Anyone who has spent even a few moments on Internet forums or wherever dialog is allowed, can attest to the fact that the Internet is a contentious place. It is a wild and uncontrolled free-for-all, where some have taken advantage of platforms for free speech that go beyond what was intended. The recent example of live streaming mass murder is a case in point. Such terrible atrocities do not lend themselves to peaceful coexistence.
If you don’t know, a troll, as found on Internet forums, is someone who purposefully abuses others with derogatory comments, with the intent to inflame readers or the original poster (OP) into writing something uncharacteristic of the position they are advocating. In some twisted sort of logic, trolls seem to think they are doing us all a favor by tearing others down in as brutal and clever a way as possible, by what they write.
To dispute is to argue, to contend, to disagree, to compete and to strive to win, usually in a heated and sometimes controversial manner. There is a civilized way to discuss things and then there is the way that is all too commonplace in the world, and especially on the Internet. Sadly, this contentious manner of disputing has spilled over into forums that were established with the original intent of encouraging peaceful, harmonious dialog.
I have been lucky. In the twelve years I have been blogging on Latter-day Commentary, I have never had to ban a troll. According to the stats page, there have been over 13,000 comments shared since 2007. I also don’t have comment moderation turned on. That’s not to say I haven’t deleted inappropriate comments (foul language, for example) but for the most part, visitors to my site have contributed positive, thoughtful words to ponder.
An argument should not always be viewed as a negative thing. We pay people good money to argue in our favor in a court of law. Being able to formulate a good logical argument is a skill that can be developed with training and practice. A persuasive argument can save a life that otherwise might have been forfeited because of evidence that is circumstantial. Arguments allow us to view things that are otherwise hidden.
Persuade with Kindness
In a similar manner, a disagreement is not always a negative thing either. For example, I have disagreements about interpretation of scripture all the time. I also disagree with some of the current laws of our nation. I see them as unjust and overly intrusive. However, I do my best to abide by the law of the land even when I disagree with it. But I try to be agreeable in the way I live among my fellow citizens, even while disagreeing.
Likewise, I try to not argue with someone, unless they invite me to do so. We agree on a set of rules in advance and try to present our facts and interpretations of those facts with an understanding that we will not attack one another as we do so. Our overarching goal is to persuade with a reasonable, calm demeanor, whether we engage in our dialog in person or over the Internet in a forum, in blog commentary or in an email exchange.
Choose to Not Dispute
Who hasn’t been the recipient of a verbal or written tirade against our position that was based on a misunderstanding of what we intended? It is especially easy to miss what a writer meant to say, or desired to express, but perhaps did so poorly because of a lack of skills or experience in communicating effectively online. Offense may be taken where none is intended. Feelings get hurt. The natural tendency is to lash out in retaliation.
Can one choose to not dispute? Can we have a firm knowledge that our position on a subject is superior to what others are advocating and yet make a conscious choice to not argue, contend or even disagree? Can two people be right, even when they seem to be in opposition to what the other is promoting? Can we agree with our adversary quickly? By choosing to not dispute, do we lose virtue or strength that we worked so hard to obtain?
The Perfect Example
The Savior could have disputed every day of his life with someone. He deliberately chose not to contend. He was not an argumentative personality. He took abuse and accusations many times without responding, even when he could have easily done so. He controlled himself. He was and is a man of great self-restraint. He is kind and merciful, not wont to fight and argue in order to display his vastly superior knowledge and intelligence.
Do you know someone who always has to be right, or always has to have the last word? Such a characteristic can be rather annoying, cant’t it? They don’t seem to have room to allow another their point of view, and can’t seem to conceive that someone else may have some useful knowledge above and beyond what they have acquired with their many years of study and experience. In short, such a person is not very Christ-like.
Vote on Mutual Agreement
We have the opportunity to vote on a definition of “Mutual Agreement.” The Lord was petitioned to define the phrase for us a few years back, especially in connection with our many disputations over the Statement of Principles to be used as a Guide and Standard. He did so. It was short, clear and concise. His response honors our agency. He reminds us we must choose. Mutual Agreement means we choose to not dispute one with another.
What did the Lord teach us when he did not dispute or contend with his accusers? I have pondered the Lord’s response: “And when he was accused of the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing. Then said Pilate unto him, Do you not hear how many things they witness against you? And he answered him not to his questions; yea, never a word, insomuch that the governor marveled greatly.” What a marvelous example for us all.
That We Might Become One
An expansion to section 174 has been proposed. In his talk That We Might Become One (Jan 14, 2018) Denver explained: “When the definition was given, it was accompanied by the realization the Lord could have disputed every day of His life with someone. He deliberately chose to not contend. He was not an argumentative personality.”
The reasons for the addition/expansion were given as follows:
- It gives greater understanding of the Lord and the Lord’s personality not found anywhere else.
- It assists people in understanding how to go about solving disagreements in the way the Lord did. It’s directly related to us and our current desire for Zion, and is focused on the Lord.
- It directly relates to the answer about mutual agreement, as Denver stated it “accompanied” the revelation. Therefore it seems like it should also accompany the answer as part of 174. It sheds light on the Lord’s ministry and choices.
It is proposed that Denver’s remarks be added as a second paragraph to the proposed Section 174. I encourage us all to consider: The Lord has already accepted the work of the Scripture Committee. He said He labored alongside them. I hope we can put aside any hurt feelings of the past that came as we went through the process of creating the Statement of Principles that are now part of the scriptures as a Guide and Standard.
Answer to Prayer
Quoting the Lord: “As people, you lack the ability to respectfully disagree among one another. You are as Paul and Peter, whose disagreements resulted in jarring and sharp contentions. Nevertheless, they both loved me and I loved them. You must do better.”
“…there have been sharp disputes between you that should have been avoided. I speak these words to reprove you that you may learn, not to upbraid you so that you mourn. I want my people to have understanding.”
Voting to Expand Section 174
God bless us all. May we show the Lord we accept his reproof and his definition of Mutual Agreement – to choose to not dispute. The voting will open later this week.
Update 2: May 12th: The voting is closed. Here are the results.