Verbal Warfare: do you engage in conflict?

Conflict is good in a novel.  However, I’ve been finding more and more of it on the internet.  Blogs and forums are filled with differing opinions.  Which, in and of itself, is good.  It allows us to learn other perspectives and understand things outside our limited views and experiences.

What isn’t good is when discussion crosses the line.  At times, I quietly lurk because I’m afraid of taking a shot to the face for writing the wrong thing.  It’s like a bad game of Nerf darts–one where you don’t know if your allies are your enemies.

In my real life, I wear many hats.  Almost all of them are in a conflicted arena.  I try very hard to impress upon my clients that they don’t have to agree.  They simply need to listen, understand and respect the other side.

I do this because I have learned the only universal truth in the world: there is no such thing as truth. 

Oh, we each have our own truths and we vehemently hang onto them.  But the reality is there are more opinions than there are people. 

In this respect, the writing arena has many truths.  One for each writer, and all based on personal experience and moral convictions.  Yet we continue to ask loaded questions, looking for the “right” answer.  And others continue to answer these questions with their own truths. 

Most often, people are respectful.  Yet every once in a while, a huge conflict arises.  The mob mentality takes over and we end up shooting darts at each other.  Feelings get hurt, things are said that can come back and haunt us and we leave communities we once loved.

I would like to offer a gentle reminder for myself and others.

  • Respect the other perspective.  This doesn’t mean we have to accept it.  We just have to accept that there are more versions out there than the one we currently believe in.
  • Listen and validate.  It  never hurts to say, “Hey, I can see your point.  I’ve never thought of it that way.”  Again, this isn’t agreement.  It is simple respect.
  • Agree to disagree.  “Those are all valid points, however, I still believe XYZ.” 
  • Hold a conversation, not a war.  When we exchange ideas, we grow as people–even if we never change our minds.  Just listening to and learning from others gives us depth and enriches our lives.  Warfare takes away from that.
  • Remain professional.  Seriously, this is vital for those of us commenting as writers or other industry professionals.  Do not engage in verbal warfare.  Do not name call.  Do not attack individuals.  Ideas are separate from the people who voice them.
  • Don’t let the conflict elevate our emotions.  If we find our hearts racing and our fingers itching to shoot off a response, we need to walk away and save our comments for another time. 
  • Lastly, don’t ever say, “It’s just common sense.”  There is no such thing as common sense.  What seems universal to one may be completely foreign to another.  That doesn’t make others stupid, it just means we all come to an issue with a different set of life experiences.

I don’t know if you’ve visited Layinda’s blog, but she’s a great one to ask questions that really make me go hmmmm.  I love reading her perspective and the responses she gets.  Better yet, everyone who comments there already seems to know that their truth isn’t the only truth.  It’s a refreshing break from the snippiness I’ve seen elsewhere in the cyberworld. 

Another favorite blogger who handles herself and her controversial topics well is Michelle.  She always prefaces a loaded post with a reminder that everyone is entitled to their own opinions and that we need to be mindful of those differences.  I love how she does this. 

And, in the words of one of my favorite AQers, “This is just my opinion.”  It may or may not be right, but it works for me.

Do you engage in conflict or do you avoid the hot-button topics altogether?  How do you handle yourself when you read a comment that makes your blood boil?  Have you ever left a community/blogger that has too much warfare?

Also, do you know of other great blogs that respectfully discuss difficult topics pertinent to the writing world?


24 responses to “Verbal Warfare: do you engage in conflict?

  1. Wow what a great post. I have visited posts and made comnments that were right on but have been ganged up on and attaciked with vile insults.

    People need respect. We need to practice the art of saving face. This is an oriental concept that stresses respect for all and that to do anything to cause embarrassment or discomfort is highly frowned upon.

    In our western culture, we know no such gentility. It is the cowboy mentality of swing first and ask questions later.

    If you are interested, I could post my article on Peaceful Conflict Resolution.

    Blessings on you and yours
    John Wilder

    PS I liked your blog so much that I am copying it and am going to repost it on my blog, giving you full credit of course

    • John,

      There can never be too much conflict management in any relationship. Life is so much more peaceful when we are mindful of others.

      Thanks for commenting. I’m sure people will follow the link in your comment to your article if they are further interested in this topic.


  2. Cat, this is such a good topic. And I agree completely. What’s right for one writer may not be right for the next, but respecting the choices we each make is critical. And yes, there are forums I have withdrawn from because of the ‘warfare’ you speak of. And there are blogs that I won’t read anymore because of the same thing. It’s too bad, really, because we all have something to contribute. Great post Cat. Very thought provoking.

    • TK,

      I find it sad that we have to alter our relationships because of disrespect. It only takes a few to create a difficult atmosphere for everyone. And God knows, I had enough of that in high school to last a lifetime!


  3. I have noticed some of that going on. I always try to remember that people are entitled to their opinion, even if it’s not shared by me (in other words it’s wrong). Nooo, just kidding. Great points with your reminders. In my day job, I deal with conflict more often than I would care to, but what I’ve found is most times, people just want to be heard. Lending a sympathetic ear can diffuse things sometimes. If not, well you can always hunt them down. 😉

    • Lisa,

      You make me giggle. Of course you’re right. And if someone disagrees, I’ll hunt them down and put them outside the fence with my naughty rabbits.

      Your point about listening is the key to good communication, but one so often misunderstood. Listening does not mean paying attention long enough to form a rebuttal. Neither is it the equivalent to agreement. It is simply hearing what the other party has to say and acknowledging that what they said is important.

      I always feel better when I express my side of the story. Why then are we so reluctant to let others do the same?

  4. This post is just common sense. ^_^

  5. THIS is why I no longer discuss politics online. I make a strong argument and then the personal attacks start in from the other side…

    Tact I lack when attacked. Someone gets onto me and I flame em. Hard.

    Then I get banned from the site. That, or half the posters LOVE me, and the other half want to GUT me.

    Go figger.

    Good list.

    Add this one though:
    o Avoid all politics, assuming you do not want to become a pundit.

    – Eric

    • Eric, this made me smile.

      Good point on the politics. It’s why my DH won’t discuss them ever. Not even with me. I would add religion as another hot button. That and sex in YA novels.

      You make me curious, though. How does one get kicked off a site? Did you threaten to eat first born children? Send a swarm of locusts across the cyber land?

      You really don’t need to answer that unless you’re cursing me. Then give me the heads up.

      hugs~ cat

  6. I try to avoid conflict in real life. Even when I disagree with someone I try to do it in a way that still acknowledges their point of view. In writing, however, I embrace conflict fully and the more argumentative and closed minded the characters are the more interesting things can get.

    Thanks for the gentle reminder.

    • Cassandra,

      I avoid it like the plague outside of work. I can help others work things out, but when it comes to me personally, I get all hinky.

      You discuss an important concept about conflict in your writing. Close-minded characters are easy to write and easy to hate. They can make a novel very interesting indeed.

      Thanks for pointing that out.

  7. I tend to run for the hills when there’s conflict around. I find it too hard – especially as I usually end up playing peacemaker in real life. If a thread or a forum is contentious I don’t comment and I usually don’t read. There is one forum I won’t go back to because of it.

    Great post!

    • Jemi,

      Sorry to hear about the forum issue. I think this is becoming more common place. It would be nice if people could conduct themselves in a way that doesn’t hurt others in the process. Also, we have such fragile egos and the internet does not allow for body language and tone of voice to help interpret intentions. As a result, feelings get hurt far easier and backlash is much stronger.

      hang in there and love the happy forums!

  8. This is a lovely and timely post for me. Thank you for the reminder that everyone has their own truth. 🙂

  9. I almost always try to avoid conflict in my personal life. I’ve found if people are highly opinionated about an issue, they don’t want a discussion; they just want to vent. I’ll usually pass, but there are times when I feel strongly about something I’ll respond (usually in writing) which helps me clarify my thoughts.

    Then sometimes I try to be the peacemaker.

    Conflict for my characters, though, that’s another matter. A story *has* to have conflict or you don’t have a story.
    Peacemakers unfortunately don’t make good character fodder.

    • Rahma,

      You’re right. Characters with door mat personalities don’t usually win any hearts. Funny how so many of us avoid conflict in real life, but know that putting that conflict into our work is what sells. I wonder if we are indicative of most writers and/or the population in general. In other words, are most of us peacemakers in real life and are able to be so calm about it because we read and write our frustrations instead of acting on them.

      Did that make sense to any one but me?

      : )

  10. Politics and anonymity do not go together well.

    Make people use their real names and they’ll behave much better.

    • True, Peter. It’s easy to hide behind a false persona. Much more difficult to lay it all bare when it’s “you.”

      Does this mean I should reveal my real name? I promise to behave no differently. What you read is what you get…

  11. Hey Pete:

    I will say amen to thzt. The vilest and most cowardly people hide behind a handle without giving their real name. Character reveals itself.

    Blessings on you and yours
    John Wilder

    • John,

      I don’t know if you’ve noticed my sidebar quote on integrity. I try to live by that–which is what you’re saying. Then, good or bad, I am who I am without any false pretenses.

  12. Thanks for mentioning my blog, Cat – I have noticed that about my commenters, too, and I like it a lot.

    It is crazy when people want to change everyone to think the same way they do. In the words of one of my college instructors, “It’s not like you’re going to marry them.” 🙂

    • Layinda,

      Thank goodness. I would be a spinster if I had to agree on every little issue with my DH. Who wants to live with a clone? It’s okay to disagree and have differing opinions. We grow simply by sharing them.

      And no problem on the mention. I love your topics and the fact that your commenters are so civilized.

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