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Attacking the Person NOT the Issue – How Controversial Topics Often Lead to CyberBullying

Have you ever read a FaceBook comment thread following a controversial issue? Such as that of the Dakota Access Pipe Line or who should be the next president? What you often see are several comments that are filled with emotion that attack a person's character and are non-specific to the issue.

It is often said the topics of religion and politics should be avoided in many circumstances – why is that? It is because these topics tend to illicit strong emotions due to deeply imbedded beliefs.

When people offer an opinion – it is normally something that is subjective, meaning it does not have an absolute truth. Therefore, you couldn’t have an opinion about the fact that 7+7=14, there is no subjectivity to this equation. However, topics such as religion and politics have no absolute truth (there can, and is, differing opinions) – and therefore are breeding grounds for opinions. Furthermore, because these topics are closely tied to values and the foundation of culture, opinions on these matters tend to be held with strong conviction.

Here is the issue with FaceBook comments regarding controversial topics – many people commenting are not there to consider the opinion of others. They are there to argue as if their opinion was absolute truth. And some are not able to separate the issue at hand from the character of the person they are debating with. Which is why you see many comments attacking the person, calling them derogatory names, and making references to their cognitive capacity. This is a form of cyberbully rather than a rational and respectful discussion on an issue. This is very commonly seen in the courtroom when an expert witness comes to the stand and the attorney does not have a counterargument for the testimony, they might resort to attacking the witness’ character as a last resort.

To discuss an issue without resorting to cyberbullying means respecting and validating the opinion of others. It might look something like “I am considering your point about _____. My view is that _____” instead of “You are an idiot and shouldn’t be allowed to use a computer.” Everyone is entitled to their opinion in so as much there is actually something to argue (read more about why you are not always “entitled” to your opinion here: ). Yet, I would add that everyone is also responsible for how they convey their opinion. This would mean communicating in a respectful way by:

  1. Avoid attacking character when discussing an issue (addressing the issue rather than the person)

  2. Consider the position of another – whether it resonates with your core beliefs or not

  3. Practicing validation

If we were all taught how to communicate this way when we are young – we would likely have more valuable and constructive debates.

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