You articulated something that I knew implicitly but never really had the chance to formulate. If you tell someone to "stop being judgmental", you are contradicting the very moral principle you are telling that person to practice.

I would like to meditate on what you said here:

"Civility is, and must be, an agreement between mutually respectful parties who share an equal commitment to reason and a mostly aligned vision of the moral good."

Ever since I started writing on Medium, I tried to give everyone I interacted with the benefit of the doubt. I would do my best to avoid straw-manning arguments in order to prove them wrong, and I would do my best to interpret what they were saying with good faith. Even for people who did not give me the same grace, I would respond with civility and found that most people either returned with a more gentle and respectful approach or refrained from responding with the same attitude they began with. It's hard to say if my civility has persuaded anyone to think or act differently - it always seems to be a "let's agree to disagree", which makes me question the effectiveness of civility as a persuasive tactic. If I was being brutally honest with myself, maybe my use of civility is an aesthetic choice - a way to perch myself on a moral high ground by displaying my ability to stay emotionally and intellectually stable and against immature and illogical statements.

I believe fighting fire with fire only makes the flame grow to immense proportions - whatever small opportunity of understanding and empathy that could have been kindled from the exchange is incinerated and consumed by hostility. We can play the blame game and point to "whoever started it" to justify our words and actions, but this also does not help us create the connection that is necessary for civil and productive conversations.

Perhaps it is naive to believe that this can be done on the Internet - people don't have the mental or emotional bandwidth to care about other people's opinions online. Why should I care what this other person says? I don't know them, nor do I care about them. Why shouldn't I tell them that what they believe in is stupid, or even better, that they're not only wrong but also stupid as a person?

Well it would depend on what your goal is as a communicator. Is your goal to communicate a thought/belief/idea that you wish other people would understand and align with? If so, it is not in your best interest to make your interlocutor your enemy. To be fair, the productiveness of a conversation also depends on the goal of the other party - if they're unwilling to give you to be benefit of the doubt and if they're talking to you only to prove the validity of their preconceived notions and assumptions, then it's a casting pearls before swine situation and should be abandoned quickly.

I like the caveat you put in the end. You prefer civility, but it is ineffective if applied as an all-encompassing principle. Understanding its limitations will help me understand when it should be practiced and when righteous indignation (contempt) should take its place. This essay made me realize the limitations of my approach. Perhaps our innate personalities and unique experiences in life shape who we align with - I happen to align with MLK but I do see the merit of Malcolm X's worldview. Thanks for such a thought provoking read. Really looking forward to reading your other essays!

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If you want to ask me a question or simply want to talk: @ohc.william@gmail.com. I also write about a variety of other topics on greaterwillproject.com!

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William Cho

William Cho

7.6K Followers

If you want to ask me a question or simply want to talk: @ohc.william@gmail.com. I also write about a variety of other topics on greaterwillproject.com!