By: Editorial Board
As students who, for the most part, grew up with access to the internet, we’re used to its instantaneity, how one comment on an article or post can spark seemingly endless discussions. When you see a comment you disagree with, you can respond in a minute, perhaps even in seconds, tapping away a passionate rebuttal that allows you to flaunt not only what knowledge you’ve acquired in your college courses, but also your impeccable understanding of English grammar. (After all, there are no comma splices or misspellings in your comments.)
But how we converse, or argue, online does not translate well into real life. Another person’s comments are not laid out in text before us, ready for immediate dissection; those comments are developing, gradually refined, amended through the act of speaking about a particular topic. And unlike a comment made on some article posted by The Atlantic or Buzzfeed, on some Facebook video of the cutest, most exuberant puppies chasing a terrified llama, these real-time comments are interruptible.
Whether or not we want to admit it, after spending our youth communicating online, we are in the habit of interrupting others. This habit should not be surprising. We want to make our own points as quickly, as uninhibitedly as we might write out and send a text message, minus the passive aggressive emojis. Interruption is an easy temptation, especially when we are eager to out-argue another person.
Many of us believe that arguing with someone, even in an academic environment, must be an effort to change a mind entirely, to defeat another person. Arguing, as a word, often connotes anger. Arguments often bear the weight of frustrations, those experienced indignities we cannot forget and from which our personal language is forged. Yet arguments have the potential to be conversations that ask us to evaluate why we believe what we believe, and why we feel it is important for others to believe what we believe.
For students to evaluate and argue for their beliefs effectively, they must consider the opposition. This is not to say that you should give a discriminatory idea or belief attention it is not due, but when someone, for instance, says that they do not believe in abortion, or that they do not believe non-citizen immigrants should be allowed to vote in city elections, ask ‘why’ and listen intently to their arguments. Figure out what they have said that you can argue against, and what you can bring to the conversation that perhaps they did not consider before or mention.
Above all, when it comes to arguments, silence can be a virtue. Jumping in right as someone is about to say something, or as someone has just finished saying something, does not give you time to process what has been said. Interrupting someone often leaves you half a point made, rather than a full point, to provide a counterargument for, one that is bound to not be comprehensive enough. Silence is not as easy as interruption. It requires patience, a willingness to listen, as difficult as listening to what you believe is wrong can be. Despite what some may say, however, silence is not inaction. It is an opportunity for contemplation, which is perhaps the best fuel for our words.