When I was in graduate school, I shared a number of classes with a guy named Charles. While much of my bachelor's work was in the social sciences, Charles had done his undergraduate work in Theater Arts. This, naturally, led to a significant difference in perspectives. Through much of my first semester, I found myself asking Charles what he meant. For example, in one class, he talked about "tonalities." According to Charles, teachers tended to speak at one "tonality," while students spoke at another. After I asked him a few questions, it became clear that Charles meant that teachers were thinking on higher levels than their students. I had thought that he was discussing the pitch of our voices.
In another class, Charles started stripping as a demonstration of ways to break through a student's comfort zone.
One day, towards the end of the semester, I asked Charles a question about his interpretation of William Blake. He exploded, telling me that I had been attacking him all semester, victimizing him, etcetera, etcetera. I was taken aback. Charles, among others, had often asked me to clarify my positions. Rather than be offended or insulted, I was appreciative. It seemed to me that lively discourse had done a lot to hone my ideas, not to mention my ability to think critically. All the same, I had clearly upset Charles, so I apologized for any perceived insults and stopped asking him questions. Class discussion dropped off.
The following semester, I found myself in classes with students who were more comfortable with rigorous debate. We'd often argue loudly and endlessly about some point of interpretation or teaching technique. After class, we'd continue the battles over cheap beers at the local dive bar, with breaks for South Park, of course.
I was in heaven.
Yesterday's post, Saving It For Daddy, inspired a little bit of heated debate. I understand that, on some blogs, direct confrontation between posters is considered rude and inappropriate. To be honest, though, I appreciated the fact that some of you had differing opinions, and were able to discuss them in a respectful and thoughtful manner. I was pleased that I was able to create a space where you felt comfortable discussing your opinions with each other. While I don't think that we'll be able to reach agreement on this issue, I like the fact that we are able to put our respective positions on the table and explain them to each other.
I don't feel like reasoned discussion is getting a fair showing these days. Rather than cool-headed, thoughtful participants, the United States has "ultra-Christian, fundamentalist, racist, patriarchal, homophobic, super-conservative crypto-fascists" battling "ultra-liberal, god-hating, man-hating, homosexual-recruiting, flip-flopping communists." I don't see much space for the rest of us in the public discourse. However, I can't help feeling that there is still a lot more that connects us than divides us, and I believe that we have many of the same ideals for our world, although we intensely disagree on the best methods for realizing those goals.
Matt's blog has given me a clear glimpse into how discussion can degenerate into insults and abuse; like him, I reserve the right to employ extraordinary measures if I feel like things have gotten out of hand. However, conversations like the one in my comments section yesterday make me feel like my blog serves a real purpose, and make me very proud of the space that I have created. Most of all, they make me even more appreciative of the people who choose to read and comment on the things that I write.
I am now stepping off my soapbox. Thank you.