This conversation is closed.

Internet arguments and misunderstandings: Productive, or a waste of time?

When you read through conversations on this and other sites, you can't help but notice some individuals who always enter into disagreements with others time and again.

How important is debating, or arguing online?

How far should you go to get your point across?

Is it even worth it to try to convince a stranger that your way is correct?

Here is a cartoon I ran across:

What do you think? Feel free to share any experiences you have had, and how you handled them.

I am not much of a debater, but I am very interested in understanding why people time and again get involved in arguments with others.

Closing Statement from W T

Online debates......productive.....when everyone shows respect for the other's ideas, and conversation takes place in an orderly's ok to disagree.

Online arguments......waste of time......proceed with caution.

I thought perhaps some kind of debate would break out about debates.....but nothing of the sort....everyone's contributions made this conversation a very enjoyable one.

Wonderful links, and book titles were provided.

Thank you to all who participated!!!!

  • thumb
    May 21 2013: Debating, as an exchange of ideas, is always a worthwhile pursuit when conditions are relaxed enough to allow for the time investment required of all engaged parties. Arguing online is another matter. The internet is full of sophists and trolls who delight in arguing with no interest in anything outside of the schadenfreude they create by upsetting others with quibbles presented as dogma. The anonymity of the beast perpetuates the calamity.

    How far should we go and is it worth it?

    Well, the answer would seem to be in our reasons for entering the fray to begin with. If we engage in debate as an exercise in thought and language (with a dash of whimsy, hopefully) we should always be rewarded in the exchange. The act is its own reward. However, if we enter debate with an agenda of subversion or aggression, the act can be a fruitless waste of time, especially through the filter of the internet. This is because "crying wolf" only works as long as people believe you and eventually your [internet] audience will catch on and stop running when you cry out.

    To paraphrase the Sandel talk: "The purpose of the debate is for ideas to be exchanged well, to honour and recognize the excellence of the best debaters."

    Of course, such a premise presumes that all parties involved in the debate have the knowledge and vocabulary with which to engage in lively intellectual exchange. It ignores the fact that the internet, like a public square, is open to the illiterate and the intellectual alike, as equals.

    Should we waste our words here trying to convert others to our singularly right, unquestionable perfection? Probably no. We should ride our great horses of perfect righteousness into the sunsets of our choosing.

    Should we diplomatically and tactfully offer our alternative, contrary, additive or supportive views within a provided forum for the sake of sharing, and perhaps changing, the views of others and ourselves? Absolutely.
    • W T

      • 0
      May 22 2013: Johnathon, I can't say when I have read a more exquisite piece of writing with vocabulary that is both eloquent and to the point.

      I really like the fact that you are acknowledging exactly what I was trying to point out. That is, that debating is one thing, arguing is another.

      I too feel that the exchange of the debate/discussion is in itself the reward. You come out knowing more about the other party, and that allows you an understanding of the individual, and also of yourself, not to mention the issue at hand.

      Many times, I personally have not found myself to be eloquent enough to participate in very serious debates that occur on TED. Not only have I lacked the vocabulary, but I have lacked the knowledge to be able to speak intelligently. Regardless, I will read and be educated on both sides of the issue........Debates do occur in front of an audience after all.....and so I play the part of the audience quite often.

      The nice thing about online debates is that you can provide links to other sites, and you can read and reread your opponent's view to make sure you are addressing the various points without overlooking anything. That, to me, is a big advantage of online forums.

      And, yes, we should definitely offer alternative, contrary, etc....views within a forum for the sake of sharing.
      I think that when we have that approach, we will not be bothered by anything others type.
      After all, we have the choice to take it or leave it.

      I know many individuals who have taken a ride on their horse of perfect righteousness into the sunset of their choosing.........sometimes it's nice when they gallop on back whistling a different tune, and contributing in a fine manner for the benefit of all.

      Thank you for your wonderful contribution. I am sure many here will enjoy reading it.
      • thumb
        May 22 2013: Thanks for your warm response and interesting topic. I've had a tendency to wax grandiloquent for some time :D

        It is rather nice that online debates like these allow participants to take their time and respond with some consideration, whether that response is direct through the site or simply through a personal emotion.

        The asynchronous nature of the format slows things down to a pace that broadens understanding. I really like that, even if some let the immediacy of the medium take precedence over the qualities of their messages.
  • thumb
    May 23 2013: Despite huge presence of troll on internet forums, I've visited very nice websites.

    TED is a perfect example in my case. I've learnt a lot of things here. Read a lot of opinions, although I may not agree with some but I've always felt "respected" here.

    More importantly, Internet is only place where no one can censor you- it is a double-sided sword but I believe on right channels there usually are nice people :)
    • W T

      • 0
      May 24 2013: Thank you Kareem.

      I think your words reflect what many on TED feel.
  • thumb
    May 21 2013: People who agree with you and appreciate you gives you encouragment and happiness.

    People who argue with you makes you think, test your ideas ,they help in evolution of your thought process.

    We need both of them, both are invaluable.
    • W T

      • +1
      May 21 2013: Yes Adesh, I do think we need both of them.

      I think, though, that sometimes it is a challenge to talk to someone who is making you think....really think!

      When I first joined TED, which was my first experience with an online community, I would erase my comments and then not come on for weeks at a time. I was so frustrated at being misunderstood, and it was difficult to have people dissect my answers and have me reply to each point......not being much of a debater and also coming from my teaching background, where I taught, and controlled the learning, it was a big challenge for me. I had to retrain my way of thinking about other's opinions.

      It was a humbling experience, and still today I continue to readjust my thinking and my way of communicating.

      But, I will be honest with you, I try to steer clear of controversial topics.

      Thanks for your contribution.
  • May 21 2013: Hi Mary!
    I recognize what you're saying. It's the kind of thing that has turned me off on other social media sites, that shall remain nameless...
    I also think there are some people who get a real charge out of making waves, sparking an argument. And there are those who feel attacked or threatened at someone's opinion, perhaps not learning that respect is also 'agreeing to disagree'.
    I agree with Pablo's comment below, that a lot has to do with the fact that we have a lot to 'say', but we're not actually saying it. All sorts of things can be misconstrued because we are missing vital ingredients in a conversation; namely, body language, voice dynamic and pitch, facial expression. Our senses are handicapped, so our words are often misread or misinterpreted. Although a winking or smiley face can compensate, it's a far cry from the messages our entire bodies with all its senses intact can get across. ;-)
    • thumb
      May 21 2013: I am glad that you explained what I was trying to say in a "easier to digest" form.
      • May 21 2013: Well thanks, Pablo! I thought your explanation was equally digestible!!

        I realized, in my response, I forgot to answer some of your questions, Mary.
        - How far should you go to get your point across? and
        - Is it worth it, convincing a stranger that you're correct?

        Any personal attack or use of profanity or name-calling is just not done. But, that is, I'm sure you all agree, no longer a debate. That's just harassment.

        Is it worth it? First off all, I have no idea if anything I think is 'correct', it is just that - what I think. And someone who respects that, won't need any convincing.
    • W T

      • 0
      May 21 2013: Hi Lizanne.

      I have noticed that some individuals are very good at communicating and remaining calm and non-judgemental, even when others say things that could be interpreted various ways.

      I guess giving someone the benefit of the doubt is a good thing online then?

      Why do you suppose some individuals always end up arguing with others online?
      The conversation will start amicably, and then head south?

      And what do you do when you notice these kinds of individuals, who over and over again have discord with others?
      • May 21 2013: That's the million dollar question, Mary. Why do people end up arguing, regardless of whether they're online or not? The 'benefit' of being online, is thatt you're safe from physical harm. But our feelings are just as vulnerable in the digital world as they are in the physical one.
        Someone's toes get stepped on, a nerve is touched, an opinionated or crass remark about a sensitive subject will tend to do it. But it's hard to guage what is sensitive, and what is crass, when no one has eyes to meet.

        If I see this kind of thing online, my involvement really depends on things like who else is involved, how well I know them, how informed I am of facts concerning both sides of the situation, and whether my comments would be appreciated. But more often than not, I will not get involved in a personal, name-calling fight. I will get involved in a pointless, harmful attack.
  • May 21 2013: I think it is amazing that so many people have so much to express about expressing.

    I admit it. I enjoy offering my opinions in a discussion, even when I have no expectation of learning anything. I often think that my own point of view is more correct than most, and hope that others will learn from my wisdom. I have too high an opinion of my own opinions. But my thoughts are all that I have to offer, and you are all free to ignore them.

    I try to express myself politely, and try not to become too argumentative, and also try to avoid comments that could be considered insulting, even when arguing with ignorant idiots.

    Once in while, I learn something that I could not learn in any other way. I see a point of view that I could never have imagined. Once in a while I am convinced that my own well thought out, reasoned position, based on hard facts, was dead wrong. THEN it is productive.
    • W T

      • 0
      May 21 2013: Isn't it amazing that there is so much to be said about expressing oneself?

      I think that at times it is hard to talk to people who in real life we would rather avoid, or ignore..........or whose thinking may reveal that they ignore some important factors on any particular subject.

      I remember over 20 years ago, Oprah broadcasted a tv show from Florida, and the topic was bilingual education. There was so much misinformation as to what bilingual education truly was, especially from Oprah herself, that I wanted to yell at the top of my voice. I had to just turn the tv off, and walk away.

      Sometimes online, I end up doing the same thing. I can count on one hand the times I have been involved in a misunderstanding on line. I try hard to communicate without arguing or bullying others. Sometimes it is a challenge.

      I always enjoy reading your point of view Barry. Thank you for contributing to this conversation.
  • thumb
    May 21 2013: TED Conversations offers a much better chance for proper debate than other sites I have experienced. Here on TED one can encounter folks who are confident in what they believe, but are not willing to hold to it in the face of clear falsification. Willingness to change one's understanding, or belief, is not a commonly found trait in the population. Most folks will not even enter in to a conversation if someone is expressing an opinion contrary to theirs. I admire, and try to develop, the trait in myself with limited success. I see you appreciate Professor Sandel. Now there is a man who can direct a civil, profitable debate. Come, let us reason together. Steel sharpens steel. Valid points and counter-points graciously and politely expressed are edifying and stimulating. Good debate topic you have presented. . . "Are Debates Worthwhile?" I say "YES!"
    • W T

      • 0
      May 21 2013: I really appreciate your comment Ed.

      You know, I watched Sandel's talk, and was very impressed with his explanations and examples. It was teacher friendly :)

      I also think debates are worthwhile....if done respectfully, they are definitely productive.
  • thumb
    May 20 2013: I think debating is very important online or anywhere. I personally don't get much debate time here in the physical world, but online I can discuss intellectually about subjects I am interested in. I think we all need to really test what we believe in, so that either we can be sure that we should hold that belief, or that we maybe should change our mind on the subject.

    I don't think arguing is important anywhere. The main difference I see between debating and arguing is that in arguing you have no intentions of changing your mind, and the only reason you are interacting with someone is to force your opinion on to them or "win" (nice cartoon by the way!).

    I think you go as "far" to get your point across as you have strong logic or evidence for. If you don't have any more left and you're still interacting with the person, then the conversation becomes an argument (unless it was already). In arguments, people will just start using profanity, insults, or repeating already dealt with information until the bitter end... in which you get reported (insert dramatic high-pitched violins or something).

    It's not worth it to convince a stranger of anything, since that's arguing. It *is* worthwile to provide your logic and evidence for your point of view, while listening to the opposing side and your side.
    • W T

      • 0
      May 21 2013: Hello Kai,

      I can tell from your comment that you have seen your share of online debates and arguing.

      Do you find that when you are involved in a debate you actually read every word that the other person types. I mean, do you read it calmly, and think and consider your answer, or do you let it rip.......?

      How much are you able to control your emotions?
      • thumb
        May 21 2013: I have seen and participated in some online debates. I started a Facebook group within my friends called "Facebates," but it hasn't seen much action recently.

        I do read every word the other person types, often more than one time. Online it is easier to read it calmly because I can imagine the other person saying it to me calmly, and that usually helps me be calm in my responses. Once in a while, if someone is missing the point by a long shot, I'll probably be frustrated and give a frustrated response, but I'm getting better at keeping calm online. In real life, it's a tad harder to not control my emotions, but in debates I'll try to at least subdue them or not change my voice or actions, so the debate stays about the logic and not about emotion. Certain subjects can't be addressed without emotion, so then I'll use my emotion with care.

        Thanks for the questions Mary!
        • W T

          • +1
          May 21 2013: Kai, thanks for the replies!!

          You know, you bring out an interesting aspect of online conversations......"voice"....sometimes when I read someone's response, I have a voice in my head that I associate with each person online. Sometimes, I will read and the words come out angry......then I have to shake it off, go back, and make a conscious effort to make the voice be calm and soft.

          It is interesting that you are saying that you "imagine the other person saying it to you calmly"....that is a very wonderful strategy to keep the conversation civil.

          Facebates......what a wonderful play-on-words.

          The only other place I discuss anything online is on a reading forum I belong to. I will go to the debates section....but it's usually all men, and they discuss politics....meh

          I rather discuss books, cooking, gardening, and quotes, and of course, as many TEDsters know, I love to discuss kids and education.

          Well, if you think of anything else to wish to contribute, an experience, or anything you run across in the next few days, feel free to come on back here and share it with all of us.

          All the contributions thus far have been superb. Thank you Kai!!!
  • Comment deleted

    • W T

      • +1
      May 21 2013: Hi LaMar,

      Reading your contribution makes me want to go back to high school and sign up to be on the debate team.
      Honestly, I just never thought much about defending my point of view at any time.

      I think that some of us have certain convictions, and try to live up to them, and also we have certain educated opinions on different topics, and share what we know, but steer clear of discussions, and/or debates.

      You gave me much food for thought with your contribution. Thank you.

      Let me take the opportunity to also state that your debate on killing the planet was very enjoyable reading, and I learned quite alot.

      Do you recall a debate you participated in where you had a change of opinion, or were helped to change how you viewed something?
      • Comment deleted

        • W T

          • 0
          May 21 2013: Wow, what a learning experience for you.......debating before reading and preparing....hope you learned your lesson well :)

          I think perhaps you are a bit correct, in that the older we get, the more well rounded we are in our knowledge and experiences. However, isn't it also risky because we become set in our ways?

          From reading your comments I get the impression that you are very open-minded, but do you have some topics where you feel that there is just no way someone will make you change your mind?

          Thanks for your contribution.
      • Comment deleted

        • W T

          • 0
          May 21 2013: Well, you have certainly discussed alot of hot topics.

          I think that children are always protected by everyone....and THAT is a Good Thing isn't it?

          Thanks alot for your answers to my questions LaMar, make sure to read the other contributions on here. Some of them are very insightful.

          And please come on back and share any further information you might think of throughout the next seven days.......I would really appreciate it.

      • Comment deleted

        • W T

          • 0
          May 21 2013: Oh Kate, Kate........alot of times people might confuse the child like innocence with which I converse....too many years of talking to the little ones I think........with the actual knowledge and awareness I have of reality.

          In the comment above, I was directly addressing LaMar's passion for siding with children's causes when involved specifically in debates. I agreed with his statement that in debates, I think people always side with children.

          Have you ever seen people talk about harming children when on a public forum?

          That is a far cry from me thinking that ALL people protect children ALL the time.
          I'm so sorry you understood something I did not mean to say.
      • Comment deleted

        • W T

          • 0
          May 22 2013: There are alot of people who want to wear rose colored glasses. I have some in my family.

          You can think positive thoughts all you want, and believe that the world is a beautiful place where if you live in the now all is well.....but reality is something quite different.

          People are hurting, and are suffering next door, one block over, one town over, in the next state, the next country.....not discussing these tough issues openly, and looking for solutions to the problems is indeed naive. And yes, I know alot of educators who cringe when I have tried to talk about tough subjects that noone likes to discuss out's like a taboo to talk about them......I am too aware of this, to the point that sometimes I want to grab people by the shoulders and shake them into consciousness....but I don't :)

          Kate, as to the point you mention on handling arguments online. I'm sorry, but I have not read any conversations where you were involved in an argument/debate with someone.

          The only time I saw you vocalize something recently was in regards to, well, what you state above.....and I thought it was so courageous of you to speak up....that is why I said "hear hear".......If you have something specifically you want me to read...give me a link to the conversation and I will go, read it, and then come back and give you my "expert opinion" ha!! As if I can give expert opinions....LOL

          Just let me know ok? You can even send me an email through my profile.
          I have left it open so you can access it...then I'll close it back up in the next day or so.
      • Comment deleted

        • W T

          • 0
          May 22 2013: Listen, I have "Tried" to engage others in "friendly" conversation over controversial topics. But, sometimes it is really, really tough to do so with "experts" (arm-chair scientists, economists, political analysts.......etc......)

          So, to keep calm and peaceful, I will just read what is being said. Life is too short Kate.

          I love the quote: "In the end, after all is said and done, there is usually more said than done". If you haven't watched Sandel's talk, which is in the OP, then I invite you to watch starts out as kind of political talk.....but 3-4 minutes into the talk, it changes and the information he shares is wonderful.

          Want to read my fantabulous scientific and politically correct comment to a debate on creationism?


          I love the exchanges we have Kate....Della, Lizanne and you are wonderful to talk to online.

          Oh, and I can't access my keeps saying to wait for the page to load, so I cannot turn my profile to show again...I've tried on two different computers in two locations, sorry.
      • Comment deleted

        • W T

          • 0
          May 22 2013: We must have been typing at the same time.

          I'm glad you enjoy the quotes and links I share......isn't the internet wonderful?
  • thumb
    May 20 2013: I think people participate in a way that they believe serves them or gives them pleasure. Just as some artists practice their disciplines in order to express themselves rather than actually to reach an audience, some people speak/create for the pleasure they derive from that act without placing great value in the listeners or beholder's view. Sometimes people gain value, I think, from their image of how their words/work are being received, which may not match up at all with what the listener is actually thinking! So what is worth it is different for different people, depending on their goals and tastes.

    Of course some people do come to a site to learn or for help on a project and many people are drawn to discussion sites most of all to lend a hand in those cases.

    Many participants choose not to respond to trolls or to persistently belligerent and insulting people. In the case in which people have hardened points of view in an area, many people don't choose to persist in arguing about that area because it would be unproductive.
    • W T

      • 0
      May 21 2013: Fritzie, thanks for your insights.

      Have you seen Sandel's talk?

      I thought it interesting that when he went out to the audience and tried to get two of them to debate the topic of golf, it was difficult for the woman to explain her side. Oddly enough, the supreme court gave the same verdict that she would have made.

      I just wonder why some people, even though they may not be debating a topic, choose to argue online and tell others what they should or should not say or express. Isn't this a kind of censorship?
      • thumb
        May 21 2013: I have not heard Sandel's talk but am thinking of taking his edX course this Fall. In reference to the lost art of debate, I think it is interesting how little taste people have in many settings for discourse focused on mutual sense-making. That subject interests me more than debate, because I don't think taking sides is typically the best way to learn. It suggests a dichotomy that often doesn't capture the essence of a subject.

        I haven't actually noticed people who are not in a debate telling others what they should say, but suggesting what someone should say does not to me sound like censorship. In terms of telling people what they should not say, I think reminding people to be civil can be appropriate even from a person not in the debate. If you saw someone attacking someone else in the street and you did not know either one, you might still step in, though it interferes with the free self expression of the aggressor. I know I might. And I wouldn't be worrying that was censorship. I do know many people would consider it none of their business and walk on by.

        But I don't know the sort of case you have in mind.
        • W T

          • 0
          May 21 2013: You should take a look at Sandel's's easy listening.
          I found it quite interesting.

          I don't know that I would step in and do anything about people on the street....but I might call the authorities.

          What I get from my dear husband all the time, is that he thinks that one day he might have to come to my rescue because of the outspokenness with which I act when I am a customer and I am being wronged in some way.

          As for censorship Fritzie, it is a bit of an oxymoron to tell another poster that their point of view is their own, and not to tell us what to think, when that is precisely what the person complaining is doing. He is telling another individual what to think and what to do. Sometimes we just don't see that what we are vehimently against, we ourselves are practicing.
      • thumb
        May 21 2013: I think I understand your scenario now. One person makes an argument that expresses his point of view. A second person says- "That's just your point of view- don't tell us what to think!"

        I agree that that is kind of funny. Discussions are precisely about expressing our individual points of view for consideration or material that we have uncovered that we would like others to consider.

        When someone with no power over the other suggests someone not express his point of view, that can stifle discourse but I don't think it is really censorship. I think censorship implies a power to keep the other person from speaking.
        • W T

          • +1
          May 21 2013: I'm glad you understand me.

          Thanks Fritzie.
          Have a nice weekend.
  • May 22 2013: Hi Mary

    Nice topic, I think one of the aspects is that - what is the understanding of the word 'debate'? what do people expect to get out of it?

    1/ for some its a game, its about winning/losing - and they don't want to be the one losing.

    2/ for some its about seeing how other people view a particular issue, the reasons behind it and uncover any areas they themselves missed seeing and through this expanding their horizons.

    3/ for some its a waste of time - either they think they know everything or they just don't care.

    Today I started a TED debate on the subject - Empathy vs Apathy - Replacing 'A' with 'Em'
    I wish it was as easy as it is on Microsoft word or any text application :-) . I believe having empathy helps in debates, you think about why someone is saying something and then you ask them to expand. Otherwise people just bulldoze through.

    I'd like to finish by saying this, Smile, life is a journey, not a race

    - Ramesh
    Twitter @Ramesh_Ramki website
    • W T

      • 0
      May 22 2013: You bring out some wonderful points Ramesh......and it sounds like you have been bulldozed before?

      I think that some issues definitely need to be debated, argued about, in public, for all to see.......and then we can all be informed about all sides of an issue

      However, because information and data can be twisted to suit the presenters agenda, then we need to look into things for ourselves, and not rely wholely on what others tell us.

      In the end, when dealing with moral issues for example, it comes down to our own convictions I think......?

      I saw your conversation on empathy......I have been thinking about it and waiting to see what I can contribute. When contributing to conversations such as yours, it takes me a couple of days to think of something that can be upbuilding to others. So I will post something later, ok?

      Thank you for contributing to this conversation Ramesh. I am smiling :)
  • thumb
    May 22 2013: Our basic needs are to be understood and appreciated, if not , we are discouraged and unhappy.

    We mature as an individual if we can withstand people, situations, conditions not to our liking without loosing our perspective and balance.

    I agree with you if we can't handle it, its better to stay clear.
    • W T

      • 0
      May 22 2013: Adesh, thank you for these words of wisdom.
  • Keith W

    • +1
    May 22 2013: I must admitt i get into a lot of debates on this site even though im aware of our inherent stubborness we all share as humans.. so its actually kind of silly. I guess it always starts (with me and maybe for others) by seeing a post that is very misleading or wrong and i comment not as much to start an argument but make sure other viewers of the post see my cross examination. Then they comment back then argument ensues... anyway I do think debate is healthy in person and online id say only to a degree because i believe 50% of language and communication relys on context and the true human/emotional context is not here with us online. I run into semantics on every debate on this site. Somebodys always is trying to say one things and the other person interprets it as something either totally different or not quite the same as intended. So advice for everybodys.. CONSIDER CONTEXT AND THE LIMITATIONS OF WORDS TO CONVEY THE ESSENCE OF AN IDEA.
    • W T

      • 0
      May 22 2013: Keith, thanks so much for your insight and personal experience in dealing with online misunderstandings.

      I must admit, I have been a witness to conversations where you are clarifying and/or submitting information, and others have attacked you, many times the argument is, like you said, over semantics.

      I will say this though, that I have admired the way you have handled yourself.

      I think it is wonderful to know that in your case, you feel compelled to share the other side of the coin, and to try to clear up what could be misconstrued. That right there is going to help me see comments which are cross examinations in a different light from now on.

      In my struggle to communicate online, I have found that finding the right word choice is the key. Sometimes I am writing away, and I go back and reread what I typed and I Mary, you sound like a know it all....then I add some 'maybes' and 'perhaps' and 'it is possible' or 'likely'.

      I am still working on how I communicate online.

      What I steer clear of is, telling others what they should say, or whether they should say this or that. Or try to tell others that we are tired of reading their experiences or points of view. Who am I to tell another human what he/she should talk about?

      And yet, some individuals do exactly that online.....they don't realize that what is good for the goose is good for the gander.

      I guess that is a pet peeve of mine.

      Thank you for your valuable contribution Keith. I really enjoyed reading it, and thinking about what you said.
  • thumb
    May 21 2013: I'v often found my views influence by others, and incorporated many of theirs into my own arguments.
    I have always delighted in admitting I'm wrong. (Yet not without difficulty I must admit)

    Not sure whether I have sent you the link before, yet here is a great TED talk on this matter of "being wrong".
    - Kathryn Schulz: On being wrong

    Two great books on the matter :
    - Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error. By Kathryn Schulz.
    - Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts. By Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson.

    The "Confirmation bias" is a deadly thing.
    I personally believe it is the "optimism bias" which makes us immune to our own failings.

    However some people are just too intolerant of a difference in opinion. I have experience this many a time on Youtube, where I have been blocked (by owners of the video) for just voicing my honest opinion. Which disagree with theirs, and then been insulted...

    So my honest answer :
    It depends on the person. :-)
    On TED most are very tolerant people, with well-thought out opinions.

    Also might I add (ironically) interesting you made this conversation a "debate". :D
    • W T

      • +1
      May 21 2013: Hey Bernard, I will address your last point first......I had thought of putting this in Questions. And then I thought, "no, let me put it in debates, because maybe a debate will start about debating" LOL.....but so far, nothing. Everyone has shared some really wonderful insights on arguments and debating and online conversations.

      I think that for the most part everyone on here enjoys conversations that are free from arguments.

      I am learning alot.

      Oh yes, I have seen Kathryn Schulz' talk....several times as a matter of fact. It's really great.

      Thanks for the book titles, I'll check and see if my library has copies.

      I had not heard of the confirmation bias..........I will read it and see what I can glean from that.

      I have a hard time believing that you "delight in admitting you are wrong"......most of us struggle with that Bernard. Are you sure? You could be wrong about that you know. ;D

      Thanks for your contribution.
      • thumb
        May 21 2013: Indeed I could be wrong about "delight in admitting you are wrong". :P
        Maybe saying "delight" was the wrong word. Maybe saying "humility" is the right word? (I'm not sure!)

        I shall send you the links to those two books :
        - Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts. By Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson.
        Link :
        - Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error. By Kathryn Schulz.
        Link :

        Another TED Talk which may interest you (which is slightly related to this matter) is :
        - Tali Sharot: The optimism bias
        Shows how some people may not be able to realize their not immune from making mistakes.

        Also I would reconmend as well as looking up the "Confirmation bias" (, then look up "Cognitive Dissonance" (
        • W T

          • +1
          May 22 2013: Yes, humility is a good word.

          Interestingly, alot of the people that know me have told me that they are afraid to tell me when they disagree with me.........and THAT really bothers me.

          I would like to be informed when someone thinks I am saying something that is not correct.

          To me, friendship means precisely that, honest interchange, and being able to help one another improve in all aspects of life. But, this is a problem that haunts me.

          I think, that alot of my friends, who are not professionals, think that my being a teacher, somehow makes it wrong for them to correct me. I think that is plain silly, because I consider myself the same as them, no better, no worse, equals......all I do is teach kids how to read and write and add.......I'm not a rocket scientist or a famous mathematician or something like that.

          Anyways....enough rambling.

          Thank you for all the links. I will have to set aside time to go through them in peace and quiet, so I can concentrate and learn some more.

          Thanks so much Bernard.
        • W T

          • 0
          May 22 2013: Great News!!!!

          My local library has BOTH of these books...Yippee.....I just placed a request for them both.

          I can't wait to read them and see if I better the person I am through the information in them.
          Thanks so much for the titles.

          I am off to read through the links you provided, and to listen to the talk.

          Thanks so much Bernard.!!
      • thumb
        May 22 2013: Sorry to reply here!
        On a side note :
        I couldn't help notice you said you were a teacher.
        I felt this would come in use to you :
        "TED Talks Education"
        Might come in handy! :D
        Kind regards,
        P.S : Sorry to bombard you with links! I hope you find the time to read / watch them all.
        • W T

          • 0
          May 22 2013: Yes, that is a great link, I saw the talks on PBS when they aired the program on tv, and I watched two of them a second time on TED.

          Also, I participated in the TED conversation on education, as well as hosted a conversation in Honor of Teacher Appreciation Week.

          Some of the comments on the Teacher Appreciation conversation were quite amazing, as they reflected the long lasting effects that a truly passionate teacher has on the lives of their students.

          Take a look see.....

          This conversation is also quite interesting, in that one TEDster insisted that he considered himself the best teacher he had ever had. I guess he wanted everyone to appreciate him? I don't know. I replied to him a second time, then I ended up erasing my comment. He had missed the whole point of the conversation, to show appreciation to an educator. I personally thought it was kind of wacko.....but I gave him the benefit of the doubt, and let him have the last word. But inside I had a little voice saying "write and tell him he missed the point".....and another voice saying "just let it go".....most of the time the second voice wins. :)

          The rest of the comments are quite lovely, and I learned alot from them.

          DO NOT ever think that I am bothered by contraire mon ami....It shows that you are taking interest in sharing ideas......and that is precisely what TED is all about.

          Thanks Bernard.

          ***Did you notice that your reply ended up in the right place?
          The fact that we had talked back and forth already, allowed you to grab on of my 'reply' buttons, and then your comment automatically went to the end of our interchange. Cool huh?
      • thumb
        May 22 2013: Thanks!
        I hope you find the time to read all the links I sent you! :D
        I was considering creating a TED Debate myself about the education system.
        Here is one I did (which is still active) :
        "Does creationism indicate bad education? (If so how can we fix this, and should it be taught?) Does Creationism have any credibility to it?"
        Link :
        Not sure how interested you would be in that debate though... (:P)
        Kind regards,
    • W T

      • 0
      May 22 2013: The wiki article on confirmation bias reminded me of one of the quotes I have in my collection by Richard Feynman:


      The talk on optimism bias made me realize I have a pessimism bias :P
      Well, actually I am like the penguin with the parachute.....Always prepared for the worst.

      And, finally, the article on cognitive dissonance gave me a new vocabulary expression to use when I am recommended a "great" restaurant, and come to find out it's a ___________. You can fill in the blank with an adjective(s) of your choice.

      I find, just like the article mentions in the end, that there are wide generalizations one could make with the results of the studies.

      I always thought people lied about their experiences because they were liars, and/or to protect anyone from knowing they had been foolish enough to have taken part in something that was a total bust.

      Oh, that reminds me of someone who took a train ride to another state a long time ago. They ooohed and aaaahed about their lovely, how exciting, what an adventure.

      Then, when a friend and I were talking about planning a similar trip, I learn that my friend's train had broken down and they had to finish their trip on a bus. I thought it rather odd that little bit of information was left out of her narrative to me............Now I kind of understand why she left that part out............BTW, I never did go on the train trip of my own (smiles broadly and raises eyebrows)

      Psychology is a topic that is very fascinating.

      I hosted a conversation on passive aggressive behavior a few months back and learned quite alot.
      I think talking about human behavior is wonderful. And when you discuss these topics with individuals that are forthcoming with information and experiences from their own life, then, you can get a good insight on people in general and how to approach different personalities and contribute to peaceful interpersonal relationships.
  • May 21 2013: I am trying to do more these things:pay more attention to what I am doing not others.What I can do now but others.everyone is individual,I should take charge what i have done but others too.
    • W T

      • 0
      May 21 2013: Hi edulover, thanks for your comment.

      It sounds like you are saying you want to be more aware of what you say in conversations, and not pay so much attention to what others say. Is that right edulover?
      • May 22 2013: Lol,Dear Mary M.I meant Understanding and respect others build upon myself-understanding and respect level.One of opinions about study:the purpose of study is:knowing yourself well.
        Hehehe..maybe I am a bit enlightened by my spiritual culture:Tao?
        • W T

          • 0
          May 22 2013: Yes, you are enlightened......but it is a struggle to get your point across in english sometimes, isn't it?

          I really like what you say...."Understanding and respecting others build upon myself-understanding and respect level" and "the purpose of study is: knowing yourself well".

          xièxie, Mary
      • May 23 2013: Wowowow...Dear Mary M.are you learning chinese?that'xiexie' is amazing.Lol,I like it.
        I am so sorry to make u be confused with the english words I typed:).It is my fault.
        Infact I tried to follow my chinese thoughts to type those words in english.I did get obstacle to express my ideas in english directly.So I just PiliPala pressed the keyboard.Thanks for your response.You help me to make them clearly in english.cheers
  • thumb
    May 21 2013: I have to disagree there is very little arguing on the internet everyone is very cordial and knowledgeable.

    For me I learn by comparing information, information that is not compared to other information is not very useful.

    I learn a lot from people who would be banned from this site. This is the handicap with sites that remove posts as too provocative. A while back there was an endless thread about equality centering around a talk by Richard Wilkinson in which I learned every socialist meme imaginable about equality which to me was mind blowing that people would swallow this nonsense hook line and sinker, but they did. These were very educated people that would take me to task about things that I thought, which made me go back and say way a minute is this true or not. I might say something about Pinochet and they might come back and say well I lived in Chile and challenge me to where I would have to confirm what I was thinking.

    3 things

    One is that if you just go around regurgitating "information" you did not learn anything as the information was never compared to other information. You might say Abraham Lincoln was one of the great presidents but then someone else may say well then how come he started the war that killed more Americans than any other? Yet the rest of the world abolished slavery without a war?

    Two is you get to talk to people from everywhere with every perspective imaginable. That makes for an interesting opportunity to compare notes. Hell I'm not sure they are all from this planet.

    Third is that there is a lot of ignorance to the water we swim in, the internet provides a platform to point this out which may lead to more people's ears perking up.
    • W T

      • +1
      May 21 2013: Your contribution is very much appreciated Pat.
      I especially enjoyed your experience with the Wilkinson talk. Sounds like you gave your debating abilities a work-out there.

      Your point #1 of the 3 things is very important in discussions. Generalizations are usually errant.
      Just recently, a teacher from Virginia shared an example of a lesson she had in high school. Here, let me share it with you:

      "Once, Mr. Baldino came in and told us to take out our notebooks and take some notes about Thomas Jefferson. We diligently took notes for 25 minutes about how wonderful Thomas Jefferson was, all the things he did for the country, the Declaration, religious freedom, Monticello, UVA, what a hero he was and a true father of our country. Then, Mr. Baldino was called to the office and Mr. Thomas came in. He told us to get our notebooks out and he was going to give us some more notes on Thomas Jefferson. We all moaned and he said, "No resistance, please. This is important." We said we'd learned all there was to know about Thomas Jefferson. He laughed and said he doubted that. Then he began to tell us all the mistakes Jefferson made in his life, like his relationship with Hemings and that he didn't release his slaves until after his death. We sat there, taking notes like good little students, but inside our heads, we were completely confused. What was the truth about Jefferson? Was he a heroic father of our country, or a racist? Was he someone to admire, or someone to critique? Of course, this was the exact point of the activity."

      I think perhaps in the education models where the teachers tell all, and we listen diligently, we do not prepare students to question information, and to also question ourselves every once in a while.

      It's great, like you said, that all of us, young or old, have a place to go to learn, and to share what we 'think' we know.

      Thanks for the wonderful contribution Pat!
      • thumb
        May 21 2013: Your teacher was the very definition of a teacher
        • W T

          • 0
          May 22 2013: Yes, that was a really wonderful example of what a teacher is truly supposed to be.
          I'm glad you enjoyed it.
  • thumb
    May 21 2013: I currently live in a very small protestant city in the United States.
    Everyone knows about your life, everyone likes to judge you, and if you don't agree with you they get mad as a child, sometimes I feel like they are acting like the puritans that lived in Saleem hundreds of years ago.
    I like debates, actually I can say that I love it. But it's hard to express your opinion and listen to the others in a place like this, so I can almost tell that the "Internet haters" are actually the people from the city where I live. People that are small minded, and too conservative. Of course not everyone is like this, but I respect their way to think, because most of those people did not have the opportunity to expand their views of the world like most of us did. So, anyway, the internet is unbelievably awesome because you can have conversations with people from anywhere in this globe, people that don't have a single thing in common with you, but if both respects each other the exchange of information is going to be giant. The down part of forums like this is that when you type or read, you cannot transmit or feel the voice tone, or the emotion that the person on the other end of the line is trying to demonstrate.
    • W T

      • +1
      May 21 2013: Hi Pablo, thanks for your comment.

      You know Pablo, even though we cannot hear the other person's voice, the intonation, or pitch, and we cannot see their facial expressions, there is something quite unique about writing.

      Take your entry above, for example, I could hear your voice. I felt your disappointment at the close minded people, and also the relief at having the priviledge of connecting with others on-line.

      This is called "author's voice". The longer the writing piece, the better you hear the voice of the writer.

      It is sad when people are closed minded, and do not want to hear something that is different from "their" own point of view. I just cannot imagine where you could possibly live.....I am in a big city....I don't even know what religion the people on my block practice.....I just enjoy talking about all kinds of subjects with my neighbors.........and we are always exchanging plates of food back and forth......yesterday it was barbecued it was rice pudding.......I find that food brings people together...........unless you are participating in Hell's Kitchen...........then it's a different story. (By the way, I dislike that show...too much profanity)

      Pablo, what topics do you enjoy discussing online?

      [edited spelling]
      • thumb
        May 21 2013: Hahah, I've never stopped to think about what you just said, "the longer the writing piece, the better you hear the voice of the writer.". I am from a big city, too, I don't understand how they (people from my city) say that people from big city are not friendly, they say we just care about our lives. But I think the story is a little bit different when you actually have lived in a big city before, we are always busy, but that does not mean that we don't want to make friends, right?!

        I don't really have a specific group of topics that I like to discuss, I just like to have a good discussion, from philosophy to religion, from politics to sports, I think I care more about the person who I am discussing with, the discussion itself. However, my favorite topics on the moment are
        politics, economy and nutrition.
        • W T

          • 0
          May 21 2013: Thanks for the reply Pablo.

          I, like you, also feel that I care more about the person who I am discussing with, than the discussion itself............however, at times, this is tested, when I am discussing something I am passionate about, like education or social issues.

          There is a site I visit that allows you to post pictures...jpg images inside the threads of conversations. I have found that sometimes, when a conversation gets really heated, someone will come in and post a silly picture, or a comic strip that will lighten up the conversation.

          Do you think that humor can diffuse misunderstandings, or arguments?
  • Comment deleted

    • W T

      • 0
      May 21 2013: Hey Kate...yes....I thought the cartoon teaches quite alot about how some might view online arguments and debates.

      Having never participated in debates myself, I find them very challenging.

      I do however, like to read through some of the debates we have here on TED......some are very informative. Others are more like cat fights. Sometimes people resort to ad-hominems, and these do not contribute one iota to the topic at hand, and make the person look petty.

      Thanks for your contribution.

      May I ask, have you ever been part of an online misunderstanding or argument? How did you deal with it?
      • Comment deleted

        • W T

          • 0
          May 21 2013: Kate, as I reflect on the many posters on here, I have been putting together a puzzle of humanity. Many pieces being put together to form something extraordinary.

          Thank you for your reflections.

          I don't quite get your last sentence. Sometimes I type faster than my fingers go and I make lots of can probably tell from the amount of [edited] posts I have had lately.

          Thanks for chiming in Kate. I will patiently await your reply.

          P.S. Did you see the horrific tornadoes we had today here in the states. Lots of children lost their lives. So sad Kate, so sad. :(
    • thumb
      May 21 2013: Kate and Mary, if you actually see someone in TED Conversations who appears to be 'stalking" someone else, I would encourage you to send a message to TED Conversations staff. I think that violates the terms of use. That sort of personally targeted hostility is bullying.
      • W T

        • 0
        May 21 2013: OK Fritzie.....but you know, people have a way of defending themselves with dignity around here.
        I just take note of the contributor, and steer clear of them.

        People like that are more of the exception, and not the rule around here...thank goodness.
    • May 21 2013: Also hugs to you, Kate!
      It's hard to have an argument online that doesn't get personal at some point... I try to remain as neutral as possible, without undermining my own integrity. But sometimes, a comment can push my boundaries to the extreme. It's not easy to know what to do in a situation like that.
      (I hope I didn't insult you in any way, Kate, in that conversation about if music should be free, by the way!)
      • Comment deleted

        • W T

          • 0
          May 21 2013: hear, hear!!!
        • May 22 2013: Yes, yes, and yes.
          That was, admittedly, a good example of my over-accommodating. Before I knew it, that strand had become completely irrelevant to the conversation, and too personal. I should've taken it elsewhere, through e-mail, sooner, and I didn't help the situation by encouraging it...

          In relevance to this particular conversation, you are right - it boils down to respect.
      • Comment deleted

        • May 23 2013: Kate, your comment reminds me so much of my Mom and I. When we start talking, we always end up on a completely different subject than where we started. Our conversations are like the branches of a tree - not many people 'get' how leap from one subject to another. I love it, and find it extremely special to be able to communicate with someone that way. Seems, you and Mary have that too!

          YES! PP, 'nuff said. :-)
      • Comment deleted

  • May 20 2013: Heh heh, so true. I really liked the line "No one's ever admitted that they were wrong in the history of the internet." So far I've met exactly one person on TED that took my position, changed her mind, and thanked me for my input. To be fair, I haven't done that much of that myself on here, except with Savory's talk about desertification. A lot of times I get involved in discussions on God, because I'm very religious and this is a subject I think I know something about. But because there's no scientific evidence that has anything to do with this entire field, a lot of people just end up spinning their wheels. I try not to get into arguments, but just state what I know to be true, and how I know that. They're welcome to go try it out for themselves. If not, that's their business. Arguments don't get anyone anywhere. I have noticed though that a lot of times arguments start when we miss the point of what the other person was saying. There's no context online, only text, and it's so easy to completely misunderstand. I've done that a few times, and I regret that for sure.
    • W T

      • 0
      May 21 2013: As a person of faith, I absolutely hear where you are coming from. I also share what I know, and welcome questions, but the choice is very personal, and I respect our God-given free will.

      I also have observed when someone misses the point of what one contributor writes, and then goes off and an argument starts......upbuilding and informative conversation spirals down into a dark place.....into the depths of despair.....haha.....that is how I feel when I read those interchanges.

      Someone online once compared internet conversations to a train. Then he went on and said that some people jump on board, fart, and then quickly get off and leave their bad smell behind. This too I have seen. It is terrible how a big discussion can ensue after such an episode........the perpetrator sits back and enjoys all the back and forth arguing.....terrible.....and such a waste of time.

      Have you found any place on line, besides TED, where conversations go on respectfully.....especially about God and scripture?
      • May 23 2013: Online? Not really no. I go to church on Sundays and do that though. Does that count?
        • W T

          • +1
          May 24 2013: "Does that count?".........sure!

          I haven't found anywhere to have a civil conversation about God and scripture on-line.
          I have found individuals who I can exchange ideas with, but then someone will come in and start an all out attack on semantics.

          It is rather disheartening.....
  • thumb
    May 21 2013: Argument is an attempt to persuade someone of something, by giving reasons for accepting a particular conclusion as evident.

    Debate is a method of interactive and representational argument.

    Well that is what the booki says ... I seldom argue ... that in my opinion is when two people or more think they are right and do not want to hear a opposing idea. I will however debate ... and that is IMO when we present a idea to someone willing to listen and evaluate your thoughts and ideas. It is however a two way street and you should do the same courteousy.

    In TED I have had new concepts and ideas presented that were alien to my beliefs ... I had to school myself and have often been convienced that I was not fully aware of all of the facts and was closed to new opinions.

    In argument we have lose lose ... in debate we have win win .... As a Winner I am obligated to debate. LOL

    I wish you well. Bob.
    • W T

      • 0
      May 21 2013: That is funny....As a Winner...... it reminds me of Ed's welcome to you when you started posting. He said, "I see you are a winner by birth". So I always think of Ed's comment to you whenever I see you posting.

      Thanks Bob for your explanations of arguments and debates.

      I think that the most troubling aspect of arguments online is that noone comes to an understanding of the other person. I have tried to mediate arguments on other sites, arguments that are based on misunderstandings, and I have had no success.....zilch....nada....nothing.....

      Debates appear to be more productive. One question....two solutions....take sides and explain your reasonings and give proof.....yup....that sounds like it's much more adequate.

      So, what topics do you like debating? I see that you oftentimes post topics based on a news item.

      [edited for spelling]