For more years than I care to count, I’ve had a habit of visiting online forums where the prevailing views on religion, politics, and other matters are very different from my own and acting as a gadfly until I either burned out or got booted out. I’ve made friends this way, but I’ve probably made many more enemies. I’ve learned a lot about myself, other people, and the issues being discussed, but it’s come at a high price in terms of chronic frustration, anger, and general displeasure with how I’ve conducted myself in a manner that violates my ideals concerning what kind of person I want to be and how I want to behave.
Moreover, if my intention was to persuade others to at least reexamine views of theirs that differed from mine, I probably failed miserably, because I doubt that I persuaded a single person to come around to my way of thinking about anything. If anything, my compulsive combativeness has probably motivated them to cling to and defend their views even more strongly and allowed them to rationalize it by saying to themselves, “A nut like that can’t be right about anything he says.”
The latest chapter of this has just come to a close. I stirred things up in a forum of likeminded religious and political conservatives until the host got totally fed up and forced me out. I learned a lot in this forum and can still do so by continuing to follow the discussion there, but I doubt that I’ll ever again be allowed to join in the give-and-take of their discussions of some truly fascinating topics, because I will never again be trusted to act like anything other than the ass I acted like before.
Did other people act like asses too? Most certainly. And while their defending it on the grounds that they were only responding in kind to my trollish obstreperousness might not completely cut the mustard, the fact is that I got off on a bad foot from my very first appearance in that forum and let things tumble downhill from there by blinding myself to my ideals and remaining more focused on stirring things up, scoring debate points, and getting back at those who insulted me than on cultivating genuine dialogue that might have enabled all of us to understand each other better and respect one another more even if we continued to disagree with each other’s views. Ironically, all I succeeded in doing in that forum was reinforcing convictions that people who hold my views on religion and politics are immature, angry, and even psychologically off-kilter, when I had the opportunity to show them just the opposite.
If I were ever allowed back into that forum, I would show them the opposite by living up to my ideals. The same goes for any other forum in which I participate from now on. I’ve learned a painful lesson. But better to learn it late than not at all.
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