Monday, November 1, 2010


This topic is something that I've always experienced but never could state explicitly. Hopefully I'm able to express it adequately. If not, hopefully your attention is returned to you no worse for the wear.

Arguments intrigue me.

Friday night I got into a small argument with a friend. The topic of discussion was relatively inconsequential, and the only reason it ballooned into anything larger than a passing comment was the fact that there was really nothing else to do. I tend to take arguments very seriously, regardless of whether I actually care deeply about the subject or even whether I actually think I am correct. Something about winning an argument is highly satisfying. (This is one of my character flaws, and I am constantly working on it. I do a better job now than I used to of not being contrarian for no reason.) The head-butting was never completely resolved, but I can live with that. Someday I am sure we will have the chance to hash it out further.

So that was the jumping off point for my train of thought on this subject. What I find most interesting about arguments in general is that while they are something that everyone has partaken in on numerous occasions, there are few people that truly understand their unwritten rules. (I certainly have a lot to learn about arguing yet.)

A few examples:
  • Many people fail to recognize that one should actually stick to the original argument. This is a rule that can be twisted by cunning individuals to derail a discussion that is clearly not going to end favorably with respect to his or her chosen position.
  • Dragging someone down with personal attacks is a great way to ruin an argument. Nothing turns a disagreement into a fistfight (literally or figuratively) more quickly than calling someone or his or her views "stupid" or "ignorant." If you find someone using that move on you, I would highly suggest you take a step back to 1) avoid the spit that may currently be flying towards your face and 2) take a look at your argument to see if it actually is stupid or ignorant. There is nothing worse than getting halfway through a heated argument and realizing you are hopelessly wrong. Which brings me to the next rule:
  • It is completely legal to join your opponent's position over the course of an argument. Admitting your miscalculation and agreeing with the person you are arguing with can be terrifying, right up until the point where you do it. It never ceases to amaze me the kind of reaction I get when I admit that someone has made a good point and I was wrong from the get go. If you are unwilling to do that, what makes you think the person you happen to be arguing with will do it?
All of these things might sound pretty obvious, but they can be very difficult to actually follow. I hope I take my own advice on occasion.

The last "forgotten rule" I want to mention is the one that prompted me to write this in the first place:

In order to have a productive argument, there must be some sort of agreement or common ground between both parties.

While in the midst of an argument I constantly find myself searching for points that I know for a FACT my opponent will agree with. I never realized why I did that, at least not consciously, until the last couple of days. There is a reason you will hear the phrase "building a case" on Law & Order constantly, and that is because it really is a good analogy for what lawyers do. They lay down facts, hopefully indisputable in nature, that serve as a foundation for their view of a situation or crime.

So next time you find yourself trying desperately to convince someone that they happen to be horribly wrong about something, take a moment to find something you can both agree on. Once that has been done, the rest is easy (assuming your argument is not stupid or ignorant or just plain wrong).


  1. There may have been another reason that the conversation dragged on that long other than there was nothing else to do...Just sayin. :)

  2. That was my thought exactly Tyler :)

    Paul, I may have to hire you for future arguments...since I do not particularly enjoy them :P

  3. I don't know Tyler, we've had these types of arguments in quite a few situations. Lack of alternatives seems to be the least common denominator. That definitely had a bit to do with it though.