Beg to Differ

This is something I’m still trying to figure out. So I won’t be getting all high-and-mighty about it or anything. It’s really just a notion that I am trying on for size. I find that typing about these notions sometimes seems to help me gain a little more clarity. So here goes. Let’s see if it works this time.

It’s mostly about agreeing with people, about finding people you agree with and about finding warmth and succour in their company. It’s about how that’s not necessarily such a good thing.

As is often the case these days, it was Twitter which highlighted this notion for me. Twitter is really very good at showing me stuff. Not just news and joke stuff but human behaviour stuff as well. You may not really discern anything much about general behaviour from looking at one person on Twitter or even ten people. But when you look at a thousand, regularly, perhaps then you can tend to detect discreet waves or movements and patterns within them. Actually perhaps you can’t. Maybe it’s that Jameson I knocked back half-an-hour ago. Let’s run with the idea for just a moment, though. Let’s just pretend that we can see stuff about human behaviour on Twitter.

One of the things Twitter has shown me is that people tend to respond more to people who express opinions that they agree with. My instinct, and it’s nothing more than that, is that they also tend to fall silent at those moments when they disagree.

It’s no big surprise that they tend to do that. People don’t always like to be disagreed with. Your opinion is a bit like your property. If somebody bursts in on it and tramples all around on it and possibly even piddles in the corner, over there by the wall, your inclination may be to get quite put-out about that.

It’s easier, all-in-all, to stay in the ‘like’ group. Not necessarily to pretend that you like something just to get ‘in with the gang’, I don’t mean that, although I guess it must happen. I mean shouting out really loud when you agree with something and then shutting-the-hell up whenever you don’t.

But how, you may well ask, how can I be so definitive about this foible if I’ve only seen it in passing on Twitter? The answer to that one is pretty simple. I relate it to myself.

Twitter, like it or not, is like a big fat digital mirror. If you can only manage to decipher the bits and bytes that make it up, it can show you yourself quite clearly,. If you don’t believe me, run a little test for yourself. Pick a moment when you’re really annoyed or angry about something then go straight on to your twitter. It will reflect that bad mood of yours, I bet you it will. Go on again when you’re happy and buzzing and it’ll be mainly sunshine and flowers. It’s a big mirror, if you can only see into it.

This therefore follows; if I notice people appropriating strength from each other, on the basis that they all feel the same way about something, then I can be assured that this is something that I do myself and that it is simply being reflected right back at me by my Twitter.

And that’s true. I know I do it. Well, I have done, in the past. I’m trying to do it less. But it's not all that easy.

I dislike conflict, you see. I tend to shy away from it whenever I can. One of the reasons is that, when it comes to conflict, I have a pretty clearly defined tipping-point rather than any kind of balanced response. Up to that tipping point, I tend to be pretty patient and understanding. I try to sort things out as best I can. Beyond the tipping point, I’m afraid I can be rather an unpredictable little cuss, liable to do or say almost anything. That’s why I try to avoid such situations. I find them very tiring indeed.

This is where I need to learn a little. I need to learn that a ‘difference of opinion’ is not the same as a ‘conflict’. This is much easier to grasp and instinctively understand in real life. On social media, a difference of opinion can quickly become a conflict and it regularly does. On social media, an expressed difference of opinion can often cast you out of your nice cosy little group and make you feel quite isolated and odd.

But still… I now think it should be done as often as possible.  We should beg to differ.

Here’s where I reckon we’re going wrong. We are celebrating each other for the things we agree about when we really should be full of the greatest appreciation for those things we feel markedly different about.

Imagine three writers in a room. One of them writes a line. “How’s that?” he asks the others. “Great, good, lovely.” Says one. “Brilliant. I love it,” says the other. How good is that line actually going to be?

For creative things to be good, really good, they have to be torn apart, criticised down to the finest detail, deconstructed and then built back up again. Everybody sitting around and congratulating themselves on how they all love something may be warm and embracing but it won’t ever produce anything new or good.

That’s why I want to cry, “vive la diffĂ©rence,” a bit more often. If you feel different about something, I like that, I respect that and I want to know more. If I loved it and you hated then you are right and I am right too. Let’s try to find where the creative spark between these two correct positions lies.

I’m trying this at the moment, I really am.

A useful side-effect of me trying to be better at this has come to light. I now value my own opinion much more than I have ever done before. Movies are a good example. Previously, if I saw a movie and liked it, and then found that everyone else didn’t, I might have kept my head down a bit and perhaps even wondered where I went wrong in liking it. Silly me. With movies, as with most things, it’s all about my own personal reaction to it. This reaction may be unbalanced, swayed by the mood I was in at that moment or some other circumstances which helped forge my opinion. My view might be skewed and irrational but that never means that my view is invalid. Far from it. The more honest I can be with myself, the more valid my opinion must be.

One finesse though. Social media being what it is, I may still hesitate to jump in and express my polar-opposite opinion to yours. To date, my experiences of doing this have not been all that positive. I may not jump in to openly disagree but I will however quietly celebrate your alternate point of view and I will try to hear as much about it as I can.

So I disagree with you. Do you hear me? I disagree.

Isn’t it great?


B said...

I wanted to comment somewhere in the middle of reading this post but by the time I reached the end, I'd forgotten my point!

The difficulty with discussions via social media is that we often know nothing of the people we wish to disagree with - so we hesitate, by which time the blip of passion we felt has been superseded with other thoughts.

This is compounded by re-reading what we've written - unlike in a conversation where words are accompanied by intonation, physical gestures, etc. For example, in this comment, am I being pompous, argumentative, reflective ...?

This comment has been re-written so many times now that I have to decide whether to hit delete or send - and I'm not even disagreeing with you! And what 'identity' should I choose? Oh well, here goes [send]

Jim Murdoch said...

I don’t know what’s wrong with my tablet. It used to tell me every day when I had new tweets to look at but now it doesn’t and so I forget about it for days. I checked yesterday and had some 1500 tweets and I only follow 25 people so I can’t imagine what it’s like for you. But before I start ranting on—which I suppose is a combination of ‘ranting’ and ‘going on’—about Twitter I’ll address myself to the main subject of your post, agreeableness. Or do we mean conformity? I don’t like confrontation—hate it in fact—but, like you, I don’t necessarily agree with everything my friends have to say; you and I differ in our estimation of Bond films but that’s fine.

When I read a poem online I very often make a comment saying where the poem’s tripped me up. I’m not so quick to type, “Great poem!” and move onto the next blog. This isn’t because I enjoy being critical but, let’s face it, it is easier to point out someone’s faults. The reason I do it is to be helpful. I don’t post poems in draft but I do always hand finished poems to Carrie for her rubber stamp and if that’s not forthcoming—which does happen—no one else gets a chance to criticise it; it gets fixed first. I’m lucky now that I have her because for most of my life I didn’t have anyone to check my stuff nor did I have an Internet. I have had writers get annoyed with me for offering up my opinion—they said they weren’t seeking criticism—and I generally apologise and stop following their blog because I know I’ll forget and do it again.

Personally I welcome criticism. I get very little but I’m not daft enough to think I’m beyond it. I’m just aware that people shy away from it. I’d actually hoped when I started sending my books out for review that I would finally get some useful feedback but I really didn’t. I know some of the people who wrote those reviews were my friends and they want to show my book in a good light so I get a few sales but I think we’re all a bit cynical these days of glowing reviews; they do no one any favours.

I have heard stories about obnoxious individuals out there who do seem to get off on creating waves. Thankfully I’ve never crossed paths with any of them. I live in fear of one of these attaching himself to my blog and making everyone’s life miserable.

auntyamo said...

Recently you posted about keeping the number of people you follow below 1000 and you went into a bit of detail about how you do that.
I wonder if you're also choosing to keep the 'safe ones' because of your dislike of conflict! :)
Maybe I'm reading you wrong, but I get the impression that you're saying that your 1000 are all lovely and you don't take issue with them, nor them you! I say - lucky you!!! :D
Twitter has been a horrible place recently. How have you not noticed that? Insults flying left right and centre. Accusations and character defamations to beat the band.
If you've culled your 1000 to a tidy bunch of folk who don't upset you, then I don't know how you're going to change the tambre of your Twitter interations.
Remember what you said to me about holding back? Well after that I've tried not to. But it's hard. Twitter is a hard place when your opinion is in the minority!

And this is me being dead straight with you btw - cos I get the impression you prefer it that way :)

Ken Armstrong said...

Jim: I think it's become so embedded now, this feeling of 'if you can't say anything good, say nothing at all'. It's frustrating cos we both know that constructive criticism is good.

I'm guilty of this myself, this 'saying nothing'. All I'm trying to do here is see if I can do better.

B: Good points there, it *is* markedly different to a real life conversation and much more fraught with potholes to fall into. Thanks for your careful comment, it's a good one.

Dear Unknown (who I know): I feel your pain. Firstly, I'm not choosing to have a 'safe 1000' - far from it - my '1000' are some of the bolshiest most opinionated feckers I can find and I wouldn't have it any other way. :) That's not to say that I would put up with being repeatedly bullied or harangued for my views. Life's too short for that.

You interestingly say that 'Twitter has been a horrible place recently'. We both know that's not right. There is not such thing as Twitter in that context, there is only 'Your Twitter'. My Twitter, which is something completely different to yours and to anybody else's has not been horrible.

You can change your Twitter anytime. You don't own anybody anything. If people are being nasty or accusatory to the point of causing you pain then take them out of your line of sight, it's very easily done.

It is hard not to hold back. Bloody hard. And I commend you for not doing do. But choose your battlegrounds. Social Media is a rough playground and the bullies don't need to be brave to wound you.

Take care. k

Laura Brown said...

I make time to read things I don't agree with because even in an opinion you don't agree with you can find something interesting. Either it flavours your concept as it is, or it gives you more perspective and could even... change your mind.

This is why people should explain their opinions and ideas in a non-personal way. If you give people the explanation rather than just ranting on about why they should agree with you - people might actually listen. Communication can take place then.