Walking Away from Arguments
I did it again. I know better, but I let myself get drawn into another online argument that took up far more time and energy than it was worth. It was gun rights issues this time. I’m not going to link or name the folks I was talking to, because that’s not what I want to get into right now.
I spent roughly an hour on this last night, reading comments and arguments and articles, presenting links and my own thoughts in return. There were the predictable “Oh, you stupid liberals” comments from some of this persons followers, but those were more amusing than anything.
For a while, it was somewhat productive, at least for me. I walked away with a better understanding of the mindset behind wanting more guns and guards in the schools. I don’t agree with all of the arguments, but I got a clearer idea where they came from. It helped me understand some related issues as well, and the conflict between personal security/protection vs. larger preventative measures. While some of the articles and links people shoved at me were crap, others were more thoughtful, and I’m still considering those.
But as things progressed, it began to feel more and more like pedaling a stuck bike in the mud. We weren’t getting anywhere, and continuing to try was just digging me deeper and spreading muck everywhere. So I said I was done.
Holy crap, you’d think I had just busted open this dude’s gun safe and taken a big old dump on his prized rifle. Walking away proved I was never interested in debate. It was the typical liberal tactic of running away because all my ideas had failed. By the following morning, we were getting comments about putting liberals through woodchippers. (That particular comment came from one of this person’s followers. Gosh, why would I ever want to walk away from such a lovely discussion venue?) Basically, I’m just another intolerant liberal, and the only opinions I want to hear are those that agree with mine.
I have a book deadline coming up. I could have finished the third draft of CODEX BORN last night if I hadn’t invested so much time in this debate. And then there’s stuff like spending time with my family, taking care of the house, helping my wife who’s continuing to recover from surgery…all things which I consider more important than spending another hour arguing with someone on Facebook.
The thing is, the reasons shouldn’t even matter. I get to choose how I’m going to spend my time and energy. If I’m in a discussion where I feel like I’m learning things, I’ll usually choose to keep going with that discussion. If not, or if there are other things I need to do, then I walk away. Given that it’s my life, well, call me crazy, but I figure I have the right to make that choice and set those boundaries.
Have you ever noticed how pissed off people can get when you set boundaries? It feels like, having entered this discussion, I was somehow obligated to remain until such time as he decided we were done.
I don’t get it. Let it go, man. No matter how many times you post about me, tag me in comments, or whatever, I’m done. No means no, you know?
The response today pissed me off at first. It doesn’t help that this was someone I knew and had chatted with at cons and such. But now, it mostly feels kind of sad.
What gets me is how often I’ve watched this script play out. It’s not just sad. It’s boring. What is it that makes people feel entitled to as much of your time and energy as they want? That you’re not allowed to walk away, but are instead obligated to remain on the field until they feel satisfied? I don’t get it.
On the bright side, aside from a direct message restating that I was done with the conversation, I’ve stayed away from the muck today, and instead finished up the draft of CODEX BORN. Between you and me, it was a much better way to spend the morning.
December 30, 2012 @ 1:57 pm
December 30, 2012 @ 1:59 pm
You are wise. Thanks for the reminder.
Jim C. Hines
December 30, 2012 @ 2:04 pm
Meh. If I was wise, I would have walked away sooner, or not jumped into the discussion in the first place.
December 30, 2012 @ 2:05 pm
It’s the authority voice. The “you get back here right now, young man, because I’m not done with you yet,” that parents say. And by walking away you fought his authority and pretended you were an equal. Tsk tsk.
December 30, 2012 @ 2:06 pm
It never occurred to me to summarize it so elegantly: The “issue” of imposing boundaries.
That we can and should impose boundaries over who gets to use our time and energy and how.
But then again, even as we learn to push boundaries – and, OTOH, how little our “no” can mean to grown ups.
Daniel Swensen (@surlymuse)
December 30, 2012 @ 2:10 pm
“Walking away proved I was never interested in debate. It was the typical liberal tactic of running away because all my ideas had failed.”
Yeah… as compared to what? Spending the rest of your life typing in all caps on a message board to people who have no interest in hearing what you have to say? Yeah, that’ll make a big difference in the scheme of things and make the world a better place. You did the right thing by walking away. There are more important things in this world than feeling like you won an Facebook debate.
December 30, 2012 @ 2:15 pm
My husband gets into the same arguments as you. Primarily on Facebook. I can’t understand the rationale behind it. Consensus is almost never reached in the internet slap-fights. Even when you attempt to be reasonable, even when your arguments are valid, if the other person is just foaming at the mouth, no good comes from it. 🙂 Once Gordon decided to take a stand against an anti-gay Christian by stating that Jesus was not a Republican and wouldn’t be cutting Social Security if he were alive today as the original poster asserted. He was the man who fed the poor and healed the sick. This guy argued with my husband for 2 hours. The entirety of my husband’s responses consisted of direct quotes from the Bible.
Hating dude: Blah-blah argument.
Gordon: Bible quote.
Hating dude: Blah-blah argument.
Gordon: Bible quote.
Hating dude: You are Satan. You are trying to trick me.
To me that was the ultimate proof that there simply wasn’t a way through that man’s crust to any sort of reason. Yet, my husband still gets sucked in into these arguments. Maybe you could help me understand, Jim. Why?
December 30, 2012 @ 2:18 pm
“Have you ever noticed how pissed off people can get when you set boundaries?”
This is an interesting sentence for me, given that I just spent a few days reading the hundreds if not thousands of comments on a couple blog posts about public/street harassment of women… It seems there are a lot of entitled people running around out there, and they often react badly when others refuse to give them what they think is their due.
Now I just hope I’m not one of them! Time to monitor my interactions again….
Daniel Swensen (@surlymuse)
December 30, 2012 @ 2:19 pm
Oh, that tricky Bible!
December 30, 2012 @ 2:28 pm
The problem is announcing you were leaving. So many people “flounce” out of arguments that it has become almost axiomatic that (a) they ran away because they knew they were losing, and (b) they’ll be back later to whine about how everyone was meeeaaan to them.
I’ve dropped out of plenty of online arguments, for the same general reason, i.e. I can see it’s unproductive and I have other things to do. So I definitely think it’s better to not be the guy in XKCD #386.
The trick is to just walk away. Don’t announce you’re leaving; just leave. You don’t anyone your time, true; but you also don’t owe anyone an explanation.
December 30, 2012 @ 2:31 pm
Here is why:
Jim C. Hines
December 30, 2012 @ 2:52 pm
I think letting folks know I was done might have set off some of the overreactions, but I don’t accept that my saying so was the problem…
Jim C. Hines
December 30, 2012 @ 2:53 pm
Yep. It’s a dynamic and response that comes up a lot in male/female interactions, where the male initiates and the female is rude/a bitch/stuck-up/whatever for trying to walk away.
December 30, 2012 @ 2:54 pm
I admire you for posting about something you regret doing, and letting us be reminded by your experience.
Jim C. Hines
December 30, 2012 @ 2:55 pm
“Maybe you could help me understand, Jim. Why?”
Hm. Well, have you asked your husband if maybe he *is* Satan?
I got into it because I thought, based on previous in-person interactions with this person, that something useful might come of it. While I did walk away with insights and understanding I hadn’t had before, I also think I overestimated rather badly…
Jim C. Hines
December 30, 2012 @ 2:56 pm
Hm … not sure how I should interpret the word “pretended” there 😉
December 30, 2012 @ 3:03 pm
Sadly, he is Satan. I have proof. Our youngest daughter watched the Prophecy and she will occasionally come up to me and say in a scary voice, “I love you more than Jesus.”
December 30, 2012 @ 4:09 pm
On my favorite forum, we have to continually remind each other not to “poke the crazy.”
Most of the time folks aren’t interested in debating. They want to change MY mind, just as (if I’m honest with myself), I want to change THEIR minds.
99% of the time, nothing constructive happens, alas. And the 1% of the time where someone (me or the other) says “Huh, you know, I really hadn’t thought of it that way. Huh. I may have to think of this differently” are really not worth the brain damage caused by the other 99% of the time. So I personally stay away as much as possible.
Good for you.
December 30, 2012 @ 5:20 pm
I saw that in my feed last night. Next time, you want one of us to message you to remind you to walk away early?
December 30, 2012 @ 6:40 pm
I respect people like you who jump into the fray, though. I have the opposite problem: I hate confrontation, hate arguing, have absolutely no interest in trying to convince people that I am right. (It’s sort of golden rule-ish, I guess, because I really don’t want them trying to convert me.)
But I’ve spent too much time with people who state their opinions as fact because they believe (wrongly) that everyone around them agrees. And too many times, I walk away, rather than getting into a fight. It’s good to remind them that there is another side to the argument.
December 30, 2012 @ 6:43 pm
But but but but… someone is wrongs on teh internets.
December 30, 2012 @ 6:49 pm
This is something I get at work a lot. I find with that type of person who isn’t interested in debate, the best way to drive them crazy is to dismiss them and walk away. I find more often than not, they’re grubbing for attention and it will royally piss them off to walk away. It preserves your own sanity too. ‘Course this counts as poking the crazy. Helps that at work I’m the quality guy who is paid to tell others they’re bad at their jobs.Thick skin goes with the job.
Jim C. Hines
December 30, 2012 @ 7:44 pm
I do think there’s value in speaking out, and with offering dissenting opinions. But I think I need to look more into speaking my piece and walking away, rather than letting myself get drawn into pointless squabbling.
Jim C. Hines
December 30, 2012 @ 7:45 pm
After last night, I suspect I’ll remember, at least for a while. Thanks for the offer, though 🙂
December 30, 2012 @ 8:11 pm
Yup. That’s why I don’t engage in certain discussions online and in public, even with friends. They become mindless shouting matches at some point and that’s when I give up. Then I get called a coward or brainless or accused of flouncing off in a huff or something similar and not long after that people get banned/dropped/unfriended/muted/whatever. Because even thoughtful, intelligent people can become overly invested in poorly expressed, poorly thought-out, emotionally-based, or circular arguments when the medium is so remote and lose perspective and say things they wouldn’t dream of saying in person. And this is something up with which I shall not put.
December 30, 2012 @ 8:36 pm
You’re wise, but you’re also a human being. Emotions have a tendancy to get in the way sometimes.
December 30, 2012 @ 8:50 pm
I *have* been in online fora where someone said that they felt they’d said everything they wanted to say, or the conversation was taking more of their energy than they wanted to give it, or otherwise gracefully bowed out, and nobody pitched a fit. In fact, some other participants seemed to have the liberating realization that they could do that too if they wanted!
But I would never count on it on Facebook, because one mysterious thing I’ve noticed is even that people I like and respect can have some FB friends ( / Twitter followers / what have you) who are kind of jerks.
December 30, 2012 @ 8:52 pm
There was an article I read a while back (albeit on Cracked.com so bastardized summation of possibly legitimate science ahoy!) which explained in debates people want to win more than they want to be correct–or something along those lines. By walking away without conceding the point you deprived them of their victory. They can’t have that!
On the whole, while I find many internet debates futile, I do appreciate people who jump in. It’s much easier for me to challenge my own views as an outside observer (where I have nothing at stake) than it is to become embroiled in emotionally draining brouhahas.
December 30, 2012 @ 9:08 pm
Writers often strive for intelligent discourse, no matter the topic. You write from so many viewpoints, I believe it’s part of your nature to try and understand the views of those around you, regardless of how we may think of them. If more people simply strove to understand, instead of win, our world would be a much better place. Thank you for trying, and for having the strength to know when it was no longer worth your effort.
Daniel D. Webb
December 31, 2012 @ 10:50 am
I’m a rather confrontational person, both by personality AND by training; I was a debater through high school and college. Unfortunately, that means I like to argue politely, constructively and with some basic rules and courtesies in play. I’ve learned that the internet is generally not the place for it.
I’ve fallen several times into that very trap, Jim, and unfortunately it doesn’t seem to get any easier. I’m not sure why that is, but even knowing ahead of time that what you’re doing isn’t going to lead to anything good, once you’re engaged it’s insidiously tempting to keep responding, ESPECIALLY if your sparring partner is exhibiting the kind of ridiculous reasoning that demands to be slapped down.
My theory is that this is why so many people are passive-aggressive and snide on fora. It’s a coping mechanism to counter the much more conventional aggression. For my part, I’ve learned the best departure is to stop posting without apology or explanation. A little rude, yes, but they get to feel like they won and I get to not deal with them anymore. Everybody wins.
December 31, 2012 @ 11:19 am
I’ve gotten slammed a few times for exiting arguments when they were no longer productive. (Both sides—liberals do it too, and I’ve gotten it from both angles.) The problem is, while you are trying to say “Thanks for all the discussion, it’s a lot to think about, and I am done now” what the other side hears is “You didn’t convince me! Goodbye!” I have to say, I firmly believe in the right to exit an argument when it is no longer interesting, productive, or just if you don’t have time or got bored. I think the line “You can’t leave, I wasn’t done!” is truly ludicrous, particularly on the internet. So Jim, you were completely on the right side of this one.
January 2, 2013 @ 4:06 pm
If someone cannot convince you of the merit of their arguments in an hour, it is unlikely they will do so in 2 or 3 or even 168 hours.
As for guns and the US Second Amendment, I believe people should be entitled to weapons of similar quality to those in 1787: effectively only at a range of 100-150 yards and firing 1-3 times per minute.
January 2, 2013 @ 5:22 pm
Winston! (Of course the Google says it can’t be proven he actually said it – sigh…)
I also agree with your point – and people frequently argue with me on this 🙂 – it’s easy to get carried away online
January 3, 2013 @ 8:26 pm
I know this is a late comment, but what you said about what really angered the person resonated for me. I’ve noticed this before, that some responses anger people disproportionately. The ones that seem not to argue, but to suggest that one (or both) side(s) of an argument are irrelevant, by “choosing” neither. As if by admitting there may be some middle ground between opposed answers, you have called the entire validity of the argument into question. Which is somehow far more threatening the people who are invested in the argument than an actual opponent would be. So far, I’ve noticed it holds true for religion, sexual orientation, and gun control. It may hold true for any other issue on which people feel so strongly and invest so much. 🙁
Just more grist for the mill, I guess.
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