Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How to Argue with a Friend

"Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice."
Ephesians 4:29-31

A friend posted this to Facebook.  With primary season upon us, it's good advice to take to heart.  Money graph:
  • Understand people disagree with us because they see the world through different filters and different core assumptions and not because they are crazy, stupid, or evil. We are remarkably bad at this. Our own opinions seem so right to us that we cannot imagine another person not seeing things our way unless they are either misinformed or fundamentally flawed. In the abstract, we acknowledge that human diversity is a good thing, but with the concrete issues that we care about the most, we rarely see diversity as a strength.
  • Care more about the human relationship than the argument: Most people don’t mind being disagreed with, at least in theory, but we resent being belittled, insulted, and trivialized. Unfortunately, however, we are wired to perceive any challenge to our beliefs as a challenge to our legitimacy as a human being. The only way around this is to make it clear from the outset that you respect and value somebody as a friend more than you want to be right. Sometimes this can be done with tone and mannerisms; other times it can be done with explicit statements like, “I respect and value you and hope that we can talk about where we disagree without jeopardizing our friendship.” Sometimes, saying what you mean can be powerful.
  • Ban sarcasm. Sarcasm is a defense mechanism for dealing with enemies. Its primary function is to assert your opinion at the same time that you assert your moral and intellectual superiority. It serves no purpose in arguments with friends.
  • Understand where you really disagree. Most people do most of their arguing with themselves, which is to say that we create a mental image of the other person’s position and spend most of our time responding to it rather than to what the other person is actually saying. But, treating a person you disagree with as a friend means actually understanding what they are saying and where their opinion disagrees with your opinion. Once you figure this out, the resulting discussion can really be quite pleasant. I will repeat here my golden rule for arguing: never disagree with a position until you can paraphrase that position back to the person who holds it in such a way that they say, “yes, that is exactly what I meant.” It’s called “active listening,” and it’s what friends do.
  • Recognize your own biases. We all have them. We are all situated in a context, we all have interests, and we all have biases that affect how we structure arguments and admit evidence. We can’t ever become unbiased (there is no not having a perspective), but we can try to recognize what our biases are and compensate for them when we are talking to other people whose biases may be very different.
  • Forgive. Nobody ever gets this stuff right all the time. We are very attached to our political opinions, and we often get carried away defending our beliefs. We are also mammals, which means that we are bundles of emotion and nervous energy always on the lookout for potential threats to our well being. We will overreact. We will say things that we don’t mean. We will take things personally. We will say things personal. If we are only friends with someone until they, or we, mess up once, we are going to end our lives with very few friends.
[Author's note: Ironically, the friend who posted this to facebook works for a campaign we're likely to support.]

This is really good advice, especially now that Cornyn has a serious primary challenge.


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