Stepping Up: On Discourse and Responding to Others

A post recently came across my dash asking some common questions that we all probably as ourselves when dealing with the challenge of discourse: To respond, or not to respond.

Say you are browsing the internet, and you come across a post or article or other thing which you are conflicted about. There are several questions to ask yourself before hitting the like / reblog / comment button.

Firstly, assess the situation and the content of the post to determine whether or not a response is even necessary in the first place. For instance, with posts that express opinions, contain information, or talk about political or other topics, as yourself these:

  • Is the content of the post dangerous to others?
  • Is the content of the post bigoted, hateful or degrading?
  • Does the content promote inaccurate facts or misinformation?

I personally feel that it is imperative to step in and say something- so long as it is safe for you to do so- when the content is harmful, bigoted, or misinformed, and promotes these things. However, if the information is not harmful to others or misinformed, then you probably shouldn’t respond to it unless you absolutely have something positive to contribute to the discussion and the discussion is open to others.

Political and related posts like this, however, are not the only ones that you will run into. Additionally:

  • Did the user ask a direct question they need an answer for?
  • Did the user ask for opinions from others?
  • Do you actually have an answer or opinion about the topic?

If people are directly asking questions then you should certainly feel free to answer them for others. When responding, though, there are certain additional things to keep in mind- particularly concerning how to respond should you choose to.

These are known as the Gricean Maxims, and those Maxims are as follow: 

  1. The Maxim of Manner: Choose words that are as clear, as brief, and as orderly as one can; avoid obscurity and ambiguity.
  2. The Maxim of Relation / Relevance: Make your words relevant; ensure that they are pertinent to the discussion.
  3. The Maxim of Quantity: Be as informative as possible- but only give what information is needed and no more than that.
  4. The Maxim of Quality: Be truthful; do not give information that is false or that is not supported by evidence.

In other words, when responding or getting involved in discourse you should ask yourself the following additional questions:

  • Is what you have to say relevant to the overall topic of the conversation?
  • Would what you have to say contribute to the conversation in a positive way?
  • Does what you have to say provide valuable information, clarity, or insight?
  • Is what you have to say educated, well informed, accurate, and / or sourced?
  • Is it a fully formed thought that you are capable of articulating clearly to others?

Generally Discourse is open to any passerby, especially on the internet. However, never respond to something for no other purpose than “just to hear yourself speak”; you should always have a reason for saying what you do- and what you say should be relevant to the topic discussed, should contribute positively to the overall conversation, and should be valuable in some regard.

You should also be concerned with whether or not you are able to clearly and concisely articulate full and complete ideas; do not drone on about things which are irrelevant, but also don’t give half thoughts- especially when providing a half thought may lead to misunderstanding or lack of clarity. Likewise, be willing to clarify if and where necessary when things are misinterpreted, or when more information is necessary for understanding.

Furthermore, it is important that you have educated, articulate, and accurate information- especially if you are answering a question posed by another person. It is also imperative that you are willing to provide sources for this information if asked for them. If you do not or cannot, then it is best that you do not respond and leave it to others who can.

1. if you do not know of or cannot provide the appropriate sources but know someone who does and are able to point them in that direction it may be an exception;

2. If you are not currently in a position to provide sources (because you are busy with other things, because you need to find them again, because you are on mobile, etc) but  you could at a later date or time, then this could also be an exception as well.

In other words, do not contribute things that cannot be backed up with facts and statistics. The only real exception to this is when people aren’t looking for accuracy, but may be looking for opinions or personal experiences. But, again, you should still make sure that your opinion is logical, solidly founded, and educated- and that it still contributes positively and is relevant.

A clearly communicated, neutrally delivered, fully formed, brief yet educated response may often be interpreted as brusk, rough, and even rude by some. However, they are by far the best responses that one can give during any discourse.

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