agreeing to disagree, pt. 2: principles of civil discourse from don miller

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Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

agreeing to disagree, pt. 2: principles of civil discourse from don miller

yesterday, i posted some thoughts on the phrase, we’ll just have to agree to disagree, referencing the following tweet by @midrash_lr:

Let’s end, “We’ll have to agree to disagree.” This ends the convo. Instead let’s try “good men can disagree” & ctn the convo.11:25 AM Apr 25th via Twitterrific

my basic premise, of course, was that while i agree with the fundamental value inherent in his statement, it’s a bit utopian. there are simply times when the conversation devolves into something other than a healthy exchange when one or both people cease to work within the spirit of mutual respect and learning.

in a rare case of blogosphere synchronicity, it turns out that don miller has been thinking about some of the same things i’ve been processing lately. over the last couple days, he’s posted two pieces about civil dialogue. on monday, he posted five principles of civil dialogue, followed by yesterday’s how to not really win an argument.

in the first, of course, he offers a few concepts that make for healthy conversations. here’s miller’s five principles:

1. Truth is not My Truth, it’s Just Truth: My ideas were not really my invention. Even if I was the first person to consider an idea, it’s still something I stumbled upon. I shouldn’t take it personally when somebody doesn’t agree. They aren’t rejecting me, they are rejecting an idea.

2. Methodology is Part of the Message: When I get defensive and then condescending, what I associate my ideas with an offensive subtext, and that association is very strong to the hearer. Imagine having a conversation with somebody who has terrible breath, standing there and smelling their putrid hot air as they talk. It’s the same with your attitude toward somebody when you’re discussing an idea.

3. Without a Loving Heart, I am Like a Clanging Cymbal: If I don’t genuinely care about the people I’m talking to, I’ll be received like a guy standing there clanging cymbals together. The Bible makes a strong connection between a persons heart and their tongue. We tend to think we talk with our tongues alone, but the Bible says we talk with our tongues and our hearts. Corinthians 13: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

4. The Other Person has Sovereignty: Even if I think the other person is completely wrong, they have a right to their beliefs. I can simply state what I believe and do so in kindness and that’s really it. If I’m trying to bully somebody into my way of seeing things, I’m not respecting the sovereignty of the person I am talking with.

5. I Could be Wrong: What we most want from the person we are talking to is for them to see things from our perspective and agree. That being said, though, are you willing to see things from their perspective? If not, try listening to their perspective then repeating it back to them. Ask them if you got it right, and if you did, say you will think about it. Then present your idea, too, and ask them if they understand your position. To be honest, they may not be as open as you, but once the conversation is over, I assure you they will have a new respect for you, and believe me, they will consider your ideas more respectfully. And besides, the truth is they could be right.

conversely, naturally, in his post yesterday, he listed 6 things that lead to non-civil discourse:

1. Take a persons argument to an extreme: If the argument is about environmentalism, assume the person you’re talking to wants everybody to live in the woods and heat their tents with hemp oil. It will be much easier to attack them if you take their ideas to an extreme rather than contend with a more balanced view.

2. Always use the term always: A great way to exaggerate somebody’s idea is to use the words always and never. Has a person said we should be kind? Spin their statement into an always statement…We are alway supposed to be kind and never supposed to be unkind, therefore we should be kind to people who turn pet poodles into breakfast sausages. Always and never takes the discussion to the polar exaggerated opposites, and it will make it much easier for you to not really win the argument.

3. Find a Non-Applicable Loophole: If somebody says you should not be controlled by anger, make sure to point out we should actually be angry about the underground sex trade. This is an effective technique in terms of not really winning an argument because it serves to distract and confuse people. Technically, you are right, because we should be angry about the sex trade, and nobody will notice it really had nothing to do with the spirit of the persons comment.

4. Demonize the Other Person: The best way to demonize a person is to compare them with Hitler. It’s easier than you think. Is the person you disagree with a painter? Guess what, Hitler was a painter. Do they wear a uniform? You’re in luck, Hitler wore a uniform. Are they part of a movement that is supposedly trying to help people? Cha-ching! So was Hitler. Do they have a small, square mustache and beady eyes? You’re in there like swimwear!!!

5. Always be Shocked: Gone are the days when it was only appropriate to be shocked at genocide or human trafficking, now it’s okay to be shocked at a cancelation of the spin class at your local gym. Being shocked creates a lovely melodrama that, while rationally absurd, lends to emotional confusion. Use phrases like: “I am outraged” and “I can’t believe” or one of my favorites “You have the audacity to such and such”…and you’ll definitely be not really be winning an argument.

6. Preach a mini-sermon: Perhaps the best way to not really win an argument is to flaunt your self-righteousness. Make sure to speak from absolute authority, and assume the tone of your contenders teacher. They’ll just love you for it!

so, where do you find yourself? i’m sure it’s a mix of both these lists. i know i’m 100% guilty of at least 3 of his 6 non-civil discourse descriptors on a relatively regular basis. on the flipside, though, i feel confident in affirming that i probably utilize the 5 healthy principles with relative consistency.

to loop the point back to my original point in yesterday’s post, sometimes, when engaging in a conversation with those who utilize the latter 6 points, agreeing to disagree is the best option. sometimes, walking away is the most healthy solution, even when you have employed the 5 healthy principles.

so, go and have some healthy discourse. i’ll give you a topic: why obama, the muslim socialist, is out to destroy the world. go! 😉