I think the internet is actually an ideal training ground for developing your ability to talk about important issues. Having good conversations does not come naturally. We all need practice. The internet offers several unique opportunities for practicing good habits.* Here are my top 5.
1. You can screen your own thoughts.Lesson: You learn to be
Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to post everything that you type.
Unlike face-to-face conversations, you can get your thoughts out, read over
them, make edits, and then decide whether or not to post your comment. Also
contrary to what you may think, it is absolutely not a waste of time to type out
your thoughts and then simply elect not to post them. I do this A LOT. Sometimes
you realize that you do not have anything indispensable to contribute to the
conversation. Sometimes it just is not worth it. Even so, working out your
thoughts will help to prepare you for future conversations. What is more,
learning to screen your thoughts is vitally important for face-to-face
2. You can do your research. Lesson: You learn to be
The person that you are talking to on the internet might be really smart. OR,
he might just be sitting in an office surrounded by books on the topic. That is
one great benefit of digital communication. If you don’t know what to say, you
can stop, do some research and then come back. That is a luxury that you would
not be afforded in a heated face-to-face discussion. Is it “cheating” to do
research in between comments? Only if the point of the point of the discussion
is to determine who knows more off the top of their head. I have never been part
of such a conversation. And who would enforce that rule anyway? On the other
hand, if the point is to have an intelligent discussion and work toward finding
the truth (as it should be), then you are really doing a disservice to everyone
by staying in the dark. What is more, getting in the habit of being informed
will improve your face-to-face conversations as well.
3. You can choose public or private. Lesson: You learn to
be tactful and sensitive.
Suppose that your friend posts something controversial on Facebook. You
notice it in your news feed. If you sense that you have something to contribute,
but you do not want to jump into the fray; you can offer to take the
conversation to email or private message. Maybe you just want to talk to your
friend. Maybe there is an outspoken person hijacking the conversation. You can
politely ask to speak to either of them privately. I almost always prefer this
approach over having a knock down, drag out, public debate that will attract
trolls and bandwagon jumpers alike. It is not always possible to “go private”
with a face-to-face conversation, but it is always necessary to exercise tact
and stay sensitive to the particular situation.
4. No one can see your face. Lesson: You learn to be
Are you frustrated because some bonehead refuses to engage your arguments,
and instead just keeps attacking your character? Of course you are. The good
news is that no one can see the constipated look on your face. Don’t blow it
with a hasty response. Step back, take a deep breath, scream into a pillow,
count to ten, say a prayer. Then, come back with a calm and collected response
(if one is even warranted). People who are watching the conversation will be
amazed at how well you handled yourself. They don’t ever need to know that you
punched yet another hole in the wall. As it applies to face-to-face
conversations; this is a case of “fake it ‘til you make it.” Practice staying
cool until it becomes natural. As a general rule, the man who loses his cool
also loses the debate.
5. Many opportunities to practice humility. Lesson: You
learn to be humble.
I once heard a pastor say that it is dangerous to pray for patience. Within a
few days of making this request to God, you will almost certainly find yourself
in a situation that dramatically tries your patience. The same is true of
internet conversations. Do you need to work on exercising humility? We all do.
Well, just jump on social media and you will almost certainly find yourself in a
situation that demands tremendous humility. I am not suggesting that you should
deliberately put yourself into situations that you know you can’t handle.
However, if you intentionally enter into discussions with the intention of
showing humility, you will develop a great habit for face-to-face conversations
in the future.
*I am not suggesting that internet conversations are a substitute for
face-to-face interaction. They are not.