Difference, Disagreement, and Contention

September 8, 2004 | 54 comments
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If I were a self-disciplined person, I would be preparing my lessons right now and preparing the presentation I’m supposed to give to new faculty tomorrow afternoon. But when we were courting, my wife, then a graduate student in educational testing, made me take a personality test. She was shocked at how low I scored on self-discipline, and things haven’t changed. So, instead of preparing for work tomorrow, I’m going writing about something that has been bothering me for a while. I’ll figure out the lessons and the presentation later, meaning a long night.

Over the last several months it seems to me that there has been a turn for the worse in the comments at Times and Seasons, a change in overall tone, a turn toward more and more bitterness, cynicism, anger, and self-righteousness. I understand those comments. They are almost always in response to a question that the commenter takes very seriously and should take very seriously, something like abortion or same-sex marriage. Surely we can understand the anger of someone confronted by another who says “So what was wrong with shooting those children in Beslan? or crashing those planes into the towers?”It is not difficult to understand anger in response to those on the wrong side of important moral questions, and many of the angry comments respond to those who, to the commenter, certainly seem to be on the wrong side.

It is also easy to understand how much more quickly sarcastic, angry, or bitter comments come from a keyboard when one is sitting in front of a computer monitor than from a mouth when people are talking face-to-face. One virtue of e-mail, discussion lists, comment boards, blogs, and so on, is that they allow people who might otherwise keep silent to speak. But they also allow us to say things that we ought not to say and would not say if we were more thoughtful. The anonymity of the internet is both a blessing and a curse, and I think we’e lately seen more of the curse than the blessing.

The Book of Mormon gives a variety of interlocking reasons for the downfall of the Nephites, but among them is that of contention. Contention is frequently mentioned in conjunction with war, and sometimes as its cause. Alma 51:2 goes so far as to say that contentions “had been hitherto the cause of all their destruction” (my italics).

In spite of the Book of Mormon’ teaching, for many years I have been unsympathetic to a view that I often find among Church members: they fear all disagreement because they are afraid that disagreement and contention are the same, and “the spirit of contention is of the devil,” to quote Elder McConkie’s heading to 3 Nephi 11, a good paraphrase of 3 Nephi 11:29. As I say in my class syllabi:

To treat another with respect is not to refuse to disagree with that person. In fact, I believe that not making your case carefully, persuasively, and strongly when you disagree with someone is deeply disrespectful, to the point of dishonesty. Such behavior presumes that the other person is not worth the trouble or that he or she is incapable of understanding. Not to give one’s honest judgment in a context where that opinion is called for is a form of lying. Not to argue for what you believe to be right when such arguments are appropriate (as in a class or a public debate or as a counselor to a Church leader) is a lack of integrity. Thus, disagreement and disrespect are not synonyms. One can agree or disagree respectfully or disrespectfully. And part of respect is knowing when it is time to quit arguing: when you have made your point and you are sure that you have explained it clearly, not when the other person agrees with you. (The bishop or president may hear you and still not agree; it is time to stop making your case.) Arguments are not clubs for beating others into submission. In philosophy, you must take a position, which means also that you must sometimes disagree. But you must do so with respect for both the person and the position that you disagree with.

So I’ve long assumed that the fear of contention was really only a fear of disagreement. I’ve prided myself on my ability to disagree, and sometimes looked down my nose at those who are afraid to do so.

However, after the last several months, I have a new appreciation for why people are worried that disagreement will lead to contention: it is difficult for people to disagree about important issues without that disagreement quickly becoming contentious. And once contention has entered, even unimportant issues easily become causes for contention: I read so-and-so’s comment, remembering the contention he and I had earlier over whether the entry into the war in Iraq was justified, and immediately I remember our argument and the contention is reawakened. This time he may only be disagreeing with my claim that milk chocolate is to be avoided by all people of good taste, but my emotions tell me that in this too, he is wrong, and he is wrong for the same reason he was wrong before, namely he holds immoral beliefs–so I respond accordingly.

Many things can contribute to contention. My certitude in my own beliefs may contribute to my rush into it: I am right and that I am right is perfectly obvious, so anyone who disagrees with me and mine must be either naive (unlikely if he or she is taking part in this blog), stupid, or evil (and I remember from my introduction to logic that “or” in this kind of sentence is always inclusive: “perhaps all three,” “or at least both of the last two” I add).

If I confuse my political doctrines with my religious beliefs, something easy to do since they overlap in a number of areas, I will find it difficult not to assume that those who disagree with me are evil and, therefore, properly to be contended against. And it is especially difficult for me to think they are not evil if they are members of the Church, as I am, and recognize the Prophet, as I do. As Peter Winch says, “What divides men most bitterly is usually not far distant from something which unites them. Otherwise, why should these be conflicts rather than simply differences?” (“Darwin, Genesis and Contradiction,” Trying to Make Sense 138).

If I do not read the posts or comments of others with what Augustine calls “the principle of charity,” remembering what we share and assuming as long as possible that the other person is a person of integrity, saying what she honestly thinks and has good reason (even if wrong reasons) to think, then I am likely to misunderstand what she said. It will be easier for me to respond contentiously. In fact, it may seem to be required.

Or I may desire to protect the Church from heresy and evil–especially the heresy and evil of those within, requiring me to point it out loudly and clearly whenever I encounter it. Because the danger is so immediate and apparent, I tell myself that I cannot wait for a president or bishop to deal with it. I have to do so now and in the most uncertain terms.

Whatever the reasons for contention, however, it is evil. I ought to contend with no one unless there is no escape from doing so. That seems to me to be the teaching of the Book of Mormon as well as the Doctrine and Covenants. Even when I cannot escape contention, I ought to look for a way out that will preserve my contender’s self-respect and freedom. I see that lesson, too, in the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants.

We are obliged not to contend with our brothers and sisters because we are obliged to deal with them in love. I ought not to respond to my wife by accusing her of stupidity when she disagrees. I ought not to treat my children with the kind of disdain expressed in some of the comments on this blog. Why? Because I love them and such behaviors contradict that love. That is the rule commanded by God and the life commended by him: love of all because all are our brothers and sisters.

But what if I do not yet have what it takes to deal with everyone that way? Then at least I should deal with my fellow saints that way. The Word of Wisdom is “adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints” (D&C 89:1). Surely even the weakest of us can also at least deal with our brothers and sisters in the Church without contention. We may disagree. If we are talking about an important topic for which there is, as yet, no revelatory answer, we almost certainly will. But we need not, must not, make ourselves enemies because of those differences.

If we cannot discuss our ideas and our differences, including our political differences, as brothers and sisters in the gospel of Jesus Christ, as people who love each other because he loves us, then we ought to abandon Times and Seasons, for it will only contribute to our downfall. John says, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (1 John 4:19). If Times and Seasons helps make us liars because it allows us to respond to our Latter-day Saint brothers and sisters with hatred, antipathy, condescension, anger, bitterness, cynicism, or any of the other emotions we find it so tempting to be seduced by, then out of a desire for our own salvation we ought to flee it.

I accepted the invitation to be part of Times and Seasons because the spirit I felt here was one of friendship. The permanent bloggers do not all agree about very many things political, and some of our disagreements are strong, but we all agree about the Gospel. That agreement in the Gospel has allowed us to continue, and I believe–I hope–it has something to do with the growth the blog has had. If that can once again be the dominant spirit in the posts and comments, I will count it a blessing to be part of this effort. On the other hand, if that spirit of friendship even in disagreement, of respect and love because we are Latter-day Saints together, isn’t what defines this blog, then I want nothing to do with it and neither should you.

A few practical suggestions for posting and commenting:

1. Ask, “How will this sound to those who read it?” Reading out loud helps give me a feel for the answer to that question.

2. I should remember, however, that my readers are not reading out loud and they may not be disposed to read what I’ve written with the dulcet voice that I imagined as I wrote. If I try reading my post or comment in a harsh voice, I may hear why someone else will be upset with what I’ve said.

3. Consider whether I would speak to my mother or father with the tone I’ve used.

4. Ask, “Does this further the discussion or attempt to put a stop to it?” If the latter, why?

5. Ask, “Does my response to the post or comment in question involve a judgment of that person to which I am not entitled?”

6. As I read, ask myself, “How can I understand this in a way that makes sense?” If it doesn’t make sense, there’s a good chance that I’ve not understood it. I don’t have to agree with it, but since most people make sense most of the time, I should take the fact that it doesn’t make sense to me as a sign that I probably didn’t understand it.

7. If what I say runs counter to LDS received wisdom or to the LDS norm, I must take special care to make my faithfulness clear and to explain how my position fits with my LDS faith.

8. If what I say is what “everyone” who is LDS says, then I probably ought to ask myself whether I’m saying what is true and needed here–both absolutely possible–or I am just repeating “what one says in these circumstances.”

9. Whenever I disagree with someone, whether about politics or chocolate, I should ask, “How is she or he likely to respond?” My comments ought to be designed to further the conversation and to make it better, not to make a brother or sister angry, to score debating points, to humiliate the person I’m addressing, or . . . .

10. If a friend of mine has posted something uncivil, as a friend, I ought to gently speak to him or her about that post.

King Benjamin reminds us that there is no end of making rules (Mosiah 4:29), so Times and Seasons cannot post a list of rules which, if obeyed, will prevent all contention. Not even a list of rules of thumb nor a list of practical suggestions can do that. But we know when our comments are not in a spirit of love and friendship, and we ought never to post except in that spirit, even if we disagree strongly. Strong disagreements between loved ones, disagreements that do not signal the destruction of love and friendship in spite of their strength, are possible. When we disagree, those ought to be the kinds of disagreements we have.

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54 Responses to Difference, Disagreement, and Contention

  1. Times and Seasons » More on Civility on September 10, 2004 at 3:43 pm

    [...] by Adam Greenwood

    Let me encourage you all to read Jim Faulconer’s fine post on keeping it civil. It has the merits of its own excellence, the authority lent by [...]

  2. Times and Seasons » More on Civility on September 10, 2004 at 3:43 pm

    [...] ch arguing at a great remove from the question is itself unfaithful. There are also other reasons. Yet we owe it to the Father and the Son to try, and we owe it to the S [...]

  3. Ethesis (Stephen M) on September 8, 2004 at 6:00 pm

    Nice comments.

    BTW, I’m home early this afternoon because someone broke in and burglarized the house. My wife came home early and they fled, taking the microwave with them.

    I’m trying to stay pleasant.

  4. Jim F on September 8, 2004 at 6:05 pm

    I hope all they got was your microwave and I’m glad that no one was injured.

  5. Kaimi on September 8, 2004 at 6:10 pm

    Agreed on Jim’s post, and on his comment as well. I was scratching my head — they took the microwave? That’s really odd. It’s an item that’s bulky, and heavy, and easily broken. And not really worth a lot — a new microwave is under $100, so a used probably isn’t worth $40. What ever happened to looking for high-value, low-weight items? Then again, I suppose burglars aren’t a group known for their intelligence.

  6. danithew on September 8, 2004 at 6:13 pm

    Nice post Jim. I also like to be able to disagree in a discussion, but I usually hope that the person I’m disagreeing with won’t take it personally and that even if feathers are ruffled, that afterwards things can calm down and we can get along and be friendly still.

    One problem with writing/reading (as opposed to face-to-face) is that writers/readers can’t see each other’s faces to discern what is being said. Sometimes sarcastic remarks written with a foolish grin aren’t read that way.

    Jim, we had our own little issue some time ago over definitions of lust and the character of Jesus. I wrote my responses rather heatedly but I hope you know that I calmed down on that one a long time ago and don’t have any hard feelings at all towards you. I continue to read and enjoy your posts and will continue to do so in the future — even though on the rare occasion, given the opportunity, I might eat white chocolate. :)

  7. danithew on September 8, 2004 at 6:15 pm

    Whoops, I forgot to respond to what Ethesis wrote. I was getting way too serious in my response to Jim F.’s post. :)

    Ethesis, if they’re stealing low-cost items, you better check to make sure your DVD player is still there.

  8. Jim F on September 8, 2004 at 6:19 pm

    Danithew, I’d forgotten that our discussion was heated. Thanks for overlooking my contribution to the heat.

    I can perhaps forgive you for eating white chocolate–as long as you stay away from that namby-pamby stuff, milk chocolate.

  9. Ethesis (Stephen M) on September 8, 2004 at 6:23 pm

    Well, they also took one of the vacuums, the dvd player (under $40.00 at Frys), a charger base for the telephones, Heather’s playstation2 (my wife has been taking it to work to play DVDs) a VCR, a collection of computer software boxes (though one of them actually had the software in it — my copy of Kilrathi Saga), a DVD from Blockbuster in the DVD player, but they did not make it far enough into the house to get to my wife’s jewelry. We just noticed the microwave first. It is worth less than you would suspect. It came with the house, needs a cabinet and is pretty ugly. It was going to be the last thing we replaced in the kitchen (and was due, we just finished painting the kitchen). Whoever robbed my house deserves that microwave.

    They didn’t get any TVs, left the computers alone, and got a bunch of empty boxes (which they probably thought had stuff in them).

    Almost wish they had taken the darn dog with them. She didn’t even lick them to death. Golden Retrievers.

    I’m very glad no one was hurt. It appears my wife was in the house at the same time they were, before they fled.

    Back to looking around to see what else is missing, but mostly it is stuff from the back door (they reached up and unlocked it through the dog door) to the bookshelf into the kitchen or on the counters in the kitchen. Except they did go past the computers to steal the VCR out of Rachel’s room.

    We will see if there is any progress made in finding them, though I know enough about that not to expect anything. Change the locks, put a deadbolt on the back door, replace the dog … (ok, but darn it, why couldn’t Heather have decided on something besides a golden retrieiver?). Use the other vacuum for a while.

    Arghh.

    Wish I could eat some chocolate to get over it (I’m allergic to chocolate and have given it up).

    Thanks for the kind comments. But for the software they grabbed, total value of the things stolen would be under two hundred dollars, my best guess (watch me be dramatically wrong).

  10. Mark B on September 8, 2004 at 6:25 pm

    Sorry to hear about the burglary. Whatever the loss, the worst part I think is the sense of one’s home being violated.

    Jim: I’m glad my wife didn’t have me take a personality test before we got married. The wedding would never have happened.

  11. danithew on September 8, 2004 at 6:29 pm

    Missing: post title. :)

  12. Mike on September 8, 2004 at 6:39 pm

    I rather enjoyed the post, thank you Dr. Faulconer- I hope that it is something people listen to. And along with danithew’s comment- I also hope that if/when people have gotten a bit ruffled by things posted here that they have been able to cool down later.

    Having been involved in debate as a competitive activity, having a room mate that was as well, and friends that have similar interests, I think that I get used to discussions framed as debates- and not taking things personally- but often I forget that others do not. I need to remember that both online and in the real world.

  13. ed on September 8, 2004 at 6:58 pm

    I agree that the comments can sometimes get contentious. But overall I’ve been impressed by the willingness of commenters to admit that they might be wrong and to quickly apologize for lapses. The mere fact that most commenters are at least trying to live the gospel makes the tone on this board seem better to me than most discussion boards I’ve seen.

    So, while agreeing with Jim, I want to thank all the commenters who have been charitable and slow to anger, and I hope to follow their example.

  14. Fred Astaire on September 8, 2004 at 9:12 pm

    Jim,
    The same topic was on my mind after the recent heated thread on Europe, which, predictably, turned into an ugly political slugfest. I was thinking about one of the contributors to that thread. He was once a reasonable fellow, thoughtful and kind, able to have a calm discussion and see things from others’ viewpoints.
    Then he went to law school.
    Now, sadly, he comes across as arrogant, self-indulgent, and intent above all on scoring points on matters of personal conviction and political preferences–over which there will always be disagreement.
    You mentioned your “home field,” philosophy, in your post; I’m inclined to think that the study of law can (and often does) lead people to impose the adversarial mindset of their training on other areas of life, areas where it does not belong.
    Philosophy, I would like to think, is the search for wisdom, or truth, or virtue. Law, by contrast, seems to me only about winning the immediate point of debate and, even more importantly, creating an image of oneself as victor, regardless of the comparative merits (or lack thereof) of one’s position or arguments.

  15. Jim F. on September 8, 2004 at 9:23 pm

    Fred Astaire, I don’t know that philosophy is any better at avoiding contention than the law. I suppose that, in principle, it should be. But the realities of human psychology are such that I think it probably isn’t. Philosophers like to win as much as the next person, even if it is “only” an argument about epistemology rather than about something that touches our lives more directly. And when I think about some of my friends whose training is in the trades rather than anything academic, I don’t see much difference among them: some of them have difficulty avoiding turning something into contention and some are rarely contentious. It would be nice for us philosophers if we could lay contention at the feet of the lawyers, but I don’t think we can.

  16. John Mansfield on September 8, 2004 at 9:49 pm

    The Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants passages on contention indicate that there is more to avoiding disputation over the gospel than civility and goodwill alone. There is also the need to receive Christ’s doctrine in preference to our own divergent opinions. Part of chapter 11 of 3rd Nephi might be summarized “Perform baptism the way I am telling you, not all the ways you have been arguing over.” Replacing ones own limited understanding with greater appreciation of the gospel is probably an aim of most who read these postings. Letting the grain of wheat die is a hard requirement, though.

  17. Jim F. on September 8, 2004 at 9:58 pm

    John Mansfield: I don’t think anyone would disagree that “there is more to avoiding disputation over the gospel than civility and good will alone.” But those are certainly minimal requirements, and they have often been absent lately. However, though our contentions have often been over substantial things, to be sure, they have rarely been over Christ’s doctrine.

    Though there have been disputes of various sorts here, I agree with you completely when you say, “Replacing ones own limited understanding with greater appreciation of the gospel is probably an aim of most who read these postings.” I wouldn’t want to give the impression that I think otherwise; I hope what I wrote didn’t.

  18. Jonathan Green on September 8, 2004 at 11:15 pm

    If I might add a few general guidelines:

    11. Don’t post comments at 3:00 AM, no matter how right your are.
    12. Remember that your degree of separation with the person you want to throttle is almost certainly 1.

    Maybe Jim F. has some of my contributions to various discussions here in mind; now and again I’ve wished I had phrased some of my comments a bit more precisely. I’m just glad I didn’t add “contention is of me” to any closing taglines; that wouldn’t have gone over well at all.

    I’d go on, but I’m getting too close to violating rule #11.

  19. Jim F. on September 8, 2004 at 11:54 pm

    Jonathan Green: I like both of your additions very much.

    The 12th one is something we should also remember in other circumstances. I cannot tell you how many times I have discovered that someone I am dealing with for some reason turns out to have been in a class, or to have lived in the same neighborhood we did years ago, or to know one of my children, and on and on. The Church may increase the likelihood of that in Provo, but many of the connections that have surprised me have nothing to do with Church.

  20. Jack on September 9, 2004 at 2:32 am

    Fred Astaire: The person you’re referring to over at the thread on Europe – in my estimation – was not merely trying to score points on a debate. Now, perhaps he *was* to some small degree (and I’ll give him that – as having a weakness is something not foriegn to any of us), but by and large, I believe the heat in his comments was triggered by deep criticism – offered in almost a glibly passe manner – of something for which he cares about passionately. Let’s not forget – that is, if we’re talking about the same person – that he apologized profusely after Jim shared his concern about contention.

    –Which brings me to the point that I want to express– While I agree with Jim that we should avoid contention (and I do so hypocritically – I’ll try to be better!), please, please let us be careful to not use the Gospel as a standard by which we measure *others*. All too often we make committments to do better and instantly we’re aware of how everyone around us is doing or not doing as the case may be. The Savior’s Sermon on the Mount, in my opinion, is a law to be regarded by the individual as a standard of measurement for him/herself.

    That being said, a community of believers will not thrive very long unless the individuals involved are being kind to one another. And so, I think Jim’s post is good and timely – especially for me.

  21. Kristine on September 9, 2004 at 8:43 am

    I think Jim’s talking about a general and months-long phenomenon–there’s no need to single out any one person’s comments on a particular thread.

  22. D. Fletcher on September 9, 2004 at 9:13 am

    This is a bit of a digression, but a previous thread analyzed the nature of boards and blogs, and found a pattern of initial enthusiasm followed by contention, followed by dissolution. I don’t know if this thread made it to the new T&S, or not, but I happen to have made a copy of the initial post, by Frank? I think.

    Researchers who study the social structure of computer-mediated communication (CMC) have noted that CMC discussions appear to evolve through one of a discrete set of predictable life-cycle progressions. Most start with a period of initial growth and enthusiasm, where participants join the forum and post actively. A very few discussions achieve an equilibrium of arrivals and departures that sustains them in a steady state over a long period. More often, they fall into decline; some slowly collapse in on themselves, like a white dwarf or neutron star, leaving only the charred husk of their former vibrant community. Others vanish like supernovas in the fiery violence of flame wars.

    I will leave the metaphor at that, although if one thinks hard enough, there is probably some CMC parallel to the development of black holes.

    What causes the eventual demise of most — perhaps ultimately all — CMC discussion fora? A branch of political economics, called public choice theory, offers at least one predictive model, a social analog to the theory of “lemons markets” in goods. Public choice theory predicts that volunteer organizations, such as professional societies, will tend to be dominated by individuals from the fringe of the organization, or by marginal practitioners of the profession. Why? Time is a scarce resource, and volunteerism is typically a time-intensive activity. The tangible rewards are typically quite modest; sometimes amounting only to slight social or reputational benefit. Economic man, as envisioned by economists — what my wife has dubbed the Ã’maximal utility rationalizer— will tend to use that scarce resource so as to capture the greatest value. The time used volunteering could be used to generate income, or to enjoy more relaxing leisure activities.

    This implies that those most capable of contributing to the organization are likely to use those high-value skills in other, more rewarding ways. It also implies that those most active in the organization will be individuals from the fringe, for whom the visibility offered by participation advances their personal agendas, or is a reward in itself. Alternatively, those most active may be individuals of marginal skill, whose opportunities to use the volunteer time more profitably are limited.

    CMC discussions display many of the same characteristics as volunteer organizations Ã? they are time and labor intensive, and the rewards for participation are fairly modest. The time spent on CMC conversations could be used for more tangible pay-offs; to generate income, or secure tenure, or raise children, or go fishing, or many other high-value activities. Over time, the most interesting and skilled participants in a CMC forum will tend to put their skill toward those other activities. Those who remain active are increasingly those who literally have nothing better to do with their time. The lack of interesting posts discourages yet others from participating, and the forum enters a death spiral until it eventually fades away.

    Alternatively, it may become dominated by crackpots and trolls looking for recognition or advancing marginal agendas. The collision of these volatile participants produces flame wars that swamp the forum signal with noise, driving the few remaining participants away. A good moderator can stave these outcomes off for awhile, but often they occur despite a moderator’s best efforts.

    This model poses a number of difficult questions — first, what are those of us who are blogging, especially those who are blogging a lot, doing here? Second, are blog participants or their interactions in any way different from those in previous CMC media, such that we might expect blog life-cycle to be different? Does the model predict the ultimate fate of Times and Seasons, or can an onymous group of friends escape the predicted demise?

  23. Frank McIntyre on September 9, 2004 at 11:08 am

    D.,

    Thanks for pointing that out. Though it was a fine post, it wasn’t mine. It was Dan Burk’s. The link is here.

    The post gains added texture considering Dan’s rather dramatic exit.

  24. Matt Jacobsen on September 9, 2004 at 1:00 pm

    I nominate Nate Oman as a good example of disagreeing with tact. He has quite a few comments along the lines of, “I’m puzzled when you say the sun is usually shining when it rains. Is that really what you meant?” This seems better than, “Your idea is silly” or “How can you believe that false information!?”, and certainly better than attacking the person directly. I’m all for learning from others when I’m wrong, but it is much easier to do so when my ideas are questioned rather than attacked. Then I can think for myself about why my ideas don’t make so much sense, rather than instinctively trying to put up defenses.

    Of course, it makes it easier for Nate because he knows so much and usually only chimes in when there’s some fact to dispute, rather than to offer an emotionally charged opinion. And it could be said that this approach is somewhat condescending when everyone knows he’s just politely pointing out someone’s error or mistake. Still, I think it’s better than other alternatives and I’ve found the tactic useful in my own work and family life.

    Another separate comment. The blog medium seems to be different than most other forms of communication. We think of it as a dialogue between friends with related interests, and if it could remain such then we would usually keep our best behavior. And yet, there is this audience out there, listening to the entire conversation, and we don’t know how many or who they are. Sometimes the audience unexpectedly interrupts the conversation and we realize that there are others listening in. This may cause us to feel the need to more vigorously defend what we hold as moral and right. Even though I know the person with whom I am actively conversing won’t be influenced by my contentious argument, I’m hoping that those listening will at least see that I am right.

    Do posters and commenters treat this forum as a conversation, where both sides should aim to enrich and benefit the other? Or is it like a debate or television show where the goal is to win points with and influence the audience? And yet the audience and ‘debate’ partner seem to trade places without any warning. Seems to follow then, that we should be civil to all, and let the administrators deal with those who break the rules.

  25. Adam Greenwood on September 9, 2004 at 2:19 pm

    A very interesting point, Mr. Jacobsen. I know that I make points forcefully sometimes because I don’t want the audience left confused or with the wrong opinion. I suppose the solution is to spend more time on my commenting so that I can be both clear and courteous. Or, I suppose, I could cultivate my Nateness so that even my slightest word was law. :)

  26. Kingsley on September 9, 2004 at 2:39 pm

    I am a pro-Bush sort of fellow who recently met an anti-Bush sort of fellow and, amazingly, we became fast friends. He wears Michael Moore T shirts while my T shirts say things like “Hippies Smell.” I am actually shocked, actually really shocked, shocked I tell you, that we enjoy one another, because it seems so infinitely rare, especially now, for people even in the Church to disagree on politics without quickly wanting to murder one another. I mean truly it is no surprise that bad things start to happen on T&S when, e.g., Are Pacifists Patriots? comes up for discussion; the surprising thing for me is that so many good things happen: that the comments are generally interesting, thoughtful, and sincere, and that there is a general attempt to be civilized. Where else can you go to get at least an intelligible, much less charitable, exchange between an intelligent LDS republican and an intelligent LDS democrat? Where else can you go to get such a lovely jumble of academics, lawyers, and poseurs like myself? Only hell, I imagine, so in the meantime thanks to all, and that includes you bastards on the Left.

  27. Chad Too on September 9, 2004 at 2:58 pm

    Excuse me, Kingsley, but I know for a fact that my parents were married well before I came along. ;-)

  28. Adam Greenwood on September 9, 2004 at 5:18 pm

    Kingsley’s back! Our long night is over.

  29. Mike on September 9, 2004 at 5:47 pm

    I am also sure that my parents were maried before I was concieved, although… I am pretty sure that I was in fact not planned- so the title may be appropriate.
    Kingston- I have had similar experiences in that pretty much all my politically pasionate friends in the Church are quite far to the right of me. We have interesting discussions, but by now it isn’t really strange to me- but I do see a lot more conflict and argument in “real life” sans intelligent discussion than I see here. But it would be nice to make sure things stay civil, or become a bit mroe so.

  30. danithew on September 9, 2004 at 6:20 pm

    Being in a group where some level of discussion and even argument occurs is much more interesting than being in a gathering where everyone is enthusiastically agreeing, slapping each other on the back and congratulating each other. Contention isn’t desirable but maybe some disagreement is (as Jim F. suggests). Maybe that’s why political conventions seem to be rather ridiculous at some level. The constant applause and palpable self-love is just a bit too much.

  31. Wilfried on September 9, 2004 at 9:35 pm

    Much appreciation for Jim’s words. I think it was also sad that the very rare non-English non-American Mormons who would risk a comment got in the middle of that contentious thread. It raises perhaps two aspects:
    1) Non-English participants write their comments in English – a foreign language. They struggle for the right words, they may use the wrong words, they may be intimidated for not being able to respond at par…
    2) Could T&M open itself (more?) to blogs from non-American Mormons? I would imagine there are a number out there who could contribute something from their perspectives.

  32. Jim F. on September 9, 2004 at 11:39 pm

    Wilfried, I too think it is more than unfortunate that the few times that non-North Americans have said anything on the blog, they have been promptly attacked and often effectively silenced. It is a little frightening. But I hope you–and others–will feel free to take part.

    Obviously this blog assumes that those who come here can read English. I’m not sure what to do about that limitation. It would be much better if it were available in multiple languages, but we don’t have the resources to make that possible. However, I am willing to offer to translate, edit, or otherwise help anyone who has come to the site, wishes to respond to something, and–unlike Wilfried–doesn’t feel that his or her English skills are up to the job. If I can’t do it–and the range of languages in which I could be helpful is narrow–I’m sure I can find someone who can.

  33. john fowles on September 10, 2004 at 12:11 am

    Wilfried, I not only owe Jim F. my sincere apology for my abrasiveness and contentious spirit on that thread, but I see that I also owe you and Marc D. my apologies for being so inhospitable to you as foreign-language guests to T&S. I never meant any harm, even though reading over what I wrote I see how harsh I was and am very sorry for it. Please convey my apologies to Marc D if you know him and encourage him not to let an insane individual such as myself dissuade him from participating here.

    Please know that it has never been my intention to silence our friends from overseas, even on subjects of disagreement between us. Non-native English speakers should certainly not be intimidated to contribute here since many of us native English spekers ar so slopy we cant even spll.

  34. Ashleigh on September 10, 2004 at 2:25 am

    A lovely post Jim. As a neophyte in the bloggernacle I can’t compare past to present contention levels, but I can say that I found the most of conversations here admirably civil. I’m sure we all need reminders like yours frequently, I know I do, but really, this is a great community and I’ve enjoyed checking in and reading all the comments so much!

    In general, whenever I start to get so mad I can’t see straight, the mantra I chant to myself is a quote I read years ago (and have since forgotten the source of) “There’s nothing scarier than someone who is absolutely convinced that they are right.� Then I do my best not to be that person.

    It usually works for me, as long as I give myself a minute to calm down and chant it.

  35. Nathan Tolman on September 10, 2004 at 3:21 am

    On the language issue, perhaps we can have a link to Babel Fish Translation on alta vista ( http://world.altavista.com/ ). That might be a start.

  36. Nathan Tolman on September 10, 2004 at 3:23 am

    On a similar note, I do not know if the site supports non-Roman character sets. Here is a test:

    我是神的孩�.

  37. Wilfried on September 10, 2004 at 8:00 am

    Thanks for the kind notes, my friends.

    Automatic translation could yield some funny surprises. For example, Alta Vista translated Jim’s opening paragraph into French and then back into English as follows.

    If j’étais a autodisciplinée person, I would prepare my lessons in this moment and would prepare the presentation which I am supposed to give to the new body teaching afternoon tomorrow. But when we went to the front, my wife, then an educational student graduated in l’essai, incited m’à to take a test of personality. It was shocked with the way in which low j’ai marked on l’autodiscipline, and the things n’ont not changed. Thus, instead of the preparation with work tomorrow, I am active writing about something which m’avait worried during one moment. I will appear out of the lessons and the presentation later, meaning long night.

    Actually, not too bad, but I am afraid for some misunderstandings if we start talking doctrine. But the experience surely should improve our admiration for the Urim and Thummim, the perfect devise.

  38. Ethesis (Stephen M) on September 10, 2004 at 8:37 am

    “The post gains added texture considering Dan’s rather dramatic exit.”

    I missed that.

    I think that the Church gains from the fact that it is of real value.

    Group blogs gain from the fact that they are really group conversations between friends. The rest of the world kind of participates, but drifts in and out. As far as I can tell, the group dynamic may give them a longer life cycle.

    Many solo blogs fit either the correspondence model or polemetic models, and both of those can potentially go on for years and years (think of how long the Chick pamphlets lasted, for example).

  39. Jim F. on September 10, 2004 at 10:55 am

    Wilfried, I’m rather impressed by the translation that Alta Vista did. It suggests that for most of our discussions here, Alta Vista could help those who don’t feel that their English language skills are strong enough to operate solely in English.

    Nevertheless, my offer stands to help those who wish to participate but would like someone to help them express themselves in English. There may be those whose native language is not English who would like to comment but are reluctant to do so because of the language difference. If they wish to write to me, I will find a way to help them do so.

    The e-mail address to use is: Jim@timesandseasons.org

  40. Jim F. on September 10, 2004 at 11:00 am

    I want to thank John Fowles for the admirable way he has responded to this. He is to be admired for his willingness to apologize. But I also want to emphasize something that Kristine said earlier: my post was not directed at any particular individual, neither John Fowles nor someone else. I was responding to a problem that I have seen increasing over the last several months.

  41. Steve Evans on September 10, 2004 at 11:32 am

    Fine, Jim, I can take a hint! You’re looking for an apology specifically from me. Well, all I can say is that you’d better get in line behind Adam.

    Perhaps this movement you’re witnessing over the last several months is growing pains for T&S, as you evolve from uber-blog to something different? It seems that smaller spots in the bloggernacle don’t have the acrimony problems as exist here.

  42. Jim F. on September 10, 2004 at 12:47 pm

    Steve, actually I known you too well to ever have expected an apology.

    I think you’re right, that the problems have a lot to do with the growth of T&S, but I hope that an explanation doesn’t suffice as an excuse.

  43. Renee on October 11, 2004 at 5:45 pm

    I just happened onto this thread so late because this page was a referrer to my blog today. I preferred the T&S of 6 or 7 months ago over now. I still read occaisonally but it’s become a lot less frequent. I haven’t been around at T&S much lately for a couple of reasons.

    1) On the occaisonal days I happen to read, there’s vulgarity in the comments. This has been covered in previous threads and privately between myself and Gordon via email so no need to rehash it. It just continues.

    2) Utterly vile and distasteful comments directed at me. I don’t find this a safe haven at all for open dialogue anymore. If one speaks about something very serious and real life ramifications experienced by themselves or others, they risk being mocked and ridiculed.

    One additional comment. You recommended, “If what I say runs counter to LDS received wisdom or to the LDS norm, I must take special care to make my faithfulness clear and to explain how my position fits with my LDS faith.”

    This seems contradictory to me. If what one say runs counter to LDS received revelation how could one explain how that “fits” with the LDS faith?

    Are you are saying that we all have our own version of the faith that we are subletting? Some of the most contentious threads here run counter to standard LDS teachings and revelation. I’m not sure one could explain how the their ACC view is in harmony with the ABC official church view. I’m not lock step in with everything the Brethren espouse but I couldn’t imagine claiming that my few alternative views fit with theirs when they clearly espouse something else.

  44. danithew on October 11, 2004 at 6:28 pm

    Hey Renee … I’m thinking it could have been me that was offensive to you somehow but I hope it wasn’t.

    I know what you’re talking about with vulgarity … but I’m not sure what thread you’re talking about where someone personally directed vile and disgusting comments at you. I’m not baiting you when I say this. I did a google-search with the terms “Times and Seasons” and “Renee” and couldn’t locate what you were talking about. I sure wish that the wordpress search function also searched the comments. Harrrumph. (And I hate to be caught being critical of the WordPress system as well).

    Anyways… I’ve been feeling a desire to dial it back a bit as far as the sillyness goes. I’ve certainly played a substantial role in it all though.

  45. Renee on October 11, 2004 at 6:42 pm

    Hi, Danithew. It’s been multiple threads with the vulgarity. Apparently just my luck to visit on those days. And, no, it wasn’t you and I cannot imagine you being hateful. (Don’t shatter my illusion if I’m wrong. LOL)

  46. Jim F on October 11, 2004 at 7:15 pm

    Renee, do you see the difference between what you quote me as saying “If what I say runs counter to LDS received wisdom or to the LDS norm” and what you attribute to me: “If what one say runs counter to LDS received revelation”?

    “Received wisdom” is a standard, idiomatic phrase meaning “generally accepted beliefs.” I have not suggested that what we say can run counter to LDS revelation.

  47. Randy on October 11, 2004 at 8:03 pm

    Renee, as a huge fan of Georgia Tech, I certainly hope that the ACC is not out of step with the official church view. I could see how one could conclude otherwise, however, with the recent inclusion of Miami. ;>)

  48. Randy on October 11, 2004 at 8:25 pm

    Renee, first, let me second Jim’s comments. There is most certainly a difference between “generally accepted beliefs” and “revealed revelation.” Beyond that, it is not always a simple matter to determine what the “official” church view is, even for those with insider status. (See, e.g., Nate’s comments regarding Elder McConkie and Mormon Doctrine.) Moreover, it is often the case that “received revelation” raises more questions than answers. I don’t always agree with the positions endorsed here, but I am glad we all have a place to come to make our case.

    I’m disheartened to hear that you have felt attacked here. If you’ll let Dan and I know who the culprits are, we’ll go beat the !&@% out of ‘em. ;>) Hope you’ll stick around.

  49. Ebenezer on October 11, 2004 at 10:54 pm

    Danithew,

    You can google a specific site by adding “site:[URL]” to your google search, like this:

    Renee site:www.timesandseasons.org

    You can also drag and drop the following link to your browser’s links toolbar and when you click it it will google search whatever site you are currently viewing:

    Ebenezer on October 11, 2004 at 10:55 pm

    Sorry, looks like wordpress doesn’t like javascript in links…

  50. Ebenezer on October 11, 2004 at 10:56 pm
  51. john fowles on October 11, 2004 at 11:34 pm

    Renee, I for one have missed your comments around here. I think that I can relate to how you feel. I have had some pretty big arguments within the last few months around here. I hope that my own perspective/cantakerousness hasn’t contributed to your feeling unwelcome here.

  52. Stephen M (ethesis) on February 1, 2005 at 10:16 pm

    If I confuse my political doctrines with my religious beliefs, something easy to do since they overlap in a number of areas, I will find it difficult not to assume that those who disagree with me are evil and, therefore, properly to be contended against.

    Now that I’ve been blogging for a while, I really see the truth of that post.

    Glad this one won an award.

    Oh, and btw, the guys who burglarized the house got a total of about four thousand dollars worth of stuff and got caught as well. I missed the pots and pans they took and some other things. Turns out they were furnishing an apartment. Sheesh.

  53. annegb on February 2, 2005 at 12:51 am

    Yes, very wise. I would like to print it, it’s full of good stuff to use in a lesson or talk.

    You know, I think I’ve contributed to that uncivil tone, without meaning to, in part because I didn’t realize the international nature of the posters. If I am in a room with people, and can see their faces, I can read dismay and shut up. Not always. I apologize if I’ve offended anybody, it certainly wasn’t my intent. In my world, there is no forum like this.

    I’ve heard that old saw that if you see something you don’t like in someone, it’s usually because you’re like them, and I’ve thought a lot about that. Then I thought about my best friends and people who dislike them and they’re not a bit alike, so I don’t think that holds true, except for one area: power. This can includes issues of control or simply trying to prove a point. I get myself in trouble with that all the time.

    But I’m glad for this “blog” which I haven’t taken the time to analyze the term yet, but soon. :) Thanks, Bro. Falcouner