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Over the years, I've changed a number of minds arguing politics with readers over email. That number is zero.

Not that I'm a lousy debater or am usually wrong--far from it! But that, in my experience, no one ever admits defeat at the conclusion of email squabbles.

Cultural psychologists could tell us why it's so rare for anyone to back down and confess ideological error. Altering your views can look and even feel like weakness. The wrong sorts of people take advantage of it.

But that's beside the point today.

The point today is that it's worse than a waste of time to argue with aggressive, angry people online. Not only does it get you nowhere, but it also risks throwing more kerosene on the raging partisan fires certain to burn hotter than ever in 2020. It can make you part of the problem.

So here's my three-word prescription, adapted from my own New Year's resolution to reduce the number of hours I spend on fruitless online wrangles to zero, the same number as above:

• Ignore. The rhetorical bomb throwers with their pejoratives and profanities crave attention more than anything else. Your response--reasonable or rash, it doesn't matter--validates them. Deny them that and ruin their day.

• Delete. It's not strictly necessary to consign unpleasant messages to the trash folder--archiving them serves the same practical purpose--but quick deletion is a cleansing ritual, a symbolic spitting out of the poison that makes it difficult for you to give in to the undeniable temptation to counterpunch.

• Block. Build that wall. Unfriend, mute or otherwise erect an electronic barrier against snide provocateurs who are trying to yank your chain. Autodirect all further correspondence from them to your spam folder. Use the "mute" feature on Twitter if you'd like the additional satisfaction of imagining them continuing to holler at you into a void. One strike and they're out.

Ignore. Delete. Block.

Make these your watchwords of the year ahead.

But at the same time, don't stop listening. Don't mistake all expressions of disagreement with trollery and retreat into a comforting silo where only like-minded people cluster in orgies of self-congratulation.

For your own sanity if nothing else, think discussion, not debate in the months ahead.

Hope to understand, not to persuade.

Listen more and react less.

And when worse comes to worst, as you know it will, ignore, delete and block.

Repeat as necessary.

Editorial on 01/04/2020

Print Headline: Three ways to stay sane


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