, at all, Helen. I rarely take anything personally.

  6. Great post, Paula! I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  7. You are so right, Helen. Some of my friends were subjected to exactly this treatment last week, and I must say I was shocked. It is a sad day when people cannot express opposing opinions without being called all sorts of names.

  8. Brilliant post and comments afterwards. I think most of us can sometimes lose our cool or misunderstand someone else's tone but actual trolling is something very different. Wise words indeed in this post!