How to Argue
December 29, 2008
Posted by on
For reasons that are not entirely clear to me (but a bit worrisome nonetheless) I have found myself picking apart a lot of people’s arguments lately. To be specific, three times in the last week. This is behavior that I usually associate with David. Has our marriage hit that pivotal point where couples start integrating their spouse’s habits as their own? Possibly. But I don’t think so.
Given whose arguments I was picking apart, it is possible that conflicting thought processes or communication style were the source of the disagreement. However, this is a community that I have been a part of for the past 2+ years. Why would this only happen now? One possibility is that the community has gelled to a point where we feel comfortable presenting arguments and I feel comfortable responding in my normal way (I am capable of the “smile and nod” response to theories as well, I just don’t default there).
One of the arguments turned into a lesson for my sparring mate on the tools necessary to more effectively frame his arguments. That happened because my sparring partner was a highly intelligent and articulate individual who was making a very poor case on an issue for which he clearly has a great deal of passion.
Perhaps it was the topics being debated? Two of the issues were based in my field of study for both my BA and MPA, so perhaps I felt freer to argue the ins and outs of fields in which I am very comfortable? Possibly.
The one negative reaction to how I picked apart a theory was clearly an issue of style. The presenter wanted a metaphorical pat on the head for having done the work of developing the theory. However, my response to a intelligent individual who presents a theory to me is to ask questions so that I understand it better. I have been told that my response is helpful (albeit challenging) in that it forces the presenter to be explicit about any underlying assumptions, and therefore clarifies his/her thinking. Thus assisting the presenter be clearer when presenting her/his theory in the future. But apparently my response was unexpected in this case.
There is likely not a single answer to the question: “why now?”, but I am going to go ahead and blame the scapegoat de jour. I think Snowpocalypse 2008 gave people a lot more time to sit and think while they were trapped at home. Thus theories had more time to percolate without the benefit of outside feedback. But, you should feel free to argue with me if you disagree.