Share your sandbox.

July 14th, 2008

My sandbox.

My sandbox

Blogs should not be the private playgrounds of their authors. They should be written for the benefit of readers and those who participate in the discussion.

Recently, Tom Wark put up a post on his blog outlining some tips for starting a wine blog. While I had commented that I don’t like to jump on the band wagon of topic trends, there is one thing I want to add to Tom’s list: share your sandbox.

By posting and opening yourself to comments, you invite contradictory points of view and the implication is that you are prepared and willing to engage in intellectual intercourse (not mental masturbation).

Coming from a scientific background, I am guided by two rules (among others): 1). Don’t open your mouth unless you are 100% sure you know what you are talking about and can back it up, and 2). Be prepared for scrutiny and criticism. Blogging exposes the author to such criticism and demands that your case be solid. You should not expect a deluge of praise and support from an army of sycophants with every new post.

There comes a point in any discussion where you cannot argue your case any further. Your contention may fall apart and you have effectively “lost” the debate. In the course of the discussion/debate you may have painted yourself into a corner. As a result of the exchange, you or your point of view may have been discredited (through others’ actions or your own).

This is what frequently happens when you invite others into your sandbox. It doesn’t feel good when it happens but you have to accept that others may out-argue you, just plain prove you wrong or even make you look bad. All you can do is try to take a preemptive approach and follow the corollary of rule #2 (above): Prepare your post and argument in a way that can handle debate. Your own argument, or your defense of it, should not end up embarrassing you. Anticipate the criticism and counter arguments.

Nobody wants to loose a debate and nobody wants to be proven wrong or have their contentions defeated on “their turf”. But it happens and it stings. I have always seen blogs as debate forums. I am not seeking to convince my “opponent” to my way of seeing things. I am contending for the minds of the readers.

I have some strong opinions and when I debate an issue, I do it with all the strength I can muster. I don’t condescend, I don’t insult or mudsling. If I attack anything, it is an idea, not the person putting it forward.

That is why I appreciate Alder Yarrow for respecting me every time we disagree. And there are times when we are worlds apart. But he has never “banned” me, he has never deleted a post that he did not like or felt discredited his point of view and he has never terminated a discussion that was going in that direction. This is no special, privileged treatment; he does this with others who disagree with him. He “fights” valiantly and honorably.

He and anyone else will receive the same courtesy here.


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10 Responses to “Share your sandbox.”

  1. Joseph Says:

    I understand that your guidelines are just that, but don’t they go against the main point of this entry? Why isn’t it more important to have good justification and a potent character of genius and perspective, trustworthy and cogent, rather than the personal conviction of being 100%?

    The amount of things that I can claim to know 100% are few and limited mostly to mathematics. And the rest doesn’t follow deductive processes, but more soulful ones.

    What seems to mark your blog well is a tendency away from this principle and the adoption of principles seated in the individual. That’s the appeal that I see.

    I agree with the majority, but I did see some inconsistency and it was out of character, I thought. But, like a good Boy Scout, I trust that you will always Be Prepared.

  2. Brooke Says:

    Excellent post. While I agree that sharing the sandbox is exceptionally important, I also see Joseph’s point. I can’t claim to know 100% about most things. For me, the blog is a great way to start conversations and – hopefully – for me to learn something in the process. Even if that something is that I’m completely wrong. This could be as simple as the fact that I’d rather converse than debate (although some days there are exceptions) and as the fact that wine is this wonderful world where concrete facts and ambiguities co-exist…and not always peacefully.

    That said, you’re right on two things: Alder’s very fair, and I have yet to read a post where your voice is condescending. Full of conviction, certainly, but never full of conceit.

  3. Arthur Says:

    Thank you for participating in the discussion Brooke and Joseph.

    What I was getting at with rule #2, ties in with my philosophy of blogs as debate forums. I did not develop (or maybe organize and present) this line of reasoning as well as I could have.

    My contention is that if you put out a strong opinion/position, you should be ready to defend it. So that means you should do some homework and dig deeper than just the surface. Also, because people are bound to disagree and speak up, it helps to have thought a few steps a head. It will make for a richer exchange and all involved (or reading along) will benefit.

    While, personally, I like to have all my ducks in a row, I am not always 100% correct. Seeking to be 100% correct/accurate, however, makes me better prepared and makes for a better defense and debate. Ultimately, as Joseph said, one can’t be 100% correct 100% of the time. You then you have to rely on having good, well-informed, arguments.

    The final caveat here is that you should never get into an argument over opinion. It’s a futile enterprise.

  4. Steve Heimoff Says:

    Arthur, I largely agree with what you say, with one exception, and that is, How far do you go when you reply to someone’s comment, and then they reply to your reply to their comment, and they expect you to re-reply, and you can see where it’s going: An endless debate. At some point, it seems to me a blogger has to cut off the debate and say “Time’s up.” You’ve been very articulate on my blogs and I believe I’ve published everything you sent. But there have been 1 or 2 people whose comments I deleted, because I had the feeling they were just spoiling for a fight. I don’t mind getting challenged (and I certainly was in the last go around of my 100-point post). But I’m not going to let my blogs get taken over by people who just want to argue endlessly.

  5. Arthur Says:

    Steve, Thank you for commenting.

    My policy is this: I approve all comments unless it becomes a back-and-forth of “Yes it is”, “Not it’s not”. As long as the posts offer new thinking without being insulting or abusive, I engage them. I like the intellectual exercise and I also find that so long as I come to the table with courtesy and intelligent discourse, the thread dies a natural death on its own.

  6. Morton Leslie Says:

    I disagree with rule one. I am quite content to open my mouth when I have absolutely no idea what I talking about and I am equally content to argue either side of an issue. Some times I find myself doing both… ask my wife! Agree with the second rule. That is the best part of the blogosphere. I am impressed by the tolerance and respect that I am given, for example, by Steve recently. I knew I was pushing it with a couple comments on 100 point scoring, but I couldn’t help myself.

    I was censored once by Alder when commenting on a post he had done, in jest about taking advantage of perks from the wine industry. I brought my personal experiences with a well publicized scandal at the L.A. Times nearly three decades ago. My guess, since he probably wasn’t born yet, he was unaware it was then very public information in that same newspaper. He probably thought it could be libelous. In my defense, I was only trying to convince him if he were to sell out, he could find appropriate role models.

  7. Steve Heimoff Says:

    Morton, I remember the LA Times thing, which occurred long before I was a wine writer. But I never forgot about it, and have been very careful to remain, like Caesar’s wife, above suspicion.

  8. Arthur Says:


    I talk out of the wrong end of the digestive tract at home as well, but these guidelines apply to me dealings as a blogger. Additionally, I think Rule #2 kind of hinges on (or is tied to) Rule #1: if you prepare well (at least by thinking about what you are about to write) you weather the scrutiny better.

  9. Jo Diaz Says:

    Welcome to the sandbox!

    This reminds me of the time I went to visit my neighborhood pal Mike, so many years ago I’ve even forgotten his last name. I haven’t, however, forgotten that sandbox incident.

    He was sitting in his sand box, like so many other mornings when I went to play with him (we were about seven). I said, “Hi, Mike. Wanna play?” He had a toy gun in his hand, turned it around to get a firm grip on the barrel, then raised his arm and cracked me over the hear with his toy (metal back then) gun.

    Mike had just been told by his mother that he was going to be moving, and his was really ticked. (You always hurt the one you love.)

    My point: When you play in sand boxes, painful things can happen; but, there’s lots of sand and good times between getting hit over the head on occasion.

    When I was hit, I left immediately, never to see him again. I wasn’t going to give him another opportunity, nor would I go round and round with someone just to give that person the right to abuse the space we’ve all been given on the Internet to write our thoughts/journals.

    Best wishes with your blogging! — jo

  10. John Kelly Says:

    Arthur – Generally I’m with you on Rules 1 and 2. Scientific training can warp one that way – sort of like parochial school.

    I try to be certain of my facts before I start a post. But IIRC it was Reagan who said something like “facts are stupid things” – it was a gaffe, but it is also a koan. One of the meanings I take from it is that folks can and do believe in different sets of “facts”. I can usually back up my set of facts with credible references.

    When I engage in speculation, or express an opinion in a post, I try to make it clear that’s what I’m doing. It cuts down on the amount of argument.