Good Discussions

April 24, 2011

Another of my favorite blogs is Helena Cobban’s Just World News.  Helena is a Quaker, pacifist journalist with deep experience in many parts of the world, but especially in the Middle East.  She reminded her readers this morning of her comments policy for her blog, and I like this policy a lot.  I think they say a great deal about what good discussions look like, especially when the participants in the discussion don’t agree.

She starts out with a reminder (drawing on her Quaker beliefs) that “no one person has a monopoly on truth; that everyone has a portion of it; and that we can’t tell how big “our own” portion is until we test our own interpretations in a broader and more diverse public discussion, as well as against the facts of the situation.”

You can see the comments section of her blog as governed by something very akin to academic freedom.  The entire policy follows:

Mission statement and ground-rules for the JWN Comments boards

I hope that the JWN comments boards will be a place where we can all discuss ideas, interpretations, and differences in a friendly way, realizing that no one person has a monopoly on truth; that everyone has a portion of it; and that we can’t tell how big “our own” portion is until we test our own interpretations in a broader and more diverse public discussion, as well as against the facts of the situation.

I hope this can be a place where we lay down our need to change or convert other people. It’s not  that change and conversion aren’t both good, but they are probably best experienced in the context of real relationships.

Following some general rules of comment etiquette will encourage and model the kind of discursive community that we can build through the amazing capacities of cyberspace and the blogging software we’re using within it.

1. Please try to stick to the topic in the main post.  In previous discussions here many commenters, myself included, have gone off on lengthy tangents.  Let’s all try to discern and remember what “the main theme” of a post is, and keep our comments on that topic?

2. Adding additional information relevant to the topic, or voicing a request for such information from other readers, are two particularly valuable features of comments boards.

3. If you disagree with something that someone else has written, why not just tell us what you believe and leave it at that? Everyone will hear your wisdom better if you aren’t wasting words trying to show that other people are wrong.

4. If you strongly feel you need to speak directly to something that someone else wrote, be gentle and courteous.  Remember that all the people who comtribute here are real people, not cardboard pastiches.  We come from many different cultures, with widely varying norms of what counts as polite discussion, and what as rudeness or outright verbal bullying– and cyberspace is a place that lends itself particularly easily to miscommunication.  When in doubt, please err on the side of excessive courtesy.

5. Practice the valuable art of speaking across worldviews. If you want people to read your comments with an open mind and some empathy, show that you have read what they have previously written in that same spirit.

7. It is never courteous to hog the discourse. Please limit each comment to 300 words. Try not to comment more than once in every five or six comments in any single discussion.  If you have more to say, post those lengthier thoughts on your own blog or website and put in a hyperlink to them.

6. Please don’t be repetitive.

My thanks to Real Live Preacher from whose rules the above was quite broadly adapted.

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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