Learning by “Confrontation”
I had a “great” idea a couple of weeks ago. What would happen if I posted my article in an online group that opposes everything my article stands for?
My article: Is telepathy possible?
The online group in question: Scientific Skepticism
Side note: My article talked about the scientific research on the subject so it wasn’t a post just to “poke the bear”. Although I’m tempted to try that approach too.
May the battle begin!…but first, let me tell you the story that inspired me to seek criticism from my “fiercest enemies”.
Storytime: The Rabbi’s “friend”
There was once a rabbi beloved by his people. He was sent directly by God, they thought. Not a day went by without the crowd gathering outside his home, seeking to be blessed by his divine touch.
Every time the rabbi addressed them, the people would try to absorb every word as though it were said by God himself.
But there was an unfriendly person among these people who never missed a chance to contradict the rabbi’s teachings. He had found the rabbi’s weak spots and addressed his defects openly.
The rabbi’s disciples started saying that the devil himself had sent this person to their town.
One day, “the devil-sent” fell ill and died. Everyone was truly happy to learn that this impolite heretic was never going to interrupt or criticize the rabbi’s sermons again.
So when they saw the rabbi at the man’s funeral afterward, they were shocked. The rabbi was sincerely afflicted. A disciple approached him and asked him if he was crying for the deceased.
The rabbi responded: “No, no. Why would I cry for our friend who is now in heaven? I’m crying for myself. This man was my only true friend. I’m surrounded by people that adore me. He was the only one who tested me; I’m afraid that without him I won’t be able to keep growing”.
Putting myself to the test
With the rabbi’s wisdom in mind I ran towards the wolves. I was eager to know what were they going to say about my writing. I’ll admit I was a little bit scared. I was shaking in fact.
And boy there were some unfriendly people there. But hey, I knew what I was getting into. I just didn’t expect so much impoliteness and so few arguments.
I got a lot of these comments:
- “(…)you can’t understand how massively you failed”
- “I have neither the time nor the crayons to explain this to you”
- “Bullshit, delete your account”
- “Get out!”
Most of them didn’t even read past the title. They just made a lot of easy assumptions. So it made sense that their critics were content-less. I tried to reason with them.
I asked and asked for better answers. What flaws did they find? What specifically drove their attention away? How were those scientific studies wrong? Were there methodological concerns? Were the conclusions too outside the scope of the results?
But I didn’t get answers.
Well…I did get something in return. Plenty of laughing emojis, some question marks, and some memes. I really tried but there wasn’t anything else I could’ve done with this group.
I still got to learn something
On the other hand, others were more insightful which I did appreciate. Those were the ones that I could learn from. As the rabbi said, these comments tested me.
I learned about my blind spots when trying to defend my position. Some had good counterarguments to my initial statements, and that got me thinking about my views. I got to do some research afterward to learn from my mistakes.
These comments also helped me understand how I can improve my content presentation. What should I look for in a scientific study and how to show those results. How to be more critical of the information I’m researching and how to look for the weak spots in those academic papers. I got another point of view and my writing will certainly benefit from it.
I genuinely appreciate it when people convey their thoughts with arguments instead of insults or comments without any real content in them. You can’t get anything out of the latter. If people are so passionate about their views, they could at least try to present them with the same excitement, right?
It could be a win-win situation. You get to talk about your views, test your arguments, and learn to defend them better. And you could even get to convince your “opponent”! Okay, that may be far-fetched, but you get the idea.
I know I was met by a tough crowd, but I got to learn a lot from it. I certainly felt like an outsider but I didn’t let that feeling cloud the discussions I was having. And although I left with some minor scars, I value the experience.
I encourage people to test their ideas with others that won’t necessarily agree with them. A balance to your own tilted opinions can be beneficial. And it’s okay to have negative feelings. They are part of this test too.
So next time you want to talk about an idea, find a friendly face that doesn’t think like you do. There’s so much you can learn and as the rabbi says, you will be able to keep growing.
I highly recommend you read this surreal story my roommate told me some weeks ago. Being in a hijacked airplane is something not many of us get to experience, and less so survive and tell their story:
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