Your job is to learn, not to teach

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Chances are you’ve been part of an internet argument. The rules are simple: try to win without insults. Having a civilized discussion is winning half the battle.

But how often have you actually won an argument on the internet? I don’t mean that you feel like you’ve won, but that the other party admitted defeat? And how many times have you admitted defeat? Even though the aim is to win, we seem to be terrible at it.

You should never help people that don’t ask for your help. No one likes unsolicited advice, even if it’s well intended. My own definition of “ask for help” goes beyond literally asking, to expressing need. Sometimes we’re too afraid, proud or weak to ask for help outright.

So why do we assume internet strangers need us to teach them something? To show them the light they’ve so clearly missed? To change teams, ideas, philosophies, just because they’ve exchanged some messages with us?

Your job is to learn, not to teach. Approach each encounter with the perspective or a curious student, not a know-all teacher. You may learn something even from the people you think are wrong.

Look for what to learn from each argument, instead of trying to outwit and outmaneuver your opponent. All interactions will transform from a competition, and a challenge, to a collaboration where two people are trying to learn from each other.

Learning and not to teaching doesn’t mean to stop challenging people’s ideas. It means reflecting on their position, and their arguments to see if there’s something to take home. It also means stopping all interaction when it’s clear you can’t learn anything. Insults, or a lack of civil discourse ends any collaboration.

As a bonus, saying “you’re right” is a skill we all need more of.

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July 4th, 2021
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