How to use reason and not kill a conversation

How often have you been in conversation when someone makes an argument and provides absolutely no evidence or rationale for it? They take the argument as so self-evident that there really is nothing you can do to add to the conversation. No evidence has been provided, the facts–such as they are–have been disregarded, dismissed, ignored, or blithely made up, and the individual–who may  one of any number political commentators on Fox, MSNBC, and any number of newspapers, blogs, and television or radio stations across the country, or even worse, have obtained said opinion from such prognosticators–waits for you to respond with their argument as a basis for your conversation. Never mind whether you agree or not, that’s your starting point: a fallacy, a talking point, a place that just is.

It’s a conversation killer. You find yourself with just a few options (though this list is not comprehensive), none of which are necessarily attractive. You can

  1. Smile and nod. This requires that you lie. You must put on a face, appearing to agree, but really, you’re just lying.
  2. Ask for more information. “Why do you think that?” This is falls into the category of the WWJD, because it is civil, it’s polite, it allows the person to think through and give a response, and it’s what my Dear Old Mom (hereinafter “DOM”) would tell me to do, back when she still told me what to do. It requires a certain amount of self discipline not always quick to be found, though…
  3. Disagree. “No, you’re wrong.” And guess what? You don’t necessarily need to say why. Because you’re going to provoke a reaction by the flat disagreement. Quad gratis asseritur gratis negatur, you see. What is asserted without reason may be denied without reason.
But is that really the world we want to live in? And is that world really any fun? Sure, it makes for great talking points on Glenn Beck and Rachel Maddow, but it does little to solve problems and move the dialalogue forward, to say nothing for continue the conversation.

It may also be the real reason that our country, at least politically, has become
so polarized. The days when Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan could talk as political opponents but also as fellow public servants were possible because they were willing to use reason, listen to reason, and respond with reason…and sometimes, they could even find common ground upon which they could agree to work together.

Ronald Reagan with Tip O'Neill

Use reason. And listen, also with reason. As an attorney, I feel like there are few industries that could benefit more from the increased civil dialogue.
Perhaps DOM wasn’t too far off in her expectations, after all.
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6 responses to “How to use reason and not kill a conversation

  1. I certainly agree with you on this. The worst is when you go with option 3, and then they get upset with you for not backing up your argument, even though they themselves have no basis for theirs.

  2. This post reminded me of this great, but lengthy, blog.
    http://barryeisler.blogspot.com/

    • Now that you mention it, I think it reminds me of it, too. In fact, I think you directed my attention to it several month past, no? Thanks for the reminder.

  3. THe book getting to YES seems to imply that the “principled negotiations” method is based on #2 as one attempts to take the personality out of the discussion and the effort is aimed at identifying options and issues versus people and personalities.

  4. Pingback: All politics is local" | Common Sense Conversation

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