Saturday, October 1, 2016

Not Closing Down the Debate

Twitter is getting overheated on the slide incident with James Bach, and I feel I need to add my perspective into this.

I am not calling for boycott and I would hope other people wouldn't either. As per my experience over the years, James Bach is a caring, intelligent individual and many of us have a lot to learn from him. But we also have a lot to learn from others, and some of the things he does are not encouraging others to join the discussions.

Looking at James' twitter replies, there's claims like "I think they are trying to close down debate", "A community that discourages debate is a community for children not adults. I believe in a free press.", "Consent is not part of public debate. Others there would be no free press."

Let me clarify: I'm for free press too. I have no problems with debate. But the "debate" as James' exercises it isn't what academics would call a debate.

In this particular case it was:
  • Attacking person over arguments she made
  • Timed wrong - as part of his keynote talk that wasn't framed as response to the other instead of as part of the discussion of the my keynote talk where there was room for the discussion
  • Constrained to be one-sided attack not a discussion (again, due to chosen timing as part of the keynote when any other times during the conference would have been more appropriate)
  • The slide was written to stand better with the words spoken around it, and was more awful as text and as the whole presentation. 
I do not agree that my speaking at conferences allows for people to negatively characterize me in form of an attack. Say what it is I say you don't agree with. James said in his talking part he agrees with much of my stuff, quoting "I could have even used some of your slides". 

There's two parts here that I want to change, not close down the debate.
  1. It's not a debate in the first place if it is not mutual. Debate is about learning deeply. Safety is a prerequisite for learning. Both parties need to want to be in it, for it to be a debate. I'm happy to have discussions with James as he is in person. He is warm, caring and wonderful. 
  2. It has rules. We debate about experiences and statements, not person's characteristics. We  seek understanding, added mutually (dialog) over a winner (argument). And we avoid the personal attacks like me telling James he was a jerk (he only behaved like one for a moment, again - but that does not define him) or James telling me I am shallow in my testing (I'm not, even if I say something he interprets that way). Some rhetorics used for winning (argument) are bad for learning (dialog).
We're a professional community, and making the debates about people's character in general seems wrong. Holding a belief that is different from yours shouldn't be a step to ridicule and attack. When you fundamentally disagree and neither party is budging, there is no common ground and you can just call it at that, respectfully. We don't have to agree to be kind to one another. Trying to continue is just a waste of time, find someone else to talk to.

I'm calling a stop to this debate every time, everywhere, without consent from the other party or other people who are stuck in the middle of it. If there is no time, there is no depth and I'm not interesting in debate for debate's sake. Free speech allows you to write a blog post or tweet as much as you like, as long as you don't go into slander. That approaches illegal. Professional code of conducts make exercising your free speech as part of talks to be about mischaracterizing other people possible but inappropriate. James could do what he did, but it was not right place.

I'm not against debate. I just think debate has a form and style and rules. And one of the rules is that you can't debate without having the other person debate with you. You can exercise your free speech, and even attack. But attacks are unprofessional.

James, your style isn't getting you deep. It's alienating the people who would have something to share, and making it appear shallow to you because you intimidate them. We need to take each other into consideration to have a real dialogue. You then represent people based on the shallow understanding, which makes it even more of attack.

I encourage deep learning about how to be nice and kind without sacrificing bluntness and honesty. And for me, learning to be nice is much harder than learning to find insightful problems. I'm not nice and kind by nature. I work to become one, because learning is magic. And there is no learning unless we feel safe.