I’ve been on the Internet long enough to have involved myself in a good number of discussions. I’ve gotten myself banned from a couple sites for being contentious, and have had a fair share of mud flung in my direction.
From where I sit, having learned a thing or two along the way, I think people enter into Internet discussions for one of four reasons. Some people take part by dropping their explicit opinion without reading any other comments and without returning to engage any opposing views. In other words, they drop their opinion and run. They are like drive-by shooters.
Others want to be the wise professor, showing all the other
peons, er, people, what they know.
Some percent of people care more about winning than they do what it is they are discussing. Consequently, if they are corrected or challenged in what they say, they must find a way to attack back, to gain points for the ones they lost.
Finally, there are some people who actually want to engage in give-and-take, to consider a subject from a different perspective, to learn even though they may continue to disagree. They may even discover they have far more common ground with those in disagreement than they had once presumed. In short, they are willing to engage in a discussion without the need to win.
I have to admit, I’m a fan of this latter type of interaction. I like learning new things. I like having my own assumptions and beliefs challenged. It forces me to examine where I stand and see if it’s actually firm enough to hold me up.
More often than not, I come away from those kinds of discussions with a firmer conviction. Sometimes I’m forced to do some homework—to search out answers to a question I hadn’t thought of before or know little about. That also is a good thing—a very good thing.
But the “discussions” that devolve into gamesmanship in which one party cares more about winning than about considering both sides of a question, or about the people with whom they’re dialoguing, bring out the worst in me. As my family can tell you, I don’t like losing. I don’t like eating humble pie. I don’t like people calling me names or laughing at my expense. My instinct is to fight back, to prove I know just as much, can be as snarky as they, can take them down a peg.
In short, I’m tempted to adopt the “discussion is about winning” mindset.
It’s a temptation, sadly, because “everyone’s doing it.” The desire to win has become far too prevalent in western society. We want our sports teams to win (I sure do!) We want the singer we voted for to win. We want our political candidate to win. We want to beat the other driver in a race to the next red light, and we surely don’t want to let that jerk in ahead of us.
The bottom line, I guess, is pride. We want to come out looking like we did something (picked the best team, the best singer, the best candidate). We want to outshine the next guy, even when we don’t know that guy and will never see him again. It’s our own ego we are trying to satisfy.
Ego, I think, is what drove those teachers in Atlanta to cheat for their students. In fact, CNN reported that during former Georgia District Attorney Michael Bowers investigation, “he heard that educators cheated out of pride, to earn bonuses, to enhance their careers or to keep their jobs” (emphasis mine). Ego drives gang members to tag their turf and protect it. Ego drives businessmen to pull shady deals so they can climb over their buddy as they ascend the corporate ladder. Ego drives soccer moms to brag about their kids’ accomplishments even as they conveniently forget to mention the problems. Ego causes church leaders to play the number game—how many converts, how many baptisms, how many attendees.
And why shouldn’t ego be a growing factor in today’s society? From the moment kids can walk and talk, parents and TV and educators and most every other adult they come in contact with, tell them they can do whatever they put their little minds to. Unfortunately, “Just win, baby” actually hasn’t turned out to be much of a winning formula.
Some people believe it and spend their lives trying to get to whatever goal they desire and believe they deserve, regardless of the methods required to do so. Others who learn they aren’t the winners their parents said they were, live vicariously through their own children or through their favorite golfer or race car driver; others steep themselves in the gaming community and make all parts of life about winning. Including Internet discussions.
As long as we live with the idea that discussions are about winning, we doom ourselves in two ways: we will stop learning about other people and what they think—a dangerous circumstance in our ever shrinking world—and we will devalue compromise.
Once, in the US men of government were considered great statesmen if they could work out a compromise. If two sides saw an issue in opposing ways, a statesman was the person who helped both sides to come together and agree on something workable; though neither side got all they wanted, both sides got some of what they wanted.
Apparently we no longer value the role of a peacemaker. Rather, we want a litigator who can take the matter to court and WIN. Ah, there it is again. This passion to come out on top.
No wonder Jesus sounds so radical to our culture. He said things like, The last shall be first, and the first last. And, Love your enemies; do good to those who misuse you. And take up your cross daily, and follow me.
Our culture says things like, The one who dies with the most toys wins. But Jesus said, Store up your treasure in heaven where moth and rust can’t get to it.
I don’t think a person can turn on and off the desire to win. I think God needs to do something in a person’s heart to give life a greater meaning than just elbowing out the other guy. I think God needs to do a work in a person’s heart to make them care more for others. Even in Internet discussions.