Attack arguments, not people

Pam
Pam Frampton
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“Words are the most powerful thing in the universe. … Words are containers. They contain faith, or fear, and they produce after their kind.”

— Charles Capps, American preacher

A column I wrote about assisted suicide on Aug. 25 prompted a letter to the editor calling the piece “a dangerous negation of the truth,” which in turn sparked a heated debate that was still being waged on The Telegram’s website as I write this.

The letter-writer suggested that legalized euthanasia could lead to a tyrannical state where “invalids, bedridden cripples and the unproductive aged” could be “phased out.”

That’s not my feeling on the subject, but hey — to each his own.

As of Thursday morning, the letter had attracted 31 comments — more than the original column did — and there could well be more by now.

The discussion is, for the most part, well thought out and lively, which is just the kind of exchange that, as a columnist, you hope your work has at least partly inspired. One commenter, Ed Power, referred to “democracy vs. theocracy,” which is basically what the conversation has been about.

Certain people with fervent religious beliefs don’t want to live in a society where assisted death is legal — for various reasons — while those of a more secular persuasion want to at least have the option.

I’ve been enjoying reading the comments, and there’s some great persuasive writing there, but as is the case with so many things, someone had to come along and spoil it by getting personal and resorting to name-calling.

The commenter — I won’t name him, since who it is doesn’t matter as much as what he said — referred to me as a “hussy” and a “hate writer.”

The “hussy” I find laughable, since it’s such a throwback term, like being called a dame. (Although it certainly implies a moral judgment made by someone with insufficient knowledge to back his claim.)

The “hate writer” bit is objectionable.

I have written about many things in the past decade or so, and I have certainly expressed some strong opinions. But with the exception of the column I wrote aimed at the man who raped and tortured a little girl before murdering her with the help of an accomplice, hate has never been on my agenda. Even in that case, it was more repugnance than hate.

Hate is a strong word and an ugly one. It has been used to stir countries to bloody battles and to defend acts of genocide and terrorism. It is not a word that should be thrown about lightly, particularly from someone who calls themselves a Christian.

My husband gently chides me when I use the word casually — as in “I hate it when the CD skips,” or some such.

“Isn’t hate too strong a word?” he asks. And in every instance, my answer has been “yes.”

We are all guilty of sometimes saying things — or pressing the send button — before we think things through. Perhaps the commenter doesn’t really think I spew hate, but that I expressed a view that does not mesh with his own. There are ways of expressing that without resorting to grave insult.

And a recent court ruling out of Ontario has given website commenters even more reason to pause before reaching for the vitriol.

According to the latest edition of The Press and the Courts, a regular publication of the Canadian Newspaper Association and the Canadian Community Newspapers Association, a testy exchange in 2011 on a blog called Free Dominion and other websites has led to a defamation trial and crippling legal costs for the defendants.

The Press and the Courts notes: “What triggered the case was an acrimonious dispute — taking place on three websites over several days — about federal politics and the legality of Canadian Omar Khadr’s U.S. Military trial.”

One blogger called another blogger — both using pseudonyms — a Taliban supporter. Next thing you know, a lawsuit ensues.

A judge dismissed the case, “ruling the comment was not defamatory in the context of a blog that regularly features opinion even at the level of insults and invective.”

But the Court of Appeal in Ontario has overturned that decision, because a panel of judges concurred that the lower court’s decision was premature in the absence of a trial and an examination of the evidence.

One of the judges, Justice Robert Blair, noted that “questions about what constitutes defamation in the caustic world of blogging have not been addressed by Canadian courts ‘in any significant way.’”

The outcome of that trial could send a chill through the Canadian blogosphere and also other websites where comments are posted, including The Telegram’s. It will be interesting to see how it unfolds.

All in all, it’s a salient reminder to us all to choose our words carefully.

Sticks and stones can break your bones, and name-calling can actually hurt you.

Pam Frampton is a columnist and

The Telegram’s associate managing editor. She can be reached by email at

pframpton@thetelegram.com.

Twitter: pam_frampton

Organizations: The Telegram, Canadian Newspaper Association, Canadian Community Newspapers Association Taliban

Geographic location: Ontario

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Recent comments

  • Ron Tizzard
    September 15, 2012 - 14:22

    Interesting Column(s) Pam, including the follow-up responses supporting the notion of 'balanced, respective responses' from readers who may wish to join with their own remarks either pro or con the content of any article or blog. I agree fully with Herb that people, and legions of others, I would anticipate, submitting a 'blog article' or comment on another's submission, should sign thier names, taking ownership of their submissions. There is no reason to hide if you are respective; one can oppose the opinions of others, not a problem; respectfully critique the content, the opinion, not the author. Authors have rights to express, and argue points of views. Should one not agree, state that and share your reasons why...without attacking the author personally...just be reasoned. Blogs are not 'free-for-alls', they are opportunities to offer opinions and 'reasoned ' public debate. That's the fun, and educational opportunities blogs opportunites offer. Just be civil in any of your opposing opinions.

  • Ed Power
    September 10, 2012 - 00:33

    My thanks as well, Pam. I have really enjoyed reading the comments and arguments generated by your column and the subsequent letter. It is an issue that has affected me personally, watching my mother's slow and inexorable decline as Alzheimers claimed her brain and her body over the period of seven long years. Her death came - I almost feel guilty to say- as a relief. While her body may have finally died in 1992, my "mother", the woman who had given birth to me, taught me to read before I had started school and had rejoiced in becoming a grandmother - even though my career in the RCAF meant that she saw her grandchildren only once a year- had died years earlier, Everything that had been my mother - the love, wit, family tales, cooking, baking and staunch RC faith - had died sometime before 1990. Accupuncture, hyponosis and the "Patch" hadn't cured her addiction to tobacco, but Dr. Alzheimer's illness did. How's that for irony - she forgot her cravings for tobacco. I also know that had she lingered for any longer we might have been burying my father as well. A man in his seventies providing full-time care to an equally aged, aggressive and incontinent patient, isn't far from grave himself. Fifteen years later, in 2007, my father suffered a major heart attack that left him, briefly, on life support. My brother and I were faced with the 'ultimate' decision - do we allow aggressive medical intervention to prolong his life , or opt for a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order? Dad was 88, lived at home, still did a little farming, had a (much younger) girlfriend and volunteered with the Bridging Cultures Group and the Seniors Resource Centre. My father had a great quality of life. He had COPD, and arthritis in both kness that restricted his mobility, but he still enjoyed a good "Scuff and a Scoff". Neither one of us could picture him hooked up to machines for months, or years, waiting to die, most likely unaware that he was even there. After discussing the options with the ER physician we opted for DNR, but in the the end it was all moot. He died three days later after a brief rally that had us optimistic for a partial, if not full, recovery.Mother Nature can be a cruel mistress at times. Colin seems to believe that human life is precious in any form. I disagree. If one cannot feel life - enjoy it, savour it, experience it, suffer it, love it, bask in it - one is not truly alive. Sitting trapped in an unresponsive body -ALS- or existing as a brain dead animated corpse - Alzheimers - is not life, it is Hell. We all remember the political and media circus - there is no other word for it - that surrounded the 2005 decision by Michael Schaivo to disconnect the feeding tube that had kept his wife Terri alive since suffering a heart attack in 1990. We were witness to a frenzy the like of which had never been seen before - although many families around the world make the same decision every day - a frenzy which had one politician, an MD no less, make a diagnosis on the cognitive abilities of Ms. Schavio remotely, via video, from the floor of the US Congress. This is what I would hope could be avoided by an open debate and, hopefully, future legislation on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide. I still have concerns about the administration of such an option. Thank you, Colin, for your spirited defence of life. I just wish that I had Pam's skill with words so that I might show you the 'error' of your ways......

  • Herb Morriosn
    September 09, 2012 - 19:33

    At the risk of sounding like the proverbial "broken record, I strongly believe that unless a person has a valid reason for claiming anonymity, all bloggers on any website, including those on the Telegram's website, should be required to publish using their real names. This would go a long way in removing much of the caustic drivel posted on websites in general and the Telegram's website in particular. Furthermore, the remark made by Justice Robert Blair has frightening implications. I would have thought that a remark regarded under the law as deframatory, would be deframatory within the context of any situation. Does this mean that anyone can interelate with people using a different set of ethical standsrds, with which to govern their behaviour in each situation? Sounds like a "when in Rome do as the Romans do" type of mentality. Since there are apparently not sufficent laws to govern behaviour on websites, perhaps organizations, including The Telegram should consider taking the lead in this situation by making their own rules for website use more stringant. Banning the use of pseudonyms except in certain specified situations would, I suggest, be an excellent. A very effectively written column, Ms. Frampton.

  • Colin Burke
    September 08, 2012 - 07:57

    Thanks, Pam, for an excellent column excellently well written as always. I would disagree only by saying that the website discussion is from my viewpoint not basically about "democracy vs. theocracy" but rather about popular will (democracy) vs. "abstract, eternal and objective standards" as accessible by reason unclouded by "mere feelings". I was a bit inclined to rebuke the man who called you a hussy -- "hatemonger" is a more "routine" accusation these days -- but Ed Power was keeping me pretty busy.