By David Grace (www.DavidGraceAuthor.com)
I see lots of opinions on Medium. Some of them are helpful, interesting, enlightening, and worthwhile. Some are just a big waste of time.
I want to talk about what I think is the difference between the two.
The Purpose Of Your Comment/Article Is To Tell The World What You Think About Someone
You see people saying things like “Trump is a terrible President”; “Obama’s Foreign Policy Was A Mess”, “Your ideas are stupid” or “You’re stupid.”
Standing alone, without supporting evidence, those statements are nothing more than, “I think Trump is a terrible President”, “I think Obama’s foreign policy is a mess”, “I think you’re stupid”, etc.
If you’re publishing your comment because you want the world to know what you think about someone, get over yourself.
Nobody cares what you think. Nobody cares what I think.
Nobody should care what you or I think.
Value Judgments By Experts
“But wait,” you say.
What if the person saying that Donald Trump is a terrible President is noted presidential historian David McCullough, author of acclaimed biographies about John Adams, Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Truman and others; winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, two national book awards and the Presidential Medal of Freedom?
[NOTE: This is just an example. As far as I know David McCullough isn’t offering any dogmatic opinions about Donald Trump unsupported by facts and reasoning.]
Without evidence, even McCullough’s opinion would be worthless. We would still need to know why or how he came to that conclusion.
If McCullough said, “Trump is a terrible President because he did this instead of that. He said this which was the wrong thing to say because. . . . etc.” then that would be useful because it would give us reasons that we could evaluate and either agree or disagree with.
Do his arguments make sense? Do I agree with his logic? Are his reasons based on value judgments I do or don’t share?
For anyone’s opinion about others to be really valuable, we need to know the “why.”
The Purpose Of Your Comment Is To Convince Other People To Agree With Your Opinion
If you’re publishing your comment because you want to convince other people that “Obama’s foreign policy was a mess” or that “Trump is a bad President” or “Your position is stupid” then you have to actually convince us. Saying it’s so doesn’t make it so. You have to give us evidence, logic, examples, reasoning.
Bad Outcomes Alone Are Not Enough
It’s not enough to point to something that the object of your criticism did that went badly. To successfully make us reconsider our position, or at least take your argument seriously, you need to show us more than that the person you’re criticizing made a decision that went wrong.
In my Trump example, you would have to show us how a different person in Trump’s place — Obama, Bush, Reagan, whomever you think was a good President — would have acted differently in that same situation and would have gotten a better result.
Suppose you said that Dwight Eisenhower was a terrible general because the landings on Utah and Omaha beaches went badly and that terrible casualties were suffered.
None of that would prove your claim that Eisenhower was a terrible general.
For a start, you would have to show that other generals who were involved in planning the invasion proposed a different strategy which would have avoided the problems Ike’s invasion had. You would have to show that if some other general had been in command with the same information and the same resources that Eisenhower had, the other general would have done things differently and obtained a better result.
If you did that then you might convince us that Eisenhower did a bad job planning the invasion. But that alone still wouldn’t be enough to support your claim that Eisenhower was a bad general.
One Mistake Doesn’t Prove Anything
Suppose the comment is: “Trump is a terrible President because he did this . . . .” followed by an accurate statement about something Trump did.
First, is what he did obviously and clearly bad?
Sure, if he shot somebody in the Oval Office or was caught accepting a black van holding four billion dollars in cash from the Russian Ambassador then most people would probably agree that that would be a bad thing without any further supporting evidence.
Short of something that clear cut, you need to go beyond saying, “He did this.” You have to give us a good reason why the “this” he did was, in fact, wrong.
But, OK, let’s assume you did that. Let’s assume that you convinced us that Trump made a serious mistake. That’s still not enough to support your claim that he’s a bad President.
Because everybody makes mistakes. Just because on a certain day Ted Williams struck out twice doesn’t mean he was a bad hitter. Just because George Washington lost the battle of Brandwine doesn’t mean he was a bad general.
Back to the Eisenhower metaphor, you would need to show other tactical mistakes Eisenhower made in addition to the Normandy invasion which mistakes would not have occurred if Omar Bradley or Mark Clark or George Patton had been the Supreme Commander instead of Ike.
Short of all that, just saying that (1) Ike was a bad general, or (2) Ike was a bad general because the Normandy invasion went badly, or (3) Ike was a bad general because the invasion went badly as the result of his tactical errors isn’t enough to make your case.
You have to show us a pattern of decisions or at least a number of decisions that were clearly mistakes that he made that others in his position would not have made.
Summary As A Sports Metaphor
If you’re a fan who just wants to tell people that you think Bill Smith is a terrible coach, don’t waste our time. Nobody cares what you think about Coach Bill Smith.
If you’re a retired NFL coach and you tell people, “Bill Smith is a terrible coach” that’s going to make some people wonder if Smith might be a terrible coach, but without more, without explaining your reasoning, that’s not enough to convince us you’re right.
If you tell us that Smith is a terrible coach because his team lost the Super Bowl, that’s not enough.
If you tell us that Smith is a terrible coach because he called a run up the middle instead of a screen pass and in a “for want of a nail, a shoe was lost; for want of a shoe the horse was lost; for want of a horse, a knight was lost . . . .” sort of way his team lost the Super Bowl, your argument is still not enough.
If you want to tell us that Smith is a terrible coach because he calls a run up the middle 45% of the time on 3rd down and that 71% of the time he does that he’s unsuccessful whereas coaches Glenn Jones, Frank Rizzo and Larry Cohen run up the middle an average of only 18% on 3rd down and they’re successful 61% of the time when they don’t run up the middle on 3rd down, then you’re saying something meaningful and useful and potentially convincing about the quality of Smith’s coaching.
So, before you hit the “publish” button for a post or a comment that essentially says: “I think Donald Trump is a terrible President” or “I think Obama’s foreign policy was a mess” or “Your arguments are stupid” please take a moment to make sure you’ve included the information needed to convince us that you’re right.
Just saying, “You’re stupid” isn’t convincing anyone that they should pay attention to anything you say.
–David Grace (www.DavidGraceAuthor.com)
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NOTE: All of my reference to Trump in this article were only as examples. They do not necessarily mean that I think he is a good or a bad President, although I will tell you that normally when I have to refer to him I call him He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. But nobody should care what I think about him absent evidence to support my opinion.