by Marsha Rakestraw

“Don’t read the comments” is a common refrain.

We’ve all seen articles or blog posts with comments brimming with hate, misinformation, bullying, unsubstantiated assertions, and just plain unkindness.

Avoiding comments seems like a wise course of action.

I’ve learned, though, that skimming a few comments can be helpful to me as a humane educator and changemaker.

Here are 4 things we can gain from reading just a few comments:

1. Get additional accurate information.
Some commenters expand on the topic in the article, allowing us to learn more, especially when they include references to credible resources so that we can follow up to verify.

2. Learn about relevant counter-arguments.
If a writer has crafted her piece well, and the topic is relatively new to us, we may be more likely to accept the writer’s premise (especially if it confirms our beliefs). In comments I’ve come across some cogent and elegant counter-arguments, which have inspired me to rethink the original writer’s assertions, as well as to question my own beliefs.

3. Get a better sense of what others believe and why.
It’s important that we understand and connect with those whom we want to inspire to change. Reading comments can allow us to gain insight about what others believe and why, so that we can hone in on areas of common ground and ways of reaching out to them.

4. Contribute a positive comment that adds to the conversation.
Studies have shown that leaving positive comments can inspire more positive comments and reduce prejudices. When appropriate, share a compassionate comment that can help nurture positive, meaningful conversation.