From the Archives: Civil and Productive Discussions

Respectfully disagreeIt’s been one of those weeks. Both on campus and online, there’s been a lot of talk about the government shutdown — and, predictably, a lot of arguing over who’s responsible, what should be done, etc.

What can get exasperating is when one participant in the discussion offers a piece of evidence to support one point of view, or questions a point of view that the opposition has presented, and gets nowhere. One or more of the participants who hold the opposing view refuse to actually participate. They don’t address the evidence presented, or respond to the question. Sometimes, they shift the topic a bit when pressed, so as not to have to respond directly.

It can all get incredibly frustrating for those who think discussion should focus on arguments and evidence.

Civility, evidence, and learning to understand other points of view are topics we’ve covered here before:

Conducting good, evidence-based discussions that stay on-topic, however, may be easier in the (somewhat) controlled environment of the classroom than in discussions with friends and/or colleagues online (or in a comments thread at a major online publication). What are we to do in those situations, when the conversation takes some of the turns mentioned above? We can — and certainly should — try to model good discussion practice ourselves. But to what degree do we have a responsibility to encourage others to do the same? Is there a point at which the most sensible thing is to just walk away?

What do you think? How do you respond to discussions that aren’t going anywhere because one or participants won’t keep to the issues and/or evidence? Let us know in the comments.

[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by kencf0618]

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