For anyone seeking to know the truth both dialogue and debate are important, but I would suggest that dialogue is the more important of the two. We all know how quickly a debate can become ill-tempered, an exchange of insults rather than of arguments. Frequently, those entering a debate do so with the intention of winning, of scoring points, and emerging victorious from the fray. We are less interested in establishing or exploring truth than conquering the other, and those with the best debating skills are often capable of arguing for either ‘side’ with equal effectiveness. Dialogue starts with the recognition that both have something to learn from the other. It is a quest for truth, for mutual enrichment. It is humbler and more receptive, though equally hard work. Those who engage in dialogue may change their opinions as the conversation continues; those engaged in debate rarely do so. There are many calls today for ‘less toxic politics’, a ‘listening Church’. Perhaps we need to think more about dialogue than debate, let go of the desire to triumph and be content to learn instead.
If follower numbers were an index of wisdom or virtue, Twitter would produce some very strange results. I’m not sure why some people are so anxious to obtain ‘followers’. If anyone tweets a request that I should follow them, I usually ignore it on the grounds that anyone so blatantly clamouring for attention is more likely to be a ‘broadcaster’ than a ‘dialoguer’. In any case, I don’t follow as many people as currently follow me for the simple reason that it would be a physical impossibility. I try to follow people with different backgrounds, interests and opinions from my own, as well as those who are particularly knowledgeable and engaging on topics that interest me. So what is vanity Twitter, and why am I unenthusiastic about it?
Vanity Twitter is all about me, my interests, and my business (frequently, especially my business). The vain tweeter will read everything he/she can about how to build follower numbers and will ruthlessly exploit every known technique for doing so (often dreamed up by other like-minded tweeters). In addition, the vain tweeter is a master of the art(?) of the self-promotional tweet and subjects us to a never-ending stream of unwanted information about his/her wonderful achievements, ‘motivational quotes’ and so on. Dialogue, there is not. Unfortunately, religion is not exempt from this kind of vanity Twitter, although it is usually given a gloss of gratitude for graces received. At base, however, it is as frothy and empty as any other kind of vanity Twitter, and because it does not really engage with other people*, I wonder whether it can achieve anything of substance.
Are you a vain tweeter, or do you try to use Twitter to engage with others? What have you learned from using Twitter? Have you any tips to share? Do you think religion is a difficult subject to explore on Twitter? Over to you.
• I think the @pontifex account does Twitter rather well, despite what I say above. The pope cannot engage with others on Twitter as you and I can because of the sheer numbers involved.
Some days I wonder how the human race has managed to survive so long when there seems to be such an immense amount of anger and hatred inside even the most mild-mannered of people. Yesterday I was the reluctant eavesdropper of a conversation about Edward Snowden. ‘Whistleblower’ to one and ‘traitor’ to the other, the conversation generated more heat than light. Indeed, at one point I wondered whether I’d need a tungsten boiler suit to protect myself, so fiery was the debate becoming. It was at that point that I realised neither was actually listening to the other. There was no dialogue, only the statement of opinion; and given that neither appeared to be any more ‘in the know’ than any other consumer of internet/broadcast news, I think ‘opinion’ is the correct word to use. It was an argument without real substance which appeared to leave both men cross and out of sorts.
It also left me wondering how often I act in the same way. Those things I care about, that engage my passions so to say, may be precisely the ones about which I need to do more listening to others. Screaming at someone, whether metaphorically or literally, may be an indicator of how deeply something is felt, but it isn’t an argument and does nothing to advance understanding or agreement. Perhaps we are screaming at each other too much these days. As my mother used often to remind me, God gave us one mouth but two ears. He must have meant something by that.