Something about disagreements or something

Discussion in 'General Advice' started by Aya, Mar 2, 2015.

  1. Aya

    Aya words words words

    I really don't know how to phrase this, which is a large chunk of the problem. I'm hoping that someone out there will recognize this thought process and throw some words at me until I figure out what I'm talking about.

    I got into a fight with a friend a little while ago and it turned ugly. We disagree on a lot of things, partially because we were raised in very different cultural environments and so we interpret things differently. Every few months he and I get into some minor conflict and it escalates almost comically out of proportion, there's a shouting match, and the next day we're left wondering what the fuck even happened there. About a third of the time we realize that we were violently agreeing because sometimes we're using the same term to mean different things. So he and I talked about this, and also some past incidents, and I'm not sure how to keep this from happening again.

    I don't want to get in fights with people. I don't want something adversarial. When my friend was talking about us having an argument, he was talking about it as if we were lawyers and our two positions were our clients. I really, really don't like that.

    I don't try to defend positions unless I really think they're objectively correct, so I'm not going to try to pretend that I don't have anything riding on a disagreement. Of course I go in thinking I'm right. Of course I want to convince the other person that I'm right. So in that sense, I want to win, I guess. But I think of The Truth as something that exists outside of what people have figured out so far. So in that sense, I don't really want to win debates. I want to find out what's true. Winning feels nice, but it's ultimately just a distraction.

    As my friend gets more and more angry, I think he loses interest in looking at the situation objectively and starts really really wanting to win. He'll become more focused on proving that I'm wrong than proving that he's right. I don't think he realizes he's doing that. I wouldn't be able to tell you in the moment, but after the fact, I can usually guess. It happens gradually, and he's never started out obviously uninterested in something but coming in to pick a fight. He likes Knowing Stuff and Figuring Stuff Out. So I don't want to assume he's yanking my chain.

    But he will absolutely yank my chain. Most often, it's by pretending not to understand a point I was making and pressing me to explain it in different ways until I get too angry to want to continue or I say something that's easier to attack (because it's been simplified four or five times now, and anything simplified that much is going to be wrong in at least one major aspect). And in the moment, I really can't tell pretending-not-to-understand from genuinely-not-understanding. (By pretending not to understand, I don't mean that he does some kind of Socratic questioning. I mean he'll go for "what" and "could you say that again but like I'm ten" or what have you.)

    I don't think he sees baiting people and the like as something wrong because he thinks of this in adversarial terms; because if there's a fight then someone has to win. If you're treating every disagreement like debate club then of course you want to trip your opponent up in as many ways as you can and rack up points and win. In a debate club or a courtroom, this is how this sort of thing is supposed to go.

    And I don't think he's the only person who operates like that, or even that it's rare. Shit, at least he always starts in good faith; think of all the tumblr sjws who just kind of assume that anyone who disagrees with them is a total monster with no redeeming qualities. I don't have another model of serious disagreement I can think of. I feel like this is inevitable if two people disagree over things hard enough, that it stops being about truth and becomes a kind of contest instead. But I don't want that. I can't do that. If everyone gets too angry, I just get scared and leave.

    I worry a little that I'm being some kind of sore loser, that it's not that I don't want to win but that I want to change the rules of the contest to something that I can win. I'm not great at on-the-fly, in-the-moment logical thinking; I need time for that, so I'm never going to be top pick for debate club. So am I just whining because I'm not good at the thing? But at the same time, I really don't think it's conducive to figuring out what's actually true if everyone's angry and defensive, either, so I think it's probably legitimate for me to want this to work out another way. I just don't know what that looks like.
  2. rorleuaisen

    rorleuaisen Frozen Dreamer

    Hmmm. I can words at you, though I don't know if it'll help! xD

    I think your desire isn't really the problem here. It sounds like you like debating, but you are repeatedly in a hostile debate environment. Your friend probably gets a rush from winning, and he may be flustering you on purpose, but I can't determine if he has the intent of being mean.

    I think your best bet is to switch where the battle is. I mean, if you can't seem to debate properly with him, than he's not getting any real practice debating you and is just getting an easy game. It doesn't particularly benefit his debating skills. If you switch up the game, than he will have to up his game because he can't rely on his old tricks. So, point one is that switching up the game is a benefit to you both.

    Things you can do(hopefully someone else can come up with more ideas): When he starts doing his tricks to fluster you, just stop. Tell him that's not an argument, so you aren't going to argue with it. If he wants you to repeat it, write it out for him so he can reread it as many times as he wants(if you are feeling generous). Basically, learn the signs when he starts doing the tricks, and shut down the conversation.

    Chances are he will either lose interest in the debates(because all he wanted to do was win) or he may change things up in order to keep debating. Either way, I consider it a win. Personally, I started reading a lot of Seebs' debates and learning techniques and how to identify BS. When I have debates with my mom, I will often end a debate-train because the evidence they bring up cannot be verified at the time. I usually say something to the effect of "hmm, I haven't heard of that. We should look it up" or "I cannot confirm or deny your statement". Also, pointing out manipulative tactics that your opponent uses are fun. "No that is [name or manipulative thing] and doesn't prove your point".

    Uhhh.... Hope you enjoy the words!
    • Like x 1
  3. jpronghorn

    jpronghorn Member

    First, I don't think you are being a sore loser. Discussions about issues are more productive at exploring the arguments, and easier on friendships, if the debater's tricks are left out. (And I say that as a retired law professor, who was good at arguing and spent a lot of time teaching how to do it.) It is perfectly respectable to prefer discussions where winning is not at all on the table.

    So it is OK to have boundaries, and to call a halt or slow things down if the discussion gets too heated. You could set up a safe word ahead of time, to end the discussion if it gets overwhelming. Or establish that either of you can call time out, to catch your breath and let things cool off for a bit. (You could just do any of these unilaterally, whenever you want, but it might be good for you to discuss with him beforehand that you are uncomfortable with the style of these arguments. The proposal for a safe word or timeouts should at least convince him that you are seriously bothered by the way things have been going.)

    You can also partially defuse the emphasis on winning by depersonalizing the arguments. Make it clear you are exploring the arguments you present without fulling committing to them. Every once in a while, switch sides: say, " the point in your favor that I find interesting although rarely discussed is X, what do you think about that one?" You can even make a game of it--at some point during the evening the two of you will switch sides and argue the others point of view.
    • Like x 1
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