A friend recently remarked that I don’t write on my blog much these days. True. I’m busy with other projects (a nice way of saying I’m just lazy).

I’m pondering the future direction of this blog, and reviewing the reasons I started it in the first place. Or I’m just being lazy.

As these ponderings will probably interest few people other than me, I’ll write about them below the “fold” and in the meantime, here’s a thought for the day:

you can be confused in this world
or you can be in peace
pick one

Prem Rawat

  1. My initial reason for starting a blog was based on my understanding of the word “blog”, short for weblog, meaning a record of websites I had visited.
  2. This was given urgency and meaning by the rhetoric surrounding the runup to the first Gulf War,  when I started reading as much as I could to decide whether I supported this action or not.
  3. My next blogging direction was to keep a record of my attempts to integrate ideas of learner autonomy in language teaching and learning. (I still have this blog, but I am no longer pursuing learner autonomy in EFL. My present interests include the use of freewriting with EFL writing students, and applying genre pedagogy or the genre approach to EFL teaching, especially (but not only) academic writing).
  4. Next, I had the idea of using a blog as a “sandbox”:
    1. to practice writing for a wider audience
    2. to try out various WordPress options (plugins, themes, widgets, etc)
  5. I feel these two objectives have been achieved.
  6. After the Tohoku tsunami and earthquake in 2011, my purpose became to help collect information about the disaster, as well as to analyze some of that information and try and filter out the crap fromthe good stuff.
  7. The disaster, of course, is far from over, and news continues to come out about Fukushima nuclear power plant, usually bad news. Ex-SKF keeps a bilingual eye on developments there (tho recently he doesn’t write as much as he used to, perhaps due to health).
  8. A related interest is in the politics and economics surrounding the rebuilding, reconstruction and clean up of the entire area, a topic which is apparently sensitive in Japan.
  9. However, I no longer feel as interested as I was in contributing to this conversation. For two reasons:
    1. Others are much more knowledgeable about it and can provide better informed comment than me (see ex-skf, for instance)
    2. Blogs and internet websites inevitably become about the rightness or wrongness of policies or approaches. I used to believe that discussion and airing of different opinions play a key role in helping people inform themselves and then form their opinions on matters. I’m no longer so sure that this is so. “Spirited” argument on the Internet is no rare thing; as the Internet increasingly competes with TV, parts of it inevitably become like TV in some ways: attracting “eyeballs” (i.e. visitors) to sites can often be successfully accomplished by conflict and division and polarized “debate” (viz. the success of talk-shows like the O’Reilly Factor). (Jon Rappoport, investigative journalist and writer, has often written about how this fact has been increasingly exploited by news shows; click here for a recent article of his on this topic.)
    3. Of course there are sensationalist websites, just like there are sensationalist TV shows and newspapers. However, even websites that usually don’t use this tactic may stoop to it at times (just time “Fukushima” into this search engine, for instance, and read the lurid selection of screaming headlines that come up). Sensationalist headlines attract visitors, but do not help the person looking for informed opinion (see here for an example of the former, and here for an example of the latter – a debunking by a well informed commentator).
    4. Other, more serious, websites, don’t stoop to sensationalism or polarized debate tactics. Some of them, are seriously trying to persuade readers by means of rational and reasonable argument using logic and verifiable facts.  I wonder how effective such sites are, however.  In my personal interactions, both with people of my own age and with university students, I find that people are rarely swayed by anything as mundane as facts. Some will dismiss arguments merely because of the website they appear on, or the name of the author; an example of the far-reaching influence of Marxian thinking. Some students refuse to accept the results of scientific enquiry: in some cases because they misunderstand those results, and in some cases because their own (limited) experience seems to contradict findings based on much larger surveys. Their response: dismiss the findings!
    5. I once almost lost the friendship of a close acquaintance because my own political and economic views suddenly diverged from his. At first I tried (helpfully) to point out the flaws in his thinking. For some strange reason, this did not have the result I hoped for. Instead of falling to his knees in a Pauline conversion, or weeping tears of joy for me having exposed him to the truth and the light, he merely became aloof.  Weird. Of course, he also tried the same with me. I did not become a loof (I just sneered superiorily).
    6. In order to patch up this friendship, I decided to try a different tactic: instead of focusing on our differences, I search for areas of common ground.In this, I was greatly influenced by Prem Rawat, particularly by something I once heard him say. I paraphrase: “You will never persuade someone to your way of thinking by proving them wrong.” Even if they are!
    7. So now, whenever the conversation with this friend turns towards some difference of opinion (“What do you think of X? How can you possibly justify Y? Surely you don’t think that Z…?” etc.), I try to dig out a basic common value that we both share. It’s hard work. And admittedly it’s fun to argue and indulge in slanging matches. For a while. But it soon palls, and usually leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth and the feeling that I just wasted a couple of hours. Focusing on areas of common ground makes for quite a different kind of conversation: less confrontational (obviously), and to a certain extent less exciting for the intellect. But afterwards I feel a much greater sense of satisfaction than I ever felt before when we just went at it hammer and tongs.
    8. “You will never persuade someone to your way of thinking by proving them wrong.”  What does that mean to you? If you accepted this as true, how might that affect your interactions with others?

Thank you for reading, and enjoy the rest of the weekend.

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