(I posted this essay on RSP a while back, but it recently got deleted in a mass blog purge over the last few weeks. I've already reposted it as a blog post, someone asked me to put it here. Unfortunately some of the sources have been lost in that same purge. The point, however, still stands, but I do apologize for the inconvenience.)
There is this ever-present attitude that pops up in communities where abilities are discussed, this idea that somehow to be questioned is to be insulted at the basest possible level. Rather than find his or her respectful and focused critique answered, one who dares to bring up issues with another person's claims is many times met with hostility by that individual or, in some cases, the whole community. The apparent operating assumption for many is that all skepticism is intentionally malicious, or at the very least, made in ignorance; that it is a direct personal attack on the sincerity of another person's claim or is being made by someone who just doesn't understand why they aren't supposedly meant to ask questions. While one who comes on for help certainly might not be looking to prove themselves, or even reasonably expected capable of doing so on demand depending on their claimed ability, by attacking every kind of critical analysis which comes their way they are doing themselves and their community a disservice. The critiques, however strong they might be, may very well be coming from other people in search of assistance or just answers. By addressing the points others bring up, one can not only strengthen their own position but, if legitimate flaws are pointed out, admit to their errors and progress further in looking for real answers to their questions.
A lot of the criticism from people both inside and out of such a community seems to come in the form of straight challenges to the actual existence of certain people's abilities. These critiques can range from the respectful and rationally structured: "I'm afraid that i am in doubt of all these powers. I am the sort of girl that needs to see it up close in front of my eyes to believe it," (1) to the rude and belligerent: "You think you all are special? Think again. Because my friend and i are the only two with actuall [sic] abilities!" (2) While the former is certainly the more preferred form of discourse, the latter does tend to show up on occasion. The best course of action for dealing with either is to organize one's thoughts into a calm and well measured response. If the person in question brings up valid points, acknowledge them and try to answer them as best you can, admitting when you can't. It is no sign of weakness to give the person you are talking with credit for a good response. If the person in question isn't even trying to be civil in their critique, kindly point that out to them and still try to provide them with an answer. A respectful comment deserves mutually respectful response, and a disrespectful tirade deserves to be outclassed in every way possible.
What is not helpful is when one answers such critical questions or comments with belligerent comments of their own. Saying "if you dont believe in powers go get of this site im seriusly [sic] shut up and get of this site we dont need to prove anything to u ok," (3) might feel like an appropriate way to vent against an intentionally mean-spirited post, but it essentially just makes one's own level of commentary look foolish where a more tactful reply might have easily avoided such a perception. A response like "It's nice that you have an opinion and I respect that but intentionally throwing out offensive comments demonstrates a huge lack of maturity," (4) not only respectfully points out problems with the manner in which a person's criticism was raised, but allows the poster to show they are open to and capable of having a more thoughtful discussion. Just remember to then make an attempt to answer the questions the original poster brought up, lest you be perceived as merely brushing off all criticism. A disrespectful or evasive response should avoided if only because it may very well discourage those who had planned on brining up concerns in a more civil manner from making posts of any kind.
While it's somewhat understandable why one would be averse to having the very existence of their abilities challenged, a rather perplexing attitude that seems to sprout up in these communities; one that discourages questioning in general. It is not just questions regarding the truthfulness of a person's abilities that get treated negatively, but questions about a person's methodology in studying their abilities, questions about the origin of their abilities, or even questions about how one trying to develop abilities might be able to learn from someone with similar abilities. The questions themselves are either dismissed as having supposedly obvious answers: "What kind of question is that? Some people are born with abilties unlike the roleplayers here on the site." (5) as being a sign of weakness, meanness or naivety (6) or as the person not having tried hard enough to figure things out on their own with what advice has already been given to them: "dont whine get on with it, life's tough and so is this, people give you advice, work it out for yourself it just prove's how self-confident you are with ur abillty's" (7). The philosophy behind this last kind of answer seems particularly troublesome. While there may be things one understandably cannot just be told word for word how to accomplish and expect to immediately be able to do so, the idea that their questioning should at some point be discouraged as they try to figure things out is counterintuitive to the entire idea of learning. Adherence to this idea, which can unfortunately be accepted and possibly even promoted by the members of a community, can mark the difference between someone who will merely throw information at you and someone who is truly interested in teaching you whatever they can.
Critical analysis requires people to constantly challenge their own ideas about how things work, which can be a good thing. When people and the communities they are members of are encouraged to examine in detail their previously held convictions, they get a better understanding of where they are and what they need to work on. In the case of a site such as this, not only can it weed out those who are role-playing or are merely misunderstanding coincidence as signs of having abilities but, by making sure every other rational explanation has been fully explored, it can increase the self-confidence of someone who has come forward for help. By encouraging other people to respectfully ask questions and actively trying to push for equally respectful answers, people can build a more solid community; a community that truly helps those trying to learn.
1. http://www.realsuperpowers.com/nicholas-can-see-the-future (Anonymous, 1/29/2009 6:52 PM)
2. http://www.realsuperpowers.com/index.php?page=4 (Anonymous, 4/7/2009 7:59 PM)
3. http://www.realsuperpowers.com/i039ve-finally-realized#comment-11767 (strongerthanlife, 4/17/2009 3:21 PM)
4. http://www.realsuperpowers.com/i039ve-finally-realized#comment-10758 (Sabrielle, 3/24/2009 4:28 AM)
5. http://www.realsuperpowers.com/birth-idgl#comment-23972 (Katherine, 6/9/2010 8:35 PM)
6. I apologize that I am unfortunately unable to find an example of this on these forums for inclusion in this essay. There has been a specific instance in the chat room where I and another member were personally treated in such a manner for trying to ask questions about someone's abilities, but no transcript is available to post here so far as I know. If anyone does come across a recorded example of this (either here, or on another community such as this) please let me know and I would be happy to include it.
7. http://www.realsuperpowers.com/could-i-give-more-crap (B.L.A.N.E., 12/17/2009 10:17 PM)