The last week or so since the accusations against Sally Morgan were made public and the news spread all over the place and ignited much discussion I’ve watched as people have swarmed to her Facebook groups and online discussion forums and similar to talk about what has happened. Many have posted on Facebook groups set up by fans of Morgan to see what they think of what she has been accused of and the response has been interesting with some becoming uncertain of the psychic and others standing in her defense. One horrible thing I’ve seen though is a number of people who are skeptics and were skeptics of Morgan (and other psychics) long before this happened invading these groups for people who believe in psychics and being rude, offensive and abbrassive.

Mocking people about their beliefs achieves nothing, gloating achieves nothing.

It’s pathetic behaviour and just furthers the divide between those with beliefs that others are skeptical of; that’s what is achieved – nothing great. Some skeptical people say that mocking is a good form of educational outreach and perhaps in some instances it does work – but quite often it turns you and every other skeptic into the bad guy and then those people you’re mocking cannot be engaged with by anybody.

Some times people who believe in psychics can be stubborn in discussions, their reasoning is difficult to debate and they don’t listen – but the person who, in response to that, crumbles into mocking and name calling probably shouldn’t be trying to engage with people until they mature a bit.

If you’re angry at Sally Morgan, don’t take it out on the people who adore her and follow her because it just pushes them towards her. You have then achieved the total opposite of what needs to be achieved.

When your belief in something is rocked by an incident like Sally Morgan being accused of cheating, the last thing you need is someone rubbing your face in it and pointing out how stupid you are. Rather than naturally questioning what it is you believe in, you will go on the defense and simply draw closer to that which you believed in.

When I talk about engagement I mean the sort of engagement that Project Barnum managed to aid earlier this week when Tannice & Myles spoke to people at a Sally Morgan stageshow who believed Sally is psychic and managed to help them understand that everything may not have been as it seemed. 

Armed with posters and a general sense of curiosity they achieved more in an hour than any skeptic sat on Facebook being snide and rude will in a month.

'How about a nice cup of STFU?' pictureSometimes it’s best to leave the gloating to your own Facebook wall, unless of course you really do intend to just cause upset, and you take pleasure from mocking people. In which case you’re a piece of crap – just like the people who used to call me names for daring to believe that ghosts were real. This isn’t me trying to claim some moral high ground or make people feel bad, and I hope it isn’t taken that way, but if you don’t think about the way in which you talk to people and the effect your manner can have on them you could just be shooting yourself in the foot and furthering the ‘them and us’ rift that often exists between skeptical people, and those who believe in pseudo-scientific ideas.

If you want to approach people for a reasoned debate consider talking to them as though they’re humans who have arrived at a different conclusion about psychics to you – that is what they are, after all.

The other important thing to remember is that you won’t change peoples minds straight away (even when being nice) and you certainly wont when being horrible – but having a civil discussion can help show that skepticism really isn’t as bad as people often think. Who knows, after a civil conversation they might just check out the things you talked about and slowly arrive at their own conclusion (says I, who did just that….)

I’ve managed 100 episodes of Righteous Indignation without being rude or condescending to those guests who believe in things I don’t – surely people can manage one fucking conversation on Facebook without descending into scorn and bile?

About Hayley Stevens 442 Articles
Hayley is a ghost geek and started to blog in 2007. She uses scientific scepticism to investigate weird stuff and writes about it here while also speaking publicly about how to hunt ghosts as a skeptic.

17 Comments on Engaging?

  1. I don’t know, Hayley. How many people on psychic fan pages have ever heard the idea that psychics are all frauds? They will not hear it from each other. I’m guessing it will benefit less than one out of a hundred of the page readers, especially in the short term. But over the longer term, I think that seed of doubt is valuable and the number of people who stop believing will not be zero.

    I think venues refusing to put on these predatory shows would be more valuable, especially in the short term. I’m fully on board with that.

    • Gordon, there’s a difference between suggesting that psychics are frauds or use trickery (and offering examples of such trickery) and being outright rude and horrible. I didn’t state in this blog post “we mustn’t tell them the truth”. The clue is in the title of the actual blog post….

    • I guess I am used to seeing people interpret the most innocuous rebuttal of their beliefs as an attack. You included the people complaining about the meanies who want to deny them the comfort they get by giving money to a fraud, but not the actual meanness.

      That made it hard for me to judge how mean it actually was.

      I know you are pro-truth, I’ve heard you on your show.

  2. Is it possible to be nice to scheming fraudsters who make a living from preying on the vulnerable? I think it not. Despite that every word delivered to them should be well considered and reliant on observed facts. Without dignity and precision the message is ignored.

    • Actually it is possible to be nice to people who may be dishonest. It’s certainly not impossible, unless you can’t be bothered.
      However I’m not talking about people who are potentially fraudsters, am I? No. I’m talking about the people whose only crime is to believe these people might be psychic.

    • It is not a case of laziness… on the contrary. Being ‘nice’ is the easy option. Being nice gives no deterrent, and fosters the dissonance such people cultivate.
      I was badly hungover when I read your first post however and did not realise the attacks were targeted at the victims. I agree that is reprehensible.

    • I think this is the problem I was trying to define. No matter how hard you try – and as Hayley points out she has gone out of her way to avoid being rude or condescending on her podcast – the very act of being skeptical is enough to shift you to the middle (or further) in some people’s minds.

      I think this is why many people don’t even try. Why bother working on the politest possible way to say “have you considered that the psychic might be a fraud?” when any statement that contains that semantic content will (as far as the audience is concewrned) put you in the rude or fuckwit category.

      Why does “open minded” never seem to extend to – open to the possibility that this is a cynical scam?

    • The fact is, Gordon, that ‘any statement’ doesn’t ‘put you in the rude or fuckwit category’. If it does with an individual then walk away from that. Don’t tar everyone with the same brush.

    • I should say – no statement of skepticism is innocuous *enough* to be immune. Not everyone is hyper sensitive. But in a large enough forum someone will probably take offense to something as simple as “I don’t thin k so”

  3. I applaud the efforts of anyone who is prepared to drag themselves away from their keyboard and go into the outside world to confront irrationality in all it’s forms, open eyes and use logic as a tool to loosen the mind.
    There is however an issue with those that inadvertently condone and financially support snake oil salesmen that in the worst case scenarios are responsible for more genuine grief and suffering than their false comfort brings. I agree completely that being reasonable and courteous will garner more respect than outright nastiness – occasionally some individuals come to the fore that are so obnoxious in their actions and in their efforts to make money and feed their egos that I find it easy to excuse their more vocal, more verbally scathing critics.

  4. The real art is being uncompromisingly scathing whilst remaining polite and level headed and not end up giving the subject an easy route out. I have not heard enough from you yet Hayley to be able to form an opinion on that. There is a news item on BBC website this evening that shines a light on this… perhaps. It is about a scientific study on optimism. Apparently 4 in 5 people are optimists and regularly call on cognitive dissonance to maintain it. It kind of highlights the impossibility of changing people en-mass. The target should always be the fraudster. Attacking the dissonant is futile.

  5. I have similar issues with antivax FB groups. Thing is, as soon as you start swearing and being abusive to people you just look like a nasty piece of work and you won’t endear yourself to anyone. It’s also a really easy and lazy thing to do. The majority of antivaxxers I’ve met online are just trying to do what’s right for their kids, but they’ve been misguided and confused by others, you can often say similar things about fans of psychics. You’re much more likely to convince people with kind words, evidence and a gentle manner in my opinion.

    • Exactly. People have to be able to discover things on their own. If you have a lot invested in your beliefs then you’re not just going to discard them on the word of someone else.

  6. RI became one of my very favorite podcasts for precisely the reasons you detail in this blog post. I find so many other skeptical sources to be entirely smug and with an “I told you so” sort of gloating attitude whenever they are found to be correct. RI, on the other hand, does a great job hosting those with whom they may disagree and treating the paranormal spokespeople as humans and not some sort of ignorant, lesser than morons.

    I find that dogmatic attacks on individuals, whether perpetrated by we skeptics or those on the other side, to be of little value. Surely, this may help rally the choir but does nothing to help grow our numbers. Telling people that they are stupid, as you so eloquently assert, will never do anything too productive.

    Yes, it is sometimes fun to make fun of others but without respect and civil dialogue, we will never convert any of those who we hope to introduce to critical thinking.

    As always, another terrific blog post and another reminder why the terrific Hayley is truly the friendly skeptic.

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