Each week in On the Other Hand, Ben Bartlett defies the common wisdom and identifies the other side of the story of cultural hot-topic issues.
It’s important to be nice and not argue all the time. I’ve been hearing this my entire life, because I am hopelessly addicted to debate and it drives everyone around me crazy. They tell me that I need to be more giving, that I need to back down, and that if I have a difference of opinion it’s better to say, “I guess we just have to agree to disagree,” which incidentally is one of my least favorite phrases in the English language.
There has been a lot in the news lately about various high-level arguments and negotiations; the NFL, the NBA, Egypt, and of course the debt limit. Perhaps I’m merely growing grumpy, but it seems to me that people are less confident in the ability of leaders at various levels to bring negotiations to healthy, satisfying conclusions. And I am shocked at the comfort level many people show with the idea of enacting the, “nuclear option,” or killing negotiations completely for the sake of making a point or allowing a bad result.
So my, “On the Other Hand,” for the week is this: I think it is bad that we don’t teach kids to argue more. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean kids should argue more often. I mean we should spend more time teaching them how to argue effectively.
Good argument is a progression toward a workable solution. It is built on fallacy-free thinking, buttressed by factual supporting evidence, and it is willing to compromise in areas of uncertainty. Knowing how to argue well shows itself in your writing, in your ability to speak with calmness and restraint, and in your willingness to keep coming back to the table until a solution is reached.
In a world where the label, “debate,” is unhelpfully attached to long streams of anonymous profanity-laced comments on an internet message board, excellent debate skills are seemingly less appreciated than the ability to grandstand, to get your message into the media, and to hurt your opponent’s image in the wider culture. This should not be.
So I encourage you, in the spirit of this article, teach your kids how to argue well! We need fewer pompous egos and grand speeches about arguments that should be happening behind closed doors. We need fewer clusters of leaders holding large numbers of people hostage because they’re angry. Instead, what we really need are a few good arguments.