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If It Is Important, It Is not Pedantry

Ville Kokko

Posted on September 30, 2018 14:42

1 user

It is not good to derail a conversation by correcting unimportant details. However, sometimes the details are important – and we should accept such derailments.

I've heard that people can be good at seeing the little details or the big picture. I'm both, for which I'm glad, because both are important.

Because I notice the little details, I'm tempted to correct people when they get them wrong. Because I see the big picture, I realize that would usually be a bad idea.

When someone is telling you about a particular thing and you respond by correcting or addressing some minor aspect that's besides the main point (e.g., ”Spiders are not actually insects”), the other person will likely feel that you're missing or ignoring what they actually wanted to tell you. Additionally, even disregarding feelings, which we shouldn't, it might derail the conversation into an unrewarding direction.

(Ironically, I notice that when people do make such ”pedantic” corrections, they are often not very good; say, literal-minded and claiming something to be incorrectly said when it's actually correct in the context and considering how language actually works. I get the urge to correct them right back then. Something like these parodic examples.)

However... Sometimes the correction is actually important. Yet it might still feel like a derailment.

As someone put it on Cracked.com, a comedy site that can be quite thoughtful:

”Here's what it feels like to be called out on unintentional racism: You're trying to make a complex argument for how to deal with Iran and someone keeps interrupting you to tell you you're pronouncing "nuclear" wrong. What a pedantic pr*ck.

Here's what it feels like to receive unintentional racism: A guy is driving to get groceries and on the way he runs over you with his car. When you complain, he calls you a pedantic pr*ck.”

Unintentional racism matters. If you really don't want to be racist, you should be willing to be called out on it. Interrupting whatever you were talking about is, unfortunately, necessary to achieve this. It's not pedantic or unimportant.

That's one example. Another would be whether the main point of what you are telling is actually true. Maybe there are some contexts where that doesn't matter... but pretty much any time there's any kind of presumption that what's being said is true, it does matter.

It matters with important things like politics. Apparently, people will share negative claims about politicians they hate to show their disapproval, not caring whether it's true. But... have they stopped to think why they hate this politician in the first place? Don't similar claims shared on social media have any part in it?

It matters with less important things too. Blurring the lines between truth and reality even further is the last thing we need right now.

So, firstly, sure, don't interrupt others to make unimportant corrections. But not all corrections are unimportant. And if you receive a correction that is important? You should accept it. You have a right to ask people to listen to what you say and to respect your feelings, but not at the expense of everything else.

Ville Kokko

Posted on September 30, 2018 14:42

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Source: NYT

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