– How the Internet has altered the way we argue.

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Recently I came across a local news story having to do with road rage. Evidently, two men in their twenties got into a highway dispute in the wee hours of a morning which led to a physical confrontation whereby one man finally pulled out a gun to defend himself and killed the other person. The shooter has not been charged with a crime as he is protected by Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. This resulted in a firestorm of letters commenting on the story, most criticizing the shooter and claiming the victim was a really nice guy. Interestingly, most of the people springing to the defense of the victim appeared to be of the same age (in their twenties). Those who came to the defense of the shooter appeared to be older. This led to a rather toxic debate on the Internet with the two sides arguing which person was at fault in the incident. So much so, I got the uneasy feeling the issue started to become as ugly as the initial confrontation, maybe more so.

As for me, I felt it was an unfortunate incident but I certainly didn’t have enough information to form an opinion one way or another, just an article where the reporter pieced together a story from law enforcement reports. This is why I was surprised by the vicious discourse resulting from the article. Some of the commentators were familiar with the location where the shooting occurred, some claimed to know one or the other person in the incident, and others played detective or attorney. All had a definite opinion which they fervently argued, some even going so far as to attack anyone possessing an opposing opinion. I was actually more aghast by the comments as opposed to the actual accident itself. Obviously, none of them were present at the time of the incident, nor knew the sequence of events leading up to it, nor the evidence or testimony compiled by the police afterwards, yet they were hellbent on defending their position which struck me as rather strange. The same can also be said about the Trayvon Martin incident where the public became a lynch mob before allowing the police to complete their investigation.

Actually, these incidents typify how Americans tend to argue in the 21st century. It is not so much a matter of civil discourse anymore as it is spin, attack, ridicule, deceive, and assassinate character; a sort of “Sherman’s march to the sea” mentality where everything is destroyed that gets in the way of the person arguing. This approach has been facilitated by the Internet where it is easy to snipe at your opponent under the cloak of anonymity which seems rather cowardly to me. This is why I have always tried to maintain my true identity on the Internet as I am willing to stand by my words. You may not always agree with me, but you know where I stand on an issue.

In both my writings and pursuant correspondence I avoid saying anything I wouldn’t be afraid to say to a person’s face. I know a lot of people on the Internet who cannot make this same claim. I am also mindful of the old axiom, “If you haven’t got anything good to say about a person, do not say it.” As such, I do not engage in arguments where I know the other person is trying to bait me. If I were to take the bait and allow myself to argue in the gutter, I would lose my dignity and respect, which is something my opponent may be willing to risk, but I am not. When it is apparent we are at loggerheads, and we will obviously not change each other’s opinion or perspective, I simply drop the matter recognizing it is futile to continue. In other words, a lot of people need to learn when to “let it go.”

Understand this though, my way of arguing is considered old school. Today’s Internet savvy kids do not possess this school of thought and, consequently, do not abide by any rules whatsoever. As far as they are concerned, all is fair in love and war, and show no restraint in their arguments or ethical compunction. Somewhere along the line we have forgotten that arguments are a very personal form of communications. We can either do it with a little style and respect for the other party, or simply go for the jugular. Unfortunately, the era of gentlemanly debate ended with the 20th century. It may be considered a bygone era, but we didn’t have quite as many Road Rage incidents back then either.

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at [email protected]

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Copyright © 2012 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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