On Trees, Trolls, Trust and Truth
FOLLOWING IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF A MASTER OP-ED BLOGGER...
Preface: This rant is inspired by, and dedicated to my good friend, Jim Murray, whom I consider to be among the most masterful of op-ed bloggers — because he can piss you off while at the same time making you love him.
I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree...
I have a huge tree in my backyard. Locally, it's called a "Black Olive", although I am sure it is not a species of olive tree.
My tree is more than 50 years old, close to 100 feet high, and has a spread of more than 80 feet. It shades fully two thirds of the yard. And in our sub-tropical summer sun, it is what makes the backyard habitable.
The tree is sometimes home to squirrels, smaller iguanas and birds. Indeed, each year members of an extended family of Ring Neck Doves return to our property to build a nest or two and hatch and raise a new crop of baby doves.
Which is why, in more than 20 years since we moved into our house, we've refused to have it cut down. Despite the entreaties of neighbors who see it as a "dirty" tree because twice a year it drops huge qualities of leaves and little hard, tannin-laced buds that look like Grapenuts cereal — and which leave brown stains everywhere.
My family's and my beloved backyard tree is the antithesis of fractal. It's limbs and branches grow in a wild profusion of non-self-similarity. A paradigm of visual chaos.
And we love it. For we are a chaotic crew. With wills and opinions that are, as often as not. at odds with one another.
If I were an Hegelian, I suppose I could construct a dialectical argument explaining how my backyard tree is actually fractal, and how chaos is actually fractal, and how the organizing principle of the universe is fracticality. Despite what our senses and common sense tell us.
But I am not an Hegelian dialectician, and so cannot torture logic beyond its breaking point, in order to see a repeating pattern in the pretty obvious chaos of the non-pattern of my tree's limbs and branches.
Nor do I want to be. For uniformity and self-similarity make me personally more uncomfortable than does chaos. Or at least, than does free-form diversity.
Which is more than just a subtle hint about how I see social interaction. And why I have no inclination to be part of a Borg Collective. Clearly, an expression of my opinion, take it or leave it.
“For bloggers, especially those who actually have an opinion about things, trolls are kind of like notches on the handle of your gun.”
The problem with the problem of "trolls" on beBee, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or any other platform is that we seem to lack a clear and widely accepted concept of what a social media troll is. For some, a troll is anyone who deigns to express a dissenting or critical opinion. About anything. Irrespective of how politely or civilly they express such dissent or criticism.
The admittedly reprehensible disruption visited by trolls is very different from legitinate disagreement and discussion, when statements or opinions expressed by an author in print in public are questioned rationally and with reasons for the disagreement or dissent involved.
But I'm not going to beat that drum (or dead horse) again. So if you are interested in a detailed argument about this particular issue, I invite you to take a look at: "Conversation Isn't Just Politely Waiting Your Turn to Speak".
In the meantime, to avoid confusion, I believe the best way to identify trolls is by the types of comments they make. So, here are some examples I've dredged up from my experience. I invite you to join me in the comments thread of this post with your personal examples.
1) Trolls usually comment about the person writing, not on the ideas expressed. "Do you have anything but air between your ears?" Of course, nothing they say indicates in the least that they do.
2) Trolls often focus their remarks on themselves, what they prefer, what they like, what they have said or done. "I don't see why you're making such a big deal about this." Then why are you taking the time to read and comment on it? Why don't you just turn the page? And anyway, nobody cares what you are interested in or not.
3) Trolls frequently try to hijack a discussion by drawing attention to a grammatical or spelling error. "Don't you know the difference between 'there' and 'their'? Where did you go to authors school?" Right, like with your one-hundred-word vocabulary, you have the basis for speaking out on the subject of authorship.
When I first started writing and publishing on social media, I would duke it out verbally with trolls. Especially those who wanted to use my posts as springboards for promoting their own articles and books. And over the years, I've had my share of pet trolls, stalkers who followed me around, crept my profile daily, and sought to add their snide ad hominem remarks to my posts whenever they could.
In the beginning, I traded jibes with them. But over time, I stopped, and now, for the most part, I tend simply to ignore them. This is because I find the repartee with trolls essentially boring. I've also found that trolls are invariably whiners who complain loudly about being treated roughly, whenever they get back what they give out.
Unfortunately, trolls can be disruptive in more than just obvious and direct ways. Trolls can be disruptive by causing the rest of us to over-react to their obnoxious behavior. And to knee-jerk every time we receive a critical comment. Witness the growing level of sensitivity, even here on beBee.
Dissentaphobia, is becoming so endemic that we're now seeing suggestions for "safe zones", where people can post without being subject to any form of dissenting or critical comment.
I personally have no real objection to this — provided that those of us who are interested in substantive intellectual exchange are allowed to have "open exchange zones", where we can disagree and argue to our hearts' content.
Indeed, I would go even further and enable people to designate their posts "quarantined against criticism", with a simple label to that effect, placed in the upper right or left hand corner of a post. Again, IMO.
Truly open exchange of ideas and opinion can only take place in an atmosphere of mutual trust...
Look, we don't all have to think alike — that is, bee like-minded — in order to be part of a close-knit community that is in many ways mutually supportive. For mutual support is not comprised only of mutual agreement.
In fact, true support between friends or community members should not be premised on mutual agreement.
I've recently had the pleasure of falling organically into a natural affinity group with three other writers (Jim Murray, Don Kerr, and Kevin Pashuk) who resonate emotionally at certain basic levels, and who share interlocking interests.
So strong is the natural affinity which brought us together that, at Jim's instigation, we formed The Beezers Hive on beBee; and we interact pretty much daily by PM and email, both personally and intellectually.
But the most notable thing about this relationship is that we are not like-minded.
Oh sure, we agree on a lot of issues, most notably upon the need to be able to disagree without undermining our friendship. But we disagree in many of our respective personal beliefs, in our lifestyles, and in our religious and philosophical persuasions.
I would say that the glue that binds us is mutual trust.
The first step in understanding how this can work is to distinguish between ideas and opinions versus the people who hold them.
The second step is to understand that, just as friends don't let friends drive drunk, friends don't let friends walk around spouting what seem to be half-assed ideas, without at least discussing the matter with them.
And the third step is for each member of a group or a community to learn to separate his or her own ego from their views and opinions — in other words, to get away from the idea we should be able to express ourselves to others, but that, god forbid, someone, anyone should take issue with our cherished pronouncements.
Trust opens up an entirely new vista of exchange, one that is replete with bonhomie and humor and goodwill. Let me give you an example by referring again to my op-ed blogging hero and fellow Beezer, Jim Murray.
Jim is moving to St. Catherines, Ontario from Toronto. He and his wife just bought a house in St. Catherines that they feel is just perfect for them. So delighted is Jim about finding the house and moving, he has been blogging about it almost non-stop for days, even publishing a photo of the new Murray house.
Now, I know St. Catherines, like it quite well, and could not be more pleased for Jim and his wife. But I also could not resist sending out to my fellow Beezers the photoshopped image you see above, in order to tweak Jim just for fun.
His reply? "I love you too, amigo."
Some people might think that, in his excitement over the new house, he might be offended. But he wasn't. The reason he wasn't, not even for a second, is, I submit, trust. And the reason I never considered, even for a second, that he might be is that same, trust. His trust that I would never seek to make fun of his unbridled joy. And my trust that he is sufficiently mature and self-confident to be able to tell the difference between my laughing at him versus my laughing with him.
Reciprocal trust enables friends to disagree vehemently about many things, yet stay friends. And it enables them to criticize and tease one another, in good humor, without undermining their relationship.
It lays the basis for the kind of multi-faceted relationship that stands head and shoulders above common social media relationships founded solely as what we used to call "mutual admiration societies."
That we can, perhaps, neither find, nor establish the truth, does not mean it does not exist...
I'd like to close this rant on a final note, offered for whatever it may be worth to you.
Social media is without a doubt an intellectual free-for-all. A place where people can "invent" or re-invent themselves. Where many self-certify as experts, or gurus or thought leaders. Because they think it raises their image in the eyes of those who read their posts and profiles. Not to mention thinking it lends credence to the things they write and publish.
When confronted with differing opinion, they retreat to the position that truth is completely relative, that you have "your truth" and I have "my truth". This is all, in a word dear to my heart, pure poppycock.
You may have your perception of truth, and I may have mine. And neither may be an accurate perception. Pretty much like you and I looking at different plots of land in Australia, each of us seeing as far as the horizon in all directions. And each of us trying to discern the shape of the Australian continent. That neither of us can discern a true picture from what we see does not mean there isn't one. For there most certainly is. And its final determination might only await sending someone up into space to see what it is.
Whether or not we find it, the search for truth is among man's noblest activities...
So there you have the four Tees: Trees, trolls, trust and truth. Op-ed rant over. — Phil Friedman
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About me, Phil Friedman: With 30 some years background in the marine industry, I've worn numerous hats — as a yacht designer, boat builder, marine operations and business manager, marine industry consultant, marine marketing and communications specialist, yachting magazine writer and editor, yacht surveyor, and marine industry educator. I am also trained and experienced in interest-based negotiation and mediation.
In a previous life, I was formally trained as an academic philosopher and taught logic and philosophy at university.
The (optional-to-read) pitch: As a professional writer, editor, university educator, and speaker, with more than 1,000 print and digital publications, I've recently launched an online program for enhancing your expository writing: learn2engage — With Confidence. My mission is to help writers and would-be writers improve their thought and writing, master the logic of discussion, and strengthen their ability to deal with disagreement.
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Image Credits: Phil Friedman, FreeDigitalPhotos.com, Google Images