How to Win Every Argument
When you debate your friends, do you sometimes feel like the kid who gets sand kicked in his face by the overly-muscled bruiser on the beach? Well, no more my friends. I’m gonna’ show you how to win every argument.
You see, I’ve been engaging in the dangerous activity lately of discussing politics on Facebook. If you’ve tried something similar in this or previous elections, you know what a minefield it can be. Through it all, I’ve become convinced that people don’t know how to persuade each other anymore. They simply talk at each other. So here are a few notes to help…
Memes Are Evil
Well, some memes are hilarious and cute. When it comes to political memes, however, they tend to evoke the opposite reaction of what you intend.
If you’re a die-hard Trump supporter, chances are you at least got a chuckle from the Hillary meme… maybe even nodded your head once or twice. Did you chuckle and do the same for the Trump meme? Likewise for Hillary supporters. Did you like being called an idiot? Probably not, just as the Trump supporter didn’t like being called stupid. If you didn’t chuckle at either meme, then congratulations, you might actually have a sense of humor.
Who Are You Convincing?
Political memes tend to be shared with people who already agree with them. At the same time, they ostracize those who don’t agree. Sharing these memes just strokes your own ego instead of doing what real Americans do: engage in thoughtful discussions about how to move our country forward. Did I just ostracize you? Apparently, I’m so good I can do it without a meme.
Memes Are Not Arguments
Another problem with political memes: they are not arguments. At best, they’re lines from really bad stand-up comedy routines. Don’t kid yourself into thinking you’re persuading anyone. More likely than not, you’re just cementing the other person’s beliefs that you’re an idiot and shouldn’t breed.
Name-calling isn’t going to work any better than it did in the school yard.
Belief Is Not Evidence
Before you brand me as an anti-christian warrior… I’m not talking about religious faith here. Religious belief can and should inform the public policy decisions you make, but be consistent and don’t cherry pick.
It’s hypocritical to claim on one hand that gay marriage will destroy the sanctity of marriage while also denigrating Hillary Clinton who has personally fought to avoid divorce and maintain her own marriage. I could go on about forgiveness too…
So back to belief and evidence… Just because you believe something, doesn’t make it so. Evidence and facts are critical to making decisions. You use them in your every day life to survive. The pan is hot enough to fry bacon so it will probably fry your hand. Why not do the same in political discussions? Say it with me… facts are good. That’s not to say that facts cannot be interpreted differently (and that’s where logic comes in), but the facts still exist.
Simply believing something to be true is a way to hide that you don’t have evidence or logic to support your position. Everyone fancies themselves “independent thinkers.” In reality, though, most people who pound their chest and declare their independence are nothing more than sheep. Liberals and conservatives can be guilty of this — so no finger pointing. Just remember, when you spout lines someone else gave you and can’t back it up with evidence and logic, you proclaim to the world that there’s no independent thought going on in that noggin’.
The Conspiracy To Make You Believe In Conspiracies
There’s a darker side to relying on belief instead of evidence. It makes you vulnerable to conspiracy theories. After all, if what you believe is true but you can’t find evidence to support it, there must be some other reason, right? It can’t possibly be that you’re wrong. Someone must be hiding that evidence. Time to pull out the Reynolds Wrap because we’ve got some hats to make.
To believe a conspiracy theory is akin to being a member of a cult — just without all the religious overtones. It makes you easily exploitable. When you are no longer tethered to facts and reality, it’s a simple matter to tell you whatever fiction furthers the exploiter’s interests. In case you misunderstand me, I am saying that believing conspiracy theories puts you in company with the Moonies and members of Heaven’s Gate. The takeaway? Don’t follow this guy…
Unfortunately, we’ve let this type of “argument” go un-checked for too long. It was kind of fun to think about aliens at Area 51 and laugh at the people who thought the moon landing was a hoax. The sad fact is that millions of dollars are made from book sales and websites created by people who know that once you’re untethered from reality they can sell you any crazy idea — the crazier the better.
The result is we’ve reached a point where the current Republican presidential candidate made his political name by peddling one such conspiracy theory.
Respond To The Argument
In my discussions, I find it’s very difficult to get the other person to actually respond to my argument. They will either disappear and not respond or make some point that bears no relation to my argument.
The ivory-tower elite have a fancy word for this: non sequitur. It’s Latin for “it does not follow.” There is no logical connection between point A and point B. Put another way… our points are like two ships passing in the night and yours suddenly takes flight and crashes into the moon.
I have had conversations where I’m talking about the foreign business interests of Trump’s corporation and how it might impact his governance as president and the response I get is: “yeah, but what about Hillary’s emails.” If you let them continue talking, they’ll list all sorts of other “reasons” why Hillary is an evil person as if that is somehow a response to Trumps possible foreign conflicts of interest. It’s enough to give you whiplash.
The prevalence of this type of pattern leads me to think that many of my conservative friends all read a book titled something like “How to Win Any Argument Against a Liberal” and this was chapter one.
I have yet to find the book, but the approach appears to be that when confronted with an argument you can’t answer, start listing as many arguments as possible. Ideally, they shouldn’t have any relationship to the original argument.
In debate we used to call this spewing. Because collegiate debates have time limits, throwing out a lot of arguments — regardless of their validity, can overwhelm your opponent. They simply don’t have enough time to respond. It doesn’t matter if 80% of your points are invalid.
This is a technique used when playing the “game” of college debate. It is not something to use if you want to come to consensus or actually persuade someone. Our public policy is not a game. It affects real people daily and should be treated with the same kind of gravity.
To summarize, respond to the argument using facts and reasoning. It’s not hard but it does mean you have to think for yourself and maybe do a little research.
Admit You May Be Wrong
If you read my first post, you’ll remember this as Rule #2. No one owns the truth. If you refuse to entertain the possibility that you may be wrong, you’ll never learn something new. As with facts, if you are wrong, you are wrong, regardless of what you believe.
No one wants to admit they’re wrong these days. I understand. It’s a hard thing to do. It takes courage to do so. All of us are human. We are not immune to mistakes or misunderstandings. Yet we feel that by admitting we were wrong, we’re somehow weakened. In reality, the opposite is true.
It’s kind of funny. We demand that Hillary Clinton apologize (which she did do) for saying half of Trump supporters are deplorable and that Trump apologize (which he did not do) for trying to delegitimize our first African-American president by questioning his country of birth. All the while we refuse to admit our own mistakes and shortcomings.
Be Curious. Take Time To Read An Opposing Opinion
Of course, even if you admit you may be wrong, you’ll never know it unless you engage with those who don’t agree with you. It’s easier than ever these days to consume only the news and opinions that agree with your world view. Change it up and seek out some well-researched and reasoned articles on the other side of the political spectrum. Try to read with an open mind and remember that they are human beings with the same basic needs and desires as you. They may have a different perspective. How about taking some time to find out why?
Here are a few sources to get you started — news, liberal, and conservative. Of course, when you read their opinion pieces, don’t take what they say as gospel. As Reagan said, “Trust but verify.”
- Wall Street Journal (http://www.wsj.com/)
- New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/)
- Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/)
- The Economist (http://www.economist.com/)
- The Weekly Standard (http://www.weeklystandard.com/)
- The National Review (http://www.nationalreview.com/)
- The Nation (https://www.thenation.com/)
- The Atlantic (http://www.theatlantic.com/)
- The New Yorker (http://www.newyorker.com/)
Ultimately, We’re Not All That Different
Americans love competition, but we sometimes forget we play for the same team. Prompted by a conservative friend, I read an article in which a number of Trump supporters were interviewed about why they were voting for him.
Rather than read it with a combative mind, I reminded myself that these individuals were American. I may not agree with them, but I wanted to hear, in their own words, why they were voting for Trump.
You know what I discovered after finishing that article? I still didn’t agree with them. But, I didn’t hate them either. I could better understand how they looked at the election and the issues. Listening is so important — now more than ever. Whether you come from the Right or the Left, if you really want to persuade someone, you must first understand them. Incidentally, I don’t think my conservative friend did me the same courtesy by reading my post in response.
We Are Not Enemies
I am taking the time to listen and respond to my conservative friends, but I expect them to do the same. If they don’t give you the same courtesy and respect you gave them, call them out on it. We have to listen to one another if we’re ever going to right this ship.
So How Do You Win Every Argument?
- Stop sharing stupid political memes. Cute animal memes are still acceptable, though we can only take so much.
- Use facts and logic, not conspiracy theories
- Respond to the argument with a cogent relevant response.
- Understand the other person. Try to understand why they hold their positions. If you fail to do this, you will never convince them.
- If the other person is right, admit it. Thank them for helping you learn something new. Not only will you shock the heck out of them, but their opinion of you will grow immeasurably. They’ll also be more willing to give your thoughts a fair hearing in the future.
It’s really easy to win every argument by following these five steps. The thing is, even if you lose, you still win. If both sides really want to find an answer, then both sides win, regardless of who loses the argument.