“Don’t be a dick” was the topic of Phil Plait’s speech at TAM 8. You can watch the video but, basically, Plait argued for moderation in discussions. He was addressing skeptics and atheists and specifically their interaction with the religious and believers in “woo”.
As might be expected, the response was mixed. Some people accused him of being an accommodationist and others applauded his call for measured and civil interactions.
At the time — eight years or so ago — my reaction was . . . well, defensive.
Mind you, I found a lot of counterarguments and rebuttals in support of my defensiveness but the reality was inescapable: I had to examine why I was so defensive.
I reviewed my past discussions and interactions with people and examined how I approached discussions about religion and magic and UFOs and any topic I considered anchored in ignorance and willful disregard of science and reason.
The conclusion was uncomfortable to admit . . . not a majority of the time but enough times to be significant, I was a dick. Needlessly confrontational and prone to badgering would be another way to say I was a dick.
Since then, whenever I’m in discussions, I’ve been peripherally aware of my propensity for being a dick and have made efforts to limit my dickiness . . . dickness? . . . limit me behaving like a dick.
Have I succeeded?
I think so. I hope so. But, it’s an ongoing process and it’s easy to slip up.
Mind you, I can still purposely be a dick, especially once past the point where I lose respect for the person I’m interacting with. Once respect is lost, my civility quotient drops significantly. It’s not something I’m proud of per se, but I’m at least aware of it and deliberate in my actions; when I choose to be a dick, I think I’m pretty good at it. I had years of practice, after all.
But, that’s not the purpose — and never was the purpose — when engaging others in discussions about shared interests and concerns (especially when I’m at odds with the other person’s views).
No; the purpose is to learn more about why others believe differently and also to at least make the other person understand my position.
That one or both of us change our minds and come to a better understanding of each other and of the topic of discussion is the main — and desired — goal and there have been a few instances when my views changed as a result of fruitful discussions.
Why is it important for there to be civil and reasoned discussion?
Because such a discussion will plant a seed. A confrontation often does nothing but entrench the other individual in their views; you can literally watch them build barricades around their ideas and close them off to outside challenges.
But, how does one know when one is being a dick?
Usually, you get hints. Ignoring those hints and doubling down just makes you a bigger dick. The best indicator is when someone tells you you’re being a dick and explains how you’re being a dick.
Some dicks will, of course, argue they’re not being dicks; I know because I used to similarly argue.
How can I be a dick when I’m right!?!
What I used to confuse — and what dicks still confuse — is the difference between the validity of one’s argument and one’s behavior when making that argument.
When Phil spoke about not being a dick he didn’t mean don’t stand your ground; he didn’t mean don’t defend science and facts and rational thinking; he didn’t attack one’s duty to challenge all manners or irrational, odious, and otherwise harmful thinking.
Nope; he just argued that while doing all that, you shouldn’t be a dick about it.
It’s a tough thing to accept . . . that one might be or had been a dick.
I still think back at instances I wish I could erase the memory of my behavior both from my mind and the mind of others. I still think about missed opportunities to possibly — albeit marginally — help improve the world but for my ego-driven propensity to be a dick.
Whether or not you think you’re being a dick, the Internet has a long memory . . . knowingly or unknowingly be a dick once, and it will be out there for all to see for a long, long time.
I’m wiser now, and while that doesn’t change or undo any damage I might have done, I can at least moderate my behavior going forward.
There may yet be times when my ability and talent to be a dick is called for, but I’m as careful with it as I am when I carry a gun; it’s a tool of last recourse.
That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.
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