Op-Ed: Making a Good Argument

Op-edI‘ve decided to add an op-ed sort of post to my blog. It can be any variety of topics, but I’d also like it to be an area for constructive discussion about whatever the topic is. So be aware that negative, attacking, non-productive comments will not be allowed here. People are allowed to have a difference of opinion–provided it is opinion–and they are DEFINITELY allowed to offer facts to support what they present no matter if it supports my post or not. If there’s information out there on a topic I deem important enough to me to write about on my blog–and I haven’t seen it–I want to know it! I want to make educated choices, and I want to encourage others to do the same. As such, what’s acceptable is going to be the first topic I’m going to address.

I recently witnessed (on Facebook) a woman say to a friend, “I disagree with you. I hate [him].” Now she wasn’t disagreeing with the friend because the friend said she liked [him]. The friend said, “I agree with this,” about something the man had said and stated very well with support and provable fact. The friend again re-iterated, “I’m merely saying, I agree with what he said.” The friend never at any point expresses her personal opinion about the man, just what he said. So the woman responds with, “we’ll have to agree to disagree.” I’ll get to the “agree to disagree” point later. I just want to synthesize what has been said in this exchange: the friend agrees with the statement, that’s all we know. The first woman disagrees with the statement because she hates the man–or that’s all we can conclude because that’s the only justification she’s given for her disagreement.

So here are the issues I can see with the situation. First, if the woman disagrees with the man simply on the grounds that she hates him–regardless of how she knows him–that’s unjustifiable. Will people not listen to others because they dislike them? Of course. We might be able to chalk that up to human nature. Does that justify it or make the speaker wrong? Nope. And it also contributes to that echo chamber we’re hearing so much about these days.

Second, if the woman disagrees with things the man has said, that should be expressed and supported. If you say the sky is blue and I say, “I disagree with that,” I need to have justification for it. And “I hate the sky, therefore it’s not blue” is not justification.

Finally, from what I can surmise, the woman was “agreeing to disagree” with her friend about two different things. The woman said she hated the man making the statement. The friend said she liked what the man said. Those are two different things. So again, the woman is equating hating the man to disagreeing with his statement–if she’s agreeing to disagree.

Ultimately, the reason I’m using this example is that it epitomizes so much of the problem I see in communication breakdown and what I would love to work on improving here, at least among the people who want to discuss. Maybe it’s the English teacher in me wanting people to be clear in their debating skills, I don’t know. But I will point to this post if in the future I refuse to post a comment because it’s lacking in any of these things. So,

1.) Be careful of allowing emotion to put blinders on you. We all have emotions and there are topics we’re more passionate about than others.  That’s not a bad thing. The passion in people is what’s made change happen throughout history. But when you discount people and facts and evidence because you’ve put on those emotional blinders, you do yourself a grave disservice. And those blinders, among other things, are what have impeded great change throughout history. It’s a great exercise to read something written or listen to something spoken by someone with an opposing viewpoint. You may well be able to counter what they’ve said/spoken, but it might also give you something to think about.

2.) Think about what you’re saying. In the age of social media, the instinct is to instantly react, which can lead to aggressive conflict instead of productive communication. Did the woman have legitimate reason to disagree with the man’s statement? We can’t know. What she said was she hated him so she disagreed with him. That’s not a legitimate reason to denounce his statement, but maybe one exists. 

3.) Be clear in what you’re saying. Sometimes what we want to say is completely clear in our own head, but if someone calls us on something because they’ve misunderstood what we were trying to present, chances are good they aren’t the only one who would have misunderstood. So clarify further. When things are in written communication alone much is lost from no body language or vocal inflections, so your wording needs to be careful. And take the opportunity to ensure people understand your true meaning. If your response is “F-you, you have no right to hold me accountable for what I say publicly,” you probably aren’t going to convince too many people of your point of view and maybe you need to not say anything at all. Because that’s not productive. 

4.) Support what you’re saying. A lot of people like to use an anecdote to support their position. And that’s excellent if you’re using an anecdote to supplement what the data shows. Stories make the situation more personal and relatable. But if you’re saying, “Well, in this one instance…,” that’s not adequate support. We can find a handful of instances for almost ANY scenario, but when the data and evidence show there are hundreds of thousands of instances supporting the opposite argument, one or two contrary ones are meaningless. 

5.) If you’re going to say it publicly be open to challenge. Use it as an opportunity to strengthen your argument or learn something new.  Social media is, well, social. So if you only want to talk to a single person who agrees with you, email them or better yet, talk to them in person–make a lunch date or schedule a Facetime call. But on social media (which includes this blog), the reaction, “you aren’t allowed to talk to me because I wasn’t talking to you” isn’t appropriate, and it makes you sound childish. Don’t automatically take a challenge as an attack on your person. And on the flip side, don’t attack the person if you’re offering an argument to their point. Address the content of the statement or opinion. Also being careful with profanity and the use of things like all caps (which indicates yelling–many people seem to forget that) is a good practice. Using aggressive language will most likely result in that same behavior coming back to you.

6.) Finally, please know the difference between fact and opinion. I like the statement, “you have the right to your own opinion, but not your own facts.” Saying “we’ll have to agree to disagree” because you refuse to acknowledge facts makes your argument sink. If I say, “butter pecan is the best ice cream” and you say, “mint chocolate chip is best” we can agree to disagree. We cannot agree to disagree about the fact that there were over 10,000 gun homicides in the US alone in 2016.  We’ll throw around facts and opinions here, so be sure you’re identifying the difference. The first person to try the “alternate facts” argument gets banned! 😉

O.k. so that’s going to be the op-ed standard here. I’m fairly certain my first post is going to be something pet related. As a pet parent, there’s just always so much I’m debating. How is that even possible? Anyway, if you have any thoughts about anything that should be added here. Please let me know. If you made it to the end of this, kudos, you’re a trooper.