I’ve been thinking about a new way to view the discussion policies here. This does not change what I’ve written before, Rather it is about the spirit that underlies the rules.
I love a good debate, and I welcome it. I have long thought how great it would be if the regular commenters here could all gather over coffee at Starbucks for a few hours, and have these talks in person. I’ve had the opportunity to meet a few of you in my travels, committed Christians and committed atheists both, and I’ve enjoyed it immensely. That has always just been one-on-one, unfortunately. A real group gathering would be great.
I don’t think any of us would want to hang out there long, though, if one or two people were abusing others, calling them stupid, using profanity, and so on. We wouldn’t particularly like it if one person kept repeating himself over and over again, or asking others to repeat over and over again, without attending to the things others were saying. We would be a bit annoyed if someone kept wandering off the subject.
I think there is a useful grid here, to apply to discussions on the blog: Would I say this to the person face to face? Would they like it if I did? Would it help the discussion or hinder it?
I must apply the questions to myself first. I’m aware of occasions when I’ve failed to live up to this standard, but it still describes my goal. It is what I ask of everyone here.
Actually, since this is an episodic connection, it’s rather like having that Starbucks session day after day. Being the blog host, though, I can’t really view it as just gathering at Starbucks–it’s more like having coffee together on the back porch at my house. Most of the commenters here I would gladly welcome back, over and over again (you’d have to help pitch in for the coffee after a while), but it would be silly to suppose that every person would always be invited back again, no matter how they treated the others there. If someone is not contributing to a fruitful and respectful conversation, there’s no rule that I have to let them sit on my porch.
Treating others with respect does not just apply to this “Starbucks table” or this “back porch,” by the way.Suppose someone were speaking of our group with utter contempt at Caribou Coffee, for example, and then joined us at Starbucks acting friendly and polite. In the real world of coffee shops we likely wouldn’t know about it, but if somehow we learned that was what he were doing, we might not welcome his company. On the Internet this sometimes happens in a way that’s rather more public. If someone is using another blog or bulletin board for contemptuous comment toward writers here, we very well might find out about it, and not invite him to this table. That’s just another application of the spirit of the standard.
I do not disinvite people for disagreeing; I never have and I can’t imagine I ever would. A small number have been excluded because of not treating the others with respect, and one or two for making a habit of being unfruitfully repetitive.
I’d still like to get us all together somewhere sort of in the middle. Most of the regular commenters are in North America. (New commenters are always welcome!) How about Chicago, sometime next year? 🙂