There’s a rule in the Council that no resolution can be debated on the day that it’s first proposed. All discussion is postponed until the next well-attended meeting. Otherwise someone’s liable to say the first thing that comes into his head, and then start thinking up arguments to justify what he has said, instead of trying to decide what’s best for the community. That type of person is quite prepared to sacrifice the public to his own prestige, just because absurd as it may sound, he’s ashamed to admit that his first idea might have been wrong–when his first idea should have been to think before he spoke.

Thomas More, Utopia

At the end of the book More also mentions the sort of person who’s afraid of looking like a fool if he cannot pick holes in other people’s ideas. I see this sort of thing going on all the time whenever a website has a comments form. The commenter type is compelled to make his mark, irrespective of whether he actually has something valuable to add or not. In cases where they don’t it’s all too easy to just repeat what was said and pick an easy line of attack, mostly by shifting the discussion from the actual topic intended by the author to something lateral that wasn’t accurately covered. Sometimes when the commenter runs out of ammunition they launch the most pathetic type of criticism: “but it’s only your opinion” they say. But exactly whose opinion should it be if not mine?

I seldom leave comments, and one of the reasons is that I’ve sometimes caught myself rolling along the same lines of thought as More warned against. In these cases the comment would be merely a response, not a valuable addition or critique. It’s easy to type up a paragraph of text and hit the Submit button, but it’s much harder to take a day or two off and come back with a thoughtful comment. Of course not every comment requires this sort of contemplation, but I think it’s valuable to stop and think for a moment about your motivations whenever you get up to respond: are you getting somewhere with what you have to say or are you just making noise?

May 2011