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Some online debaters need to get out of the sandbox

Following the online debate by commenters on the newspaper's website would be funny...if it wasn't so mean-spirited.

It also offers insight into just how closed-minded, petty and underhanded some people can be when it comes to debating issues.

Instead of talking about issues, options, compromises and real solutions, web debate sometimes devolves into name-calling, ranting and childish behavior more fitting for a sandbox.

Here's a simplified version of what typically happens when things turn sour. Let's say the topic at hand is health care reform. An online commenter will start tipping the debate toward the sewer by posting something like this:

"Well, what do you know, you're a commie liberal."

Someone else will retort, "Oh yeah, well, you're nothing but a greedy Republican."

"Oh yeah?" the other poster will snidely reply. "Well, you're just stupid."

"I'm stupid? You're the crazy one! Crazy as a loon. And fat, too!"

"I'm no loon. I'm going to report this to the (Alexandria) Echo Press as a violation. You're just an angry, deranged old person who has nothing better to do than sit by the computer all day, spewing hate. You're nuts."

"What the heck are you talking about? You're the obsessed moron who can't keep their facts straight. Remember that post you made on April 16, 2008 (the text is inserted here). See! You're the one who needs the insane asylum."

"Wrong again, buddy. LOL! That wasn't me. That was (insert name of a commenter cohort). You're the one that keeps slinging the mud, not me!"

And so it goes, with more finger-pointing, wild accusations and pointless guessing of identities.

Instead of debating the issue at hand, the dialogue descends into a no-one-will-ever-win harangue about who is the "most evil" commenter.

It's amazing that some of these commenters, who are likely somewhat intelligent people during the normal course of the day, somehow turn into belligerent, defensive and disrespectful mudslingers once their fingers start hitting the keyboards. And the kicker: They're somehow blind to all this. They firmly believe they are the only one with the right answers to every question.

But there are lessons in all this:

If you're going to debate an issue, debate the issue. Not the other person. The other person is a human being, just like you, who wants and deserves respect, just like you.

Just as you'd check your thoughts before speaking to someone, look at what you're about to post before hitting the send button. Ask yourself: Would you like someone saying the same things about you?

No one cares about comments that were made months and months ago. Opinions change. Move on.

It doesn't matter one iota who you think the sender of a comment is. Their identity is not important. Treat it as insignificant as the gnat on an elephant's tail. Remember, you're debating the issue, not the person.

If a debate begins to veer into sandbox behavior, don't start throwing sand yourself. Ignore it or get out of the sandbox completely. Sandbox behavior gets old pretty quick if there's only one person in the sandbox.

Sadly, judging from the mentality of the postings that have been made in the past, some online commenters will post a comment on the end of this editorial, something along the lines of, "See, you loony bin! This editorial was all about you!"

But of course, it wasn't. It's for everyone who has ever gotten into the sandbox instead of acting like adults and following the Golden Rule: Do unto others and as you would have them do unto you. -- Alexandria Echo Press