Even in this forum, problems with online communication have come up from time to time. You see, personal communication involves a combination of the words we use, tone, facial expressions, body language, and probably other types of non-verbal communication. Most of that is missing in online communication so there are times when someone, who might be joking, is taken seriously, or when what is intended as a friendly discussion is taken as a personal attack. Some people try to fill in some of the gaps by using smileys to indicate when they are joking, yet even these are sometimes misused. Anyone who has participated in forum or Facebook discussion has seen people using smileys after obviously hurtful comments. I rarely use smileys, yet I often joke in online discussions. Rarely do I intend to be hurtful or cruel in anything that I say, but my online comments are sometimes taken as such. Yes, I suppose I could use smileys, but I'd rather use words and hope that people might come to know me well enough to know that I wouldn't suddenly insult them without reason, and realize that if I seem to be doing that, I'm probably joking, they might be reading something into the words that weren't intended, or perhaps I was simply not careful enough about the words that I used. In political discussions, I like to argue my points strongly but that certainly doesn't mean that I hate someone who is disagreeing with me. More often, I am enjoying them, particularly if they are also arguing strongly, and speaking to issues rather than personalities or labels. Not all of us know one another well enough to recognize when this occurs, but I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. In forum discussions, we are expressing ourselves in words and, as we learn from time to time, not all of us are even using the same definitions for the words that we use or encounter. It is easy, also, to forget that people are usually multi-faceted, so labels are most often faulty. Democrats sometimes refer to George W. Bush as a right-wing conservative, while I view him as a progressive who continued the policies of Bill Clinton, and who was succeeded by Barack Obama, another progressive who has continued the policies of George W. Bush. I used to consider myself to be a conservative, but so many liberals and progressives have adopted the label that it doesn't mean anything that I can identify with anymore. Today, people who consider themselves to be conservatives are usually in favor of constant intervention in foreign wars while the traditional conservative position was one of near isolationism. Traditional liberals would be considered conservatives today. These are things that are difficult to explain in a forum conversation because they tend to move the subject of a thread off into a tangent. Apart from the fact that we don't all use the same definitions for the words that we use or the labels that we might assign to ourselves or one another, most people hold positions and viewpoints that don't fit into any particular label. Someone might be liberal on one issue but conservative on another. For example, I am pro-life. I am opposed to abortion, but I am also opposed to capital punishment and involvement in unnecessary wars. Most people who consider themselves to be pro-life are very much in favor of capital punishment, as if life ceases to exist once a person becomes an adult. These things are difficult enough to figure out about a person in real life, but it is doubly hard in online conversations. We tend to make assumptions about one another based on the positions that a person might take in one conversation. I don't see this here so much, but people who know me only on Facebook are always countering negative things that I might say about Obama by saying that George Bush did this or that, as if recognizing the many flaws of a Democrat means that I must be a Republican. Barack Obama and George Bush agree on far more than I agree with either one of them. We all make assumptions about people based on too little information. This is why it's best to stick to issues and to try to avoid assigning labels or making assumptions about what someone might think about one issue based on their positions on another. I don't claim that I'm better at it than anyone else, but if we can respect one another enough to disagree from time to time without bringing hatred into it, discussions will improve greatly, particularly in the more sensitive areas of politics and religion. I love discussing politics and religion but I don't enjoy hating people or having people hate me. When I was in Bible college, we would sometimes be assigned to take positions that we did not hold, and to be prepared to debate these positions. Some people hated that, but it helped to bring about an appreciation for the positions of others. Not everything is as black and white as we sometimes want them to be, yet there are absolutes and the alternative to black or white doesn't have to be mud. Sometimes, people can hold legitimate positions that differ from our own. They might be going to hell for it, but we don't have to hate them in the meantime. Some people would use a smiley there, but I prefer to hope you would all recognize it as a joke.