Voltaire: To Online Dialogue Leaders

Online communities lacking leadership often get trapped within the realms of talking nice or tough. Debate is healthy, as it creates a container for reflective and generative dialogue. But within all conversational settings, dialogue leaders must ensure harmony, protecting a culture of inquiry and a commitment to emergence and creativity. They synchronize the actions people take during a conversation. Movers initiate ideas and transition conversations, while opposers challenge their direction – both act as advocates. To inspire, followers complete ideas and support the conversation, as bystanders provide perspective. Leaders keep everyone transitioning through the fields of conversation, ensuring debate leads to breakthroughs not breakdowns. What might Voltaire, an 18th century writer and philosopher, a fighter of free thinking and human dignity, an influencer of the French and American revolutions, offer today’s online dialogue leaders?

How do we boost interaction in social media?

Be that break of dawn that inspires appreciation. Habit does not make passion. When plunged into the profound darkness of night, people take pleasure in the burst of new light. If everything were beautiful and good, one would no longer admire anything. Let us suppose all churches were equal to St. Peter’s, all statues were Venus de Medici, all poetry as well written as Boileau’s Art Poetique. Would you have as much pleasure in enjoying masterpieces that became common? No! In Paris, people admired the rhinoceros. If there were ten thousand rhinoceroses, man would run after them and kill them. To attract attention and interaction, be a source of innovation.

How do we quiet quick calls for distrust?

The best tool to eliminate rivalry is truth. When communities divide, they form rallying points for doubt and error. When the truth is evident, factions fall. Nobody disputes about whether there is daylight at noon. If a group is Christian, then there are people who are not, therefore you might be wrong. What would be the true religion if all others didn’t exist? There wouldn’t be one. All minds would be in agreement. Sect and error our synonymous. If one group demonstrates the truth, neither would exist. There are no sects in mathematics or experimental physics. A long dispute means that both parties are wrong. Exhibit the search for truth. To grow your community, help its participants fight their voices of judgement, fear and cynicism.

How do we remove adverse comments online?

Do not deceive yourself by thinking you’ll be ruined by the liberty of press. It’s a natural right for us to make use of our pens as of our tongues, at our peril, risk and hazard. Let men read, speak, dance — these amusements will never do you harm. Trumpets cannot crush armies. Many books have bored readers; none have done real evil. What state has ever been ruined by a book? No! Rome has not been vanquished by books. It has been vanquished because it revolted Europe by its rapacity, by the public sale of indulgences, by insulting men and wishing to govern them like domestic animals, of having abused its power to such an extent that it is astonishing. Keep the door to dialogue open to your community, even wider when the jester walks through. Does a comment or comeback bore you? Don’t read it. Does it displease you? Refute it.

How do we use social media during crisis?

Do not be impudent enough to say “All is good,” rather say, “All is as little bad as possible.” Say you recognize a supreme intelligence strong enough to create you, to preserve you for a limited time, to reward you, to punish you. Do you realize this intelligence could still do more than he has done? The life of all animals is short. All animals are eventually devoured. Could he not make life longer? Couldn’t he create without destroying? If the great being had been infinitely powerful, there is no reason why he should not have made sentient animals infinitely happy. He has not done so; therefore he was unable to do so. When there’s evil in a village, may we understand that evil is inevitable? You must arrive at one solution: everything has been necessary. Prepare your community for a crisis by keeping its expectations reasonable. Never suggest you’re infallible.

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