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TOPIC: Char­i­ta­ble Reading

Char­i­ta­ble Read­ing 10 years 5 months ago #3

  • Michael
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Those of you who have known the old tros­fans forum will no doubt recall with the same sense of fond­ness and grat­i­tude as I do what a friendly place it was, per­me­ated by a sense of of coop­er­a­tion and hon­est effort for mutual under­stand­ing. As we hope that our forum here will breathe that same friendly spirit, we couldn’t look for a bet­ter post­ing guide­line than that of tros­fans, taken ini­tially from a post by Chris Lehrich over at The Forge, to be found in its orig­i­nal, unedited form here:

Lately I have noticed a lot of what might be called “unchar­i­ta­ble read­ing.” By this I mean that I see responses that essen­tially say, “I don’t get what your’re say­ing, and you’re wrong.” Or, “I don’t get what you’re say­ing, this is a stu­pid topic.” Or, “I don’t get what you’re say­ing, you have to prove to me that it’s worth dis­cussing.” Only the last is even plau­si­ble, but on a forum like ours it seems to me that if you don’t find a topic inter­est­ing then don’t post to it; leave the dis­cus­sion to those who do find it inter­est­ing.

I have some sug­ges­tions and I think every­one should con­sider his or her own post­ing habits in light of these sug­ges­tions.

Slow Down
Threads have a habit of appear­ing, receiv­ing a page or more of responses before the bewil­dered ini­tia­tor even gets around to com­ment, and then dis­si­pat­ing. Fur­ther­more, the amount of time allowed to give some­one a chance is very brief, as in hours. If all those responses were inter­est­ing and valu­able, it should take more than a few hours to process that much stuff. What’s being encour­aged here, just by the struc­ture of dis­cus­sion, are snap judg­ments, shal­low think­ing, and a refusal to change one’s mind.

Read Care­fully and Thor­oughly
Many argu­ments and mis­un­der­stand­ings are based on fast read­ing of a post, not exam­in­ing every word and phrase. Some­one says, “Usu­ally, X hap­pens,” and respon­dents reply, “No, X doesn’t always hap­pen, you’re wrong.” This is just sloppy read­ing, and it hap­pens I think because peo­ple are read­ing too fast and try­ing to post rapidly. If it’s not slop­pi­ness, it’s intel­lec­tual dis­hon­esty, so I’m going to be char­i­ta­ble and assume slop­pi­ness.

Try To Under­stand
This is the biggest prob­lem and solv­ing it takes time and effort. If you read a post and think you under­stand the point being made, but you think that point is totally ludi­crous, you should assume that you’ve mis­un­der­stood. Don’t assume the other guy is an idiot; try to see it from his point of view. Ask your­self, “How could he think that? What’s he got in mind?” So far as I know, nobody here is a com­plete fool; one has some­thing in mind when one makes an argu­ment, and it is the reader’s job to try and fig­ure it out. Push the argu­ment around in your mind, using all the exam­ples and analo­gies and what­not pro­posed, until you’re very sure you under­stand what the poster has in mind. You should also be able to defend the argu­ment: you should be able to see why the poster believes it. Only then are you really qual­i­fied to chal­lenge it.

Deal Directly With Incom­pre­hen­sion
If you sim­ply can­not under­stand what is being said, ask your­self whether you are being over-​hasty. Have you con­sid­ered it from all sides? Is it pos­si­ble that the poster has made a typ­ing error that is mak­ing it tricky to under­stand? If the best you can do is guess that the poster wrote X but must have meant Y, you must begin any response by not­ing that this is how you inter­pret the post.

Deal With Exam­ples
If some­one pro­poses a con­crete exam­ple, from actual play or a plau­si­ble hypo­thet­i­cal, you must respond to it directly. Propos­ing a new exam­ple instead is just ground-​shifting. If you don’t under­stand why the exam­ple is sup­posed to demon­strate the point, then read it again, and don’t respond until you under­stand what the poster has in mind.

Don’t Get Het-​Up About Exam­ples
Illus­tra­tive exam­ples are pre­sum­ably intended to be illus­tra­tive; if they don’t work for you but you under­stand the argu­ment any­way, then set aside the exam­ple and deal with the argu­ment. Instead, we con­stantly get this exchange:

Ini­tia­tor: “My argu­ment is X. For exam­ple, Y.” Response: “Nope, Y shows Z, blah blah blah about Z.” Ini­tia­tor: “I want to talk about X.” Response: “No, we have to talk about Y and exclu­sively Y and that means Z so keep quiet about X.”

The cor­rect response would have been: “I think Y shows Z, not X. So let’s talk about X on a dif­fer­ent basis.” And pos­si­bly, “Does my new exam­ple, Y-​prime, work for you? Here’s why I think it does.”

Analo­gies Are Not Argu­ments
This is the extreme case of the above two points about exam­ples.

Ini­tia­tor: “I want to talk about X. It’s kind of like Y.” Response: “Y is a dumb anal­ogy, because blah blah blah.” Or: “Y is a dumb anal­ogy. It’s like Z instead.”

Start by ask­ing your­self whether you get what is meant by the anal­ogy. If you do, and you think it a silly anal­ogy, then for­get the anal­ogy and deal with the argu­ment. If you don’t get it, then try to fig­ure it out. Only respond to the anal­ogy if you under­stand it and agree that it is a use­ful anal­ogy. Oth­er­wise we just end up with one of those long-​winded argu­ments about cars and gear-​shifts and other non­sense.

Recap: Fig­ure It Out
To restate the #1 point here. Lots of peo­ple are read­ing posts and say­ing, “No, I think that’s stu­pid,” with­out first ask­ing, “Do I see what he’s say­ing?” Then you get into a back-​and-​forth about you-​said no-​I-​said no-​you-​said no-I-didn’t. Any value in the orig­i­nal post is long since out the win­dow.

Of course it is the poster’s task to try to express him– or her­self clearly. But it is the reader’s task to try to get the point. If posters are not being clear, respon­dents should try to assist them to be so; they may be unclear because they are not quite cer­tain of their ground and would like help from oth­ers.

When a reader does not get the point and attacks, the reader is sim­ply being unchar­i­ta­ble. If you sim­ply do not under­stand someone’s point, con­sider shut­ting up and wait­ing until some­one else fig­ures it out. If a cou­ple of days pass and nobody responds, maybe it’s time to ask for clar­i­fi­ca­tion.

– Chris Lehrich

I think this is already very com­pre­hen­sive, but just to reca­pit­u­late:

Take your time. Read the entire post, don’t latch onto clumsy analo­gies for the mere sake of it, try to under­stand what the author wants to achieve with his post, and be intel­lec­tu­ally hon­est. In short, read and reply charitably.
Bow down: I am the emperor of dreams;
I crown me with the million-​colored sun
Of secret worlds incred­i­ble, and take
Their trail­ing skies for vest­ment when I soar.

Clark Ash­ton Smith, The Hashish Eater or The Apoc­a­lypse of Evil
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