It Is Not Enough To Say Someone Is Wrong — Prove It!

The Daily Show / Amazon.com.
The Daily Show / Amazon.com.

I love a good argument.

In my personal life, I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by many people – both of great intelligence and formidable conviction. While this usually makes for very lively conversation, it can also lend itself to stubborn dispute. And, as we are all familiar, when confrontation arises, things can get nasty pretty quickly, unless we choose to defend, rather than fight. When it comes to the dynamics of an argument, I strongly believe that there are better ways than others to go about handling disagreement.

When I write a personal essay, I try to make a point about something. I then try to support that point as articulately as I am able. Sometimes that support is factual, and sometimes it is philosophical. Either way, my interpretation is mine, and in no way am I ever writing to force anyone to accept my views.

On the other hand, I don’t post just for the sake of seeing my words in a new typography.

There’s a reason people don’t read articles titled “20 Things I Love About My Friend Jenny,” and a reason I don’t write them. If no one knows who Jenny is, why should they care what anyone has to say about her? It doesn’t do anything for anyone — besides Jenny, presumably. Writing for yourself is fine, but a journal entry does not necessarily need to be shared with the world. Before hitting the “post” button, ask yourself: Why should someone care that I shared this with them?

It is an argument. I am trying to persuade the reader, but not with force, scare tactics, insults, or manipulation. Just reason. In fact, “persuade” might even be too aggressive a verb. I attempt to explain my position with some confidence. Here is what I think, here is why, and hopefully I make enough logical sense that someone can say, “I see where you’re coming from,” even if they personally disagree with my conclusion. Yes, an argument will come off defensively, because a position is being defended. There is a subtle, but important, difference between “defensive” and responding defensively to a perceived attack.

When I put an argument in writing, rest assured that it’s one I’ve had verbally before. It is one I’ve put some thought into. It is one that has probably sparked a debate — not a one-sided, fingers-in-ears kind of bickering, but a real talk, with mutual respect and intellectual consideration. The kind of discussion a logical mind lives for. When these conversations take place between people, the energy electrifies. The sparks are practically visible as one idea zaps into another, connecting synapses across skulls and evolving, until the implications hang in the air so exquisitely that there is nothing to do but sit back quietly and reflect. These conversations are the pieces I want to write, because these are the issues about which people have many impassioned things to say.

And so it goes with commentary on arguments. There is a way to counter back such that it does not offend. Not intentionally, at least. A good argument does just the opposite: it defends its own position. It is not enough to point out what is disliked; it is an even more egregious error (or commission of indifference) to attribute technical flaws or disagreeable statements to the author’s faults as a person. Personal attacks can’t be taken seriously in this context. If a reader doesn’t like what someone has argued, then argue against it! It is not enough to say only that someone is wrong; prove it. Write your own response and formulate your disagreement such that others will see your point, too. Don’t insult – debate. Discuss. The discussions are why I argue in the first place. There is no greater satisfaction, for me, than the expanding of perspective.

Will this stop anyone from being uselessly nasty? No. In fact, it will probably encourage these types of eschewed responses, because someone thinks it’s funny to do so. That’s fine. If this argument causes even one person to pause before hitting “post” to re-evaluate the relevance of their speech, the effort will not be in vain. TC mark

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