From the unfounded insistence that another should calm down, to the watering-down of a point simply because one has a personal connection to an issue; there are a few argumentative techniques that bypass moral or logical truth in favor of defending a tightly held belief. Today I’ll share a few of my observations on the rights and wrongs of heated discussion.
Stop telling people to calm down.
We have been trained into speak our minds in a ‘Politically Correct’ way. Though political correctness has its merits in protecting the disadvantaged, these days, the desire to hold polite exchange has gotten to the point where we fear offending anyone. The result is a form of conversational paralysis, where we use ‘safe’ discussion instead of voicing our true thoughts on any given issue. The over arching pressure to maintain a cool exterior and play at diplomacy means that important discussions are drowned under a tide of watered down opinion that isn’t all that meaningful.
All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.- Edmund Burke
I tend to get passionate in my writing and this can motivate others to speak up too, I often get messages to say a piece of mine has struck a chord. However, there are always instances where my passion inspires some to assume that I must be emotionally unhinged.
It is not my job as a writer, or as a human being, to agree politely with things I don’t agree with. If something is wrong, one can and should speak up. There is a sea of voices telling us to be ‘more sensitive’ or to ‘calm down’, but this rarely helps any cause. The fear of offending is prevalent in topics of gender, politics, race and religion, we avoid these topics like the plague, when in fact they deserve the most discussion. Evasive conversation not only leads to fake connections, this avoidance becomes a trained sort of apathy that sees many behave calm in the face of issues that should make us mad.
A personal connection to an issue doesn’t make a point any more or less valid.
It is quite often in heated discussion that I get responses such as, “I can tell I’ve hit a sore spot (maybe let’s end the discussion here)” and, “You’re personalizing the argument (therefore your point is less valid).” Someone’s personal connection to an issue does not mean they are wrong, or that the lack of neutrality blinds them to the issue.
I’ve been accused of personalizing debates, particularly on issues of feminism, and the impact of an unhappy childhood in adult life. Sure, I’m a woman and I grew up in an unhappy home; but neither of these experiences mean that women don’t deserve equal rights, and that people should pay the social price for their parent’s mistakes.
The value of our human condition lies in our ability to gather experience and use it to the benefit of all, to trivialize another’s stance as ‘personalizing’ is bullshit. Of course no one should use personal experience as the only means of making a point, however, it’s useful to reframe personalization as first hand experience, which is a perfectly valid form of insight.
Statics do not make an argument bulletproof!
A year ago I wrote an article entitled “Mainstream Australian Television is Racist”, which pointed out the stereotypes and lack of ethnic minorities represented within the Australian media. One rebuttal I received was that 74% of Australians are Anglo-Saxon, so minorities should just accept their lot in life and stop complaining.
What that particular argument didn’t factor in is that 26% of Australians are NOT Anglo-Saxon. This means over a quarter of the population is poorly represented in the media – a large enough percentage to elicit decent inclusion. Even from a commercial stand point, to ignore more than a quarter of the population is to ignore millions upon millions of potential customers.
What many fail to see when quoting statistics is that stats in and of themselves are generalizations. Statistics are more fluid than they seem and can be manipulated to make an argument appear stronger than it is, important details are easily lost in reporting. This manipulation is used in advertising and the news all the time, with the knowledge that the intended audience will not likely look further than what is quoted.
If I had a company that sold toothpaste and I surveyed dentists to see if they would recommend my product, and in the end 40% said they would. As impressive as that stat might sound in an advert, what I’ll fail to emphasize to my customers is that 60% dentists don’t recommend my product.
Furthermore, when arguing statistics we must remember that not only are they easily misused, but statistics can be proven incorrect at anytime. This is where the scientific saying, ‘correlation doesn’t imply causation’ comes in.
“The classic example here is the fact that predominantly non-white neighborhoods have higher crime rates. For years, this statistic was touted as proof that non-whites are inherently violent and criminal-minded. Yet when you also consider the economics of a neighborhood, it turns out that poverty leads to higher crime, not skin color.” answers.com
Of course there are more overt means of bad discussion, such as personal insults or taking individual issues out on innocent commentators, but what I’ve pointed out here are the more subtle ways valuable discussion can be broken down or dismissed completely. There are so many important conversations to be had, it’s worth developing and questioning ways in which we approach conflict and difficult subject matters. Most of all, keep talking. The biggest tragedy would be to avoid clashes of opinion in favour of simply being nice.
Hope you enjoyed today’s post. I love reading and responding to everyone’s comments, so feel free to leave a comment of your own.
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