Twitter and the Joy of Contradiction

There are times when I think the only reason some people use Twitter is the joy they find in contradicting others. The glee with which they seize on a statement they dislike or don’t agree with, and the aggressive way in which they set about putting the tweeter right surprises me. I have myself had to say on occasion that it was impossible to nuance an argument within the 140 character limit. Otherwise, I feared the ‘conversation’ would go on and on, rather like the Tennysonian brook. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen often, but it is worth thinking about when it does.

Why do people derive so much pleasure from attempting to prove others wrong? Why do we always want to be in the right? I suspect a moral theologian or psychiatrist might give a different answer, but doesn’t being in the right confer a kind of security on us? If we’re right, we’re right, and somehow unassailable. St Benedict never directly addressed this topic, but I think his teaching on humility, the importance he attached to confession of error or wrongdoing (note, we are not talking sacramental confession here but the regular monastic practice of confession of faults at chapter or in private to the superior), and the strict limits he imposed on fraternal correction provide some clues. He recognized that quite often we aren’t right, though we think we are; and our conduct should reflect the lack of certainty. Courtesy and mildness of manner are not signs of weakness but of the importance we attach to truth, even in small things, and the reverence we show one another as persons created in the image and likeness of God.

But what if we are definitely right, and the other person isn’t, what do we do then? I think I would say that it is not enough merely to be right; we must be right in the right way. That is trickier because we have to balance some apparently equal and opposite concerns. We must uphold the truth, but never in such a way that we fail to acknowledge the dignity of the person with whom we are speaking. Whether we’re talking about Twitter , Facebook, or wherever we engage in online argument, it is a case, once more, of bringing our online and offline persona into harmony: being the same person, acting according to the same standards.

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5 thoughts on “Twitter and the Joy of Contradiction”

  1. Perhaps some people believe they are presenting the other side of a discussion, playing the part of the devil’s advocate. Some are simply contrary folk and live their lives as though playing a chess game. In particular, to answer your question about what to do when we know we are right? The situation comes to mind of a neighbour of ours, an athiest who has neither read the bible nor learned the Catholic faith. Still, he makes broadcast statements against Christianity, canonization of Saints and feels quite justified in doing so, in fact initiating the topic. When we attempt to explain, this leads to more debate, wherein he generally attempts to make us out to be brainless and brainwashed. He derives some peculiar pleasure from this it would seem. As he is a middle aged bachelor with no family in the city, we usually invite him to our home for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner, knowing full well he will bring up his topic, our little cross to bear. We uphold the Truth, then change the subject.

  2. the advantage of having so few followers on Twitter, and only following a scant couple of dozen people, is that they all seem to be very liked-minded and agree with each other!

  3. Actually, I am a little “in dispute” with some one; there is no resolution in sight; the person is adamant that their view is correct and indisputable, and I absolutely, truthfully, know that their understanding of the facts is wrong.

    I wish we could resolve this matter – it rankles with me that the only way forward is if I agree with their version of the facts, which I can’t. I would if I could, but I can’t.

    I would love to be wrong; it would be so much easier to back down, apologise, agree, give way.

    Luckily, it is a small thing that we cannot agree on, and the other person is someone that I do not have to work or live closely with.

    re-reading and re-reading your blog is helping to understand why it hurts, and how it hurts, and to realise that this is a real area for prayer for the both of us.

  4. ‘Re-reading and re-reading your blog is helping to understand why it hurts, and how it hurts, and to realise that this is a real area for prayer for the both of us.’ Thank you for that: we here will join our prayers with yours for reconciliation.

  5. Today, July 3rd, I have had reason to communicate with the person above on other work related matters. Joy of joys; our conversations have been gentle and helpful and non-confrontational. Just thought I mention it. Amen.

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