There has been a question rattling around in my mind since I started to participate actively on this site. After reading this question, I feel the need to bring it up in meta.

I'm active on several SE sites, and each has it's own subset of "rules", or, if you will, culture. Looking through this meta, I didn't see this one addressed. (Please forgive me if it has been addressed and feel free to close as a dupe.)

On Parenting, we have agreed as a community to 'honor' the premise of the question, that is, if we feel the need to tell the OP they are wrong, then we should pass on answering. For example, if someone asks, How can I best raise my child as a (pick a religion) when they spend most of their time with non-(religious) kids?

If someone feels a need to post a lecture about how stupid religion is in general, then they just shouldn't answer.

That's an extreme example, but the idea should be somewhat clear.

My tendency (because of being active on Parenting) is to work with what the OP is asking, not to disabuse them of their faulty interpretations (the only time I've done this on this site - I think - is here).

What is the guideline to follow here when you feel the OP is completely wrong in their view? (Assuming one uses their best interpersonal skills to answer, of course!)

up vote 40 down vote accepted

This is a great question - and one I've been thinking about since this site came into existence. I'm well aware of the Parenting policy (What should we advise when one disagrees with the premise of a question?) and I think it's really valuable and that we should respect the users' decisions when they post. I fully support having a similar policy to what is outlined in HedgeMage's answer there, particularly this part:

In these cases, I feel it is best for the offended party to pass the question by. If one doesn't practice $whatever, then one is not likely able to provide expert-level advice on it. All that is accomplished by soapboxing is to create a community with an agenda, instead of a community that provides information. I believe that responding to "How do I $x?" with "Doing $x is inexcusable and/or evil." is inappropriate, and should be dealt with using downvotes and/or deletions to prevent shrill bickering over our differences from obscuring useful information that the questioner is seeking.

Most importantly, it is never appropriate to post an answer that does not directly answer the question asked.

Let's look at a couple of similar examples:
- How to tell friends something goes against my religion?
- How to ask a vegan to stop telling me about veganism because I am not interested in it?

These are similar but somewhat opposite questions.

What we don't want is someone arguing with the person asking's closely held beliefs. In neither example would it be appropriate to tell them "don't believe that, it's wrong." We're not here to discuss religion or dietary choices. Answers that only say "don't do that because you're wrong to believe that and here's why" should be downvoted and deleted. They are Not an Answer.

So, in the case of the former, writing an answer that says

Switch to my religion. We get to cuss as much as we want and we have cookies!

Isn't an answer and should be deleted.

And in the latter, answers that argue that veganism is the only diet anyone should be following and that the OP needs to reconsider their decisions are also NAA and should be deleted (and have been).

I would also recommend that an answer that both answers the question and tries to argue that the OP is wrong in their choice should be considered closely and possibly edited to remove the latter part if it is completely irrelevant to the answer. In this way we can preserve good content without starting arguments over these subjects.


When reviewing answers of this type, though, we should be careful when it comes to answers that say "don't do that" not because the beliefs are wrong but because the reaction to the interpersonal situation is wrong.

In the first example, the question is asked:

My religion prohibits me from being profane, how can I tell my friends to stop swearing so that I am not influenced by their actions?

The very appropriate top answer responds:

You don't. You can't expect other people to follow your religion. If you phrase your request like that, it will likely feel to them like you're asking them to adhere to the rules of your religion.

What you can do, is ask them to refrain from swearing around you because it makes you uncomfortable. You may explain that it is because of your religion, but you really should stress that is making you uncomfortable.

SQB's explanation shows that it's not the religion that is problematic but the OP's command that his friends comply with a religion they may not share.

Similarly, in the veganism question, were someone to write an answer saying

Don't ask them to stop again because you've already done so and they are ignoring you. They're harassing you and it's time to go up the ladder to HR.

This is an acceptable answer, despite telling the OP not to do what they seem to wish to do in the question.


The Parenting question addresses a third issue, which I'm not sure we've seen here, necessarily - when the question is based on objective "facts" that are blatantly wrong.

In this case, I think that the top Parenting answer comes up with a good solution - to question the "facts" (in a polite way) in a comment to see if there is a misunderstanding.

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    Great answer to great question... wish we had more UV on a single Q/A sometimes :) – OldPadawan Aug 23 '17 at 6:51

I think there is a distinction that needs to be made...

There's a world of difference between challenging a question's preconceived notions while posting an answer that sheds some light on why their notions might be faulty and posting a rant.

Option 1 answers the question, while option 2 just vents someone's spleen.

Granted these answers may not always be what the asker wanted to hear, but we're not answering just for the original poster, we're also answering the question for people who have similar issues in the future.

Also, maybe, someday, we could possibly, hopefully help someone get past some of their notions...

I really hope I'm not the only one who notices an awful lot of interpersonal problems are built from a poor understanding of the problem... Sometimes the only way to honestly address some of these questions is going to be to challenge the premise.

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    Challenging the premise when it's likely a faulty perception of the situation should be explicitly covered in the answer, saying what part is believed to be incorrect, what the correct perception is, and why. Then an answer can be given that fits the "new" perception. If the OP has excluded different interpretations of the situation, however, then following this plan, no matter how eloquent, would still be NAA. – Witan ap Danu Aug 23 '17 at 7:22
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    Perhaps, when, as an answerer, it is believed that there is poor understanding of the problem, the surest course would be to use comments for clarification. In the same fashion as suggested for "factual" errors on the parenting site. After all, that is what is being considered, that the facts, as perceived by the OP, are incomplete, or poorly understood. – Witan ap Danu Aug 23 '17 at 7:25

I don't want to cite any examples (so as not to offend the people who wrote the questions), but have seen many a question here where an assumption or pre-conditioned idea of OP is an active inpediment to a useful solution.

Without challenging OP's entire premise, it is worth writing an answer around why OP needs to reconsider that particular 'obstructive' assumption, and how this could lead to a good outcome.

Because it is not our intention to suggest a solution that OP wants to hear but to write an answer that offers a genuine solution to OP's problem (even if OP is not disposed to welcome this solution) and also be useful to future readers in a similar predicament.

Of course, trying to 'correct' OP's views without actually suggesting a valid solution would certainly be presumptuous, a bad answer and off-topic relative to the original question.

It should be possible to tease out a good "challenge" to the OP with a few simple questions:

Is a challenge likely to change the OP's point of view?

This question is arguably more important that the other two if you're concerned about giving the OP a good answer. If there is little or no chance of OP changing his mind, the challenge contributes nothing but noise.

For religion or deeply-held social values, I seriously doubt it will. On the other hand, if it's easier to build a different latching mechanism for a cabinet, the OP might be willing to change his design.

A solution that requires a reasonable compromise from the OP is still valid, in my opinion, even though it is may not be deemed acceptable. Sometimes the best options aren't very good. That's just life.

Does the original question imply danger or an underestimation of risk?

The most important type of information is usually knowledge which prevents harm. If the question implies that harm may come to the OP or others, challenging it is more than acceptable---it should be encouraged.

To avoid conjectural harms (e.g., a bad afterlife from following the wrong religion), any challenge on this basis should be observable, predictable, and well-understood.

Does the original question show disregard or imply harm to others?

As with the danger guideline, the harm cannot be purely conjectural.

Discomfort and lesser harms are often handled via etiquette. A respondent can call out potential rudeness and suggest an approach based on acceptable social norms. This addresses only the behavioral component.

It may be possible to ask the OP to be considerate rather than arguing outright or passing on the question entirely. This may be a gray area, but it should be talked about. Lack of consideration is a fundamental part of many interpersonal issues. This may redefine the problem into something easily solvable.

And there are always the extreme situations---serious harm or violation of law. The correct answer may be a resounding "NO!" with the hope that things turn out alright. Of course, offering a good alternative will accomplish more than hope alone.

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    We allow answers to challenge the framing of the question... to suggest alternates if the question is somehow mis-placed. See the differentiation I make in my answer. Perhaps some examples of what you're talking about would make your answer more clear but right now I'm a bit confused. "Building a latching mechanism for a cabinet" isn't an interpersonal solution, so it would be removed here. Answers are required to use interpersonal skills, otherwise the question would have been asked on DIY, for example. – Catija Apr 2 at 19:59
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    That was meant as an example of an easily-changed assumption as compared to something like religion. – DoubleD Apr 2 at 20:11

Everyone should respect/honor the OP's request as much as possible.

One thing that I find incredibly infuriating is that people DOWNVOTE when they feel that the OP's view is wrong.

Example (my question): How do I tell people walking by that I hate math?

Many people think that worrying about what strangers think about you is a garbage idea, so guess what they do?

Move their cursor to the downvote arrow, and CLICK!

This behavior should be discouraged.

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    Pro-tip: complaining about downvotes tends to attract downvotes. – apaul Jul 8 at 14:53
  • @apaul My writing is garbage. Sure sounds like I am, but I'm not complaining. I'm answering the question. We should respect the OP's request all the time. – clickbait Jul 8 at 15:10
  • Even in cases where the OP wants to do dangerous or abusive things? – apaul Jul 8 at 15:24
  • @apaul Then you should answer the question to tell the OP "no don't do that," but you still shouldn't downvote. – clickbait Jul 8 at 15:26
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    @sag Why do you feel you have to answer this question in a single line and then go on a tangent about downvotes on your own question? This question about honoring a premise is about answering a question or not, not about the voting on questions. So that's probably where the downvotes on this answer are coming from: You're completely missing the mark by saying premises should be honored and then complaining about downvotes... Its simply not really an answer to the question. – Tinkeringbell Jul 8 at 15:27
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    Besides, it's kinda harsh to say people downvoted because they disagreed, when you don't even know who downvoted and why. If you want feedback on how to improve a question or know why it's apparently not useful, unclear or lacking research effort, it might be better to dedicate a question on meta to it, instead of complaining about it in an answer to an unrelated question.. – Tinkeringbell Jul 8 at 15:29
  • @Tinkeringbell I'm saying that honoring the premise means not downvoting the question. Seriously trying to sound as least complain-y as possible! – clickbait Jul 8 at 15:29
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    This question isn't about downvoting questions on the Main site. This question is asking when is it ok to challenge the premise of the OP, or post an answer basically saying "Don't do the thing you are asking about". Downvotes, a signal that a question isn't useful, serve a different but related purpose. – sphennings Jul 9 at 13:27

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