There’s a question that’s been in my mind for a while now, arising from past experiences and present discussions on this blog, and while I think I’ve answered it for myself I want to hear what readers of this blog think.
Is there a point at which, or circumstances under which, it’s pointless to attempt a dialogue with some people?
In the past I’ve engaged in long discussions with various people in the comments on some posts here. (BTW, you may have noticed that some of them don’t comment here anymore.) And there have been and still are times when I think it’s a waste of time and energy to do so.
Let me explain it this way. When I first came to D.C. to work in politics, and to work specifically on gay rights issues, I was told and came to understand that people fall into three categories when you’re working for social change:
- The people who are on your side.
- The people who aren’t on your side, but could be if they’re persuaded.
- The people who are not on your side and never will be.
The first group you need to talk to in order to keep them informed and motivated. The second group you need to talk to in order to make your case and move them to your side. Talking to the third group is a waste of time and energy better spent shoring up support in the first group and winning support in the second group.
Then the people in the third group come and comment on your blog. For the most part they drop by for one comment and then leave. But some of them keep coming back and keep commenting, which leads me to believe that they know talking to them is a waste of time because they know they’re never going to change their point of view. Sometimes they monopolize the discussion. Sometimes they’re even abusive to some of the regulars. (I banned at least one person from commenting for exactly that reason last summer.)
So I start to wonder, given all the above, why they’d want to waste their time in a dialogue where both parties are immovable. It’s then that I wonder if, for the third group, engaging in dialogue or at least pretending to is a tactic because if you’re talking to them you’re not talking to the people in the first and second group. And if you’re not talking to the people in the first and second group, spending your energy arguing with the third, then you aren’t making any progress on your goals.
I want this blog to be a place where the people in the first group can talk and shore up support, and where people in the second group can come, ask questions, and join in a discourse. I don’t see much of a place for the people in the third group, because talking to them is ultimately a waste of time and energy.
Am I right about this? Am I wrong? And what should I do about it?