On Arguing

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011 at 6:38 am

Once upon a time, I loved to argue. Give me a topic and I would argue it. Polemics were my thing. I enjoyed polarizing issues, getting a rise out of someone. There wasn’t a fight I didn’t like to get into.

But somewhere along the line, my tastes have changed.

I find that some arguments leave a bitter taste in my mouth and a sour pit in my stomach.

Not that I don’t enjoy arguing anymore. In fact, there’s little I love more than a spirited discussion of some issue.

But a certain sort of argument, one I once considered my life’s blood, has lost its allure.

I have become more irenic in my approach–and more likely to shut my mouth if I see that my opponent does not prefer that approach.

So, wanna argue with me? Here are a few tips for getting me to engage:

1. Search for truth
Where I used to enjoy the sparring of two individuals who were firmly established in their opposite positions with no desire or willingness to change their minds, I now find such argument intolerable.

I want to know truth. If you are a fellow truth-seeker, even if your ideas are different than mine, I’d love to debate with you. I’d love to let your iron sharpen mine as we grapple with issues (and our differing viewpoints on them) together.

If all you want to do is refute my viewpoint or prove your own, I’m probably not interested. This sort of debate is usually pointless, a regurgitation of all the (often weak) apologetic points of a certain position without true dialogue or discovery.

2. Be Humble
Absolute truth exists. I believe it.

But, believe it or not, no one person has a monopoly on truth.

Yes, the Bible is true–but that doesn’t always mean that your interpretation of the Bible is true. Yes, science is true–but that doesn’t always mean your extrapolation from science is true.

If you wanna argue with me, please get off your high horse and recognize that you’re a fellow truth-seeker, not the final word in truth.

3. Don’t get personal/Get personal
There are two options for every topic of debate: either the topic at hand is deeply personal or it’s little more than an intellectual exercise. I don’t mind debating either.

What I do mind is when an argument turns into a mud-slinging fest. Don’t make blanket statements about people who hold views other than your own. Don’t accuse your opponent of not loving Jesus or not believing the Bible or of teaching false doctrine (unless you have good evidence that those statements are true–and even then, speak the truth in LOVE.)

On the other hand, recognize that just because a topic isn’t deeply personal to you doesn’t mean that it isn’t personal to another. Pacifism vs. Just War Theory may be an intellectual exercise for you–it might not be for the girl with two brothers in the Armed Forces. Please take into consideration who you’re talking to and how they might feel about the issue at hand before you go off on a rampage.

What about you? Are you an arguer? What are your rules for engagement?


Reader Comments (3):

  1. Barbara H. says:

    I’m just the opposite — I tend to avoid arguments at all costs. I think that’s part personality, part growing up with an angry alcoholic father whose wrath could be incurred by the most minor of disagreements. The watchword in our house, particularly during Dad’s “moods,” was “Don’t make waves” — 60s-speak for lay low, stay under the radar, don’t attract attention.

    So God’s had to work on my backbone. It’s easier for me to take a stand for something online where there’s time to get emotions in control and carefully craft a response.

    My husband is a scientist and loves to take ideas out and magnify them, take them apart, examine them from different angles, and subsequently he loves a good debate. But sometimes people he talks to don’t realize that get argumentative (to me there is a difference between a debate and an argument).

    I think what you’ve laid out here is excellent advice.

  2. LOVED this post.

    Identify with this post.

    Love that you point out the following:

    “On the other hand, recognize that just because a topic isn’t deeply personal to you doesn’t mean that it isn’t personal to another.”

    I think that is a VERY important point and something that has made me enjoy arguments (for the sake of arguments, or, er, debate) less as time goes by. Sometimes it’s a little too easy to offend and I think we have to be careful for that. Not saying I always AM – just saying that i need to be!

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