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What's happened to reasonable debate?

These days I find it difficult to read some of the comments offered on Facebook or Twitter. But like a moth drawn to a flame, I sometimes can’t stop myself. When I do, I usually come away upset and shaking my head in disbelief at the name-calling and gutter-sniping that seems to be a regular part of the discourse, no matter the subject. I truly can’t recall a time when people were so openly vicious in their interactions with others whose views differed from their own.

It seems that everyone has an opinion and not afraid to express it. While I’m not opposed to folks offering their take on matters, I am not a fan of the senseless, hateful interactions that have become so common and which tend to dominate social media. What’s even more concerning is that people wade into the fray before learning all the relevant details.

Facts? Pffttt! Who needs those when people can proceed to slander the next person because…well, because they can and feel they are entitled to do so. Informed research? Too time-consuming. Besides, it’s much easier to piggyback off someone else’s misinformed comments, especially if they say what you want to hear. Dignified rhetoric? Well, that doesn’t get any attention. The name of the game appears to be penning the nastiest, most vitriolic comments in a contest of one-upmanship. (It is interesting to note that those who usually write such garbage are very thin-skinned individuals who lash out when someone dares to call them on it.)

Many will argue that they are entitled to their opinions, and while that may be true, such entitlement does not extend to vicious name-calling, stated untruths, or defamation. At one time that would have meant being slapped with a law suit. But some folks think hiding behind a computer screen somehow gives them immunity from such retribution.

In an age where we are trying to curb bullying among young people, adults think nothing of taking to the internet to spew their own contempt and hatred. Instead of teaching youngsters that disagreement is fine, but it needs to be done in a fair, informed and courteous manner, children are learning that standing up for one’s beliefs means running down anyone who doesn’t think (or look) like them.

We live in scary times when the misinformed have somehow managed to hijack reasonable debate and do so by acting like bullies. While many folks distance themselves from the terrorist activities that have dominated the news lately and decry such behaviours, they fail to see that such actions had their beginnings with intolerance. This intolerance and lack of empathy is evident in everyday life, from road rage to bullying in the schoolyard and the workplace, to judgemental and nasty comments on Facebook. And it is poisoning society.

Someone once said, “We don’t see others as they are, but as we are.” If that’s true, then there are a significant number of folks out there who have a very low opinion of themselves.

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