Nothing is typical. As I’m sitting here in the lobby of the hotel noticing that far fewer than half of the people waking back and forth in this busy hotel are wearing unusual science fiction or fantasy costuming (that will change as the day develops) this (“nothing is typical”) is the phrase that sticks in my mind from this morning’s session on Skeptical Blogging.
The five people on the panel seemed to all agree that the way we treat our commenters, the way we treat people with whom we disagree (or that are disagreeing vehemently amongst themselves) is impossible to plan in advance or to calibrate actively. Skepchicks and my blog, for instance, have the same exact policy for serious intervention with commenters or for banning: We don’t have a policy, but if you annoy us enough we’ll adopt a temporary one, it will be all about you, and you probably won’t like it.
One of the questions from the audience that I thought was most interesting, or at least that led to some of the more poignant thoughts in my mind, came from a young woman dressed as a witch and wearing a green dragon on her head who wanted to know what everyone thought about the problem of being a skeptic first entering high school. As she was about to do in the coming year. Of course, this means she is the same exact age as my daugther, who will also be entering high school next year. Pam provided an excellent description of what the research says about high school students and how they react to new information and so on, but I think that advice might have been more useful to a teacher or administrator. The best advice for the young woman herself may have been to remember that high school only seems like it takes forever, but that it would end eventually. Probably.
Elsewhere at The Con a parallel conversation was developing. When you raise a child, how do you make sure that as the child matures s/he does not adopt the opposite political orientation that you have? Or become religious (assuming you are an atheist) or whatever? Indeed, how do you guarantee that the person you marry does not do this? Such things have happened.
Again and again throughout The Con a similar, related issue came up: How do you talk to someone who believes in Teh Stoopid and have that conversation make a difference. Two answer kept coming up to this question.
1) Set an example, model, show rather than tell the way. This may not work really well but it will minimize the kind of head butting that may cause movement in the opposite direction.
2) Plant seeds, not already grown up trees. That is a metaphor of course, you don’t actually plant actual seeds. What you do is to make simple statements that are innocuous but skeptically grounded like “Yea, my uncle went to a chiropractor and died” and then just drop it, when someone mentions that they might go to a chiropractor. Then, later, when the person is getting back surgery to fix what the chiropractor broke, you can say “Yeah, like my uncle, but you didn’t die anyway” and then drop it. Then later when they get the big bill from the chiropractor who almost killed them, you go “yea, my Uncle got one of those just before he, you know, died and stuff.” Eventually your friend or family member will get one of those light bulbs over their head and say. “Hey, what’s that story about your uncle and the chiropractor?” and now you have an in. You planted the seed, it grew, and now you will have The Conversation.
Be the model. Be overt enough for your child, your friend, your relative to see, but not so in their face that they build a barrier. Let them come to you when the time arrives. And be ready for when that happens.