In this section we’re going to learn how arguing in black and white leads to unnecessary disagreements. The solution is to realize there are almost always more than two sides to a question, so people can disagree without having the “opposite” ideas. We will learn how to articulate a position more precisely.
Before continuing, make sure you complete the exercises.
The Problem: Arguing in Black and White
Ever heard the expression “There are two sides to every story?” It sounds open minded, but the problem is there are a lot more than two sides to most stories.
When we think that two people have opposing views on a topic, we can easily assume we’re supposed to disagree about everything when it comes to that topic. What happens is that we look for opportunities to disagree.
- Political parties who will rarely acknowledge a good idea from another party.
- Co-workers whose kneejerk reaction is to contradict an idea.
- Friends who agree to disagree without ever investigating the extent of the disagreement.
Arguing this way leads to:
- unnecessary levels of conflict
- unwillingness to really analyze what people are saying and
- increasing polarization.
The Solution: Articulating Precise Views
Here’s what I hope you learned by doing that activity:
- Look for diversity within camps. Within every broad question, there are many smaller questions. Every smaller question is an opportunity to have a diversity views. For example, people can agree climate change is a problem and disagree about:
- Who should respond.
- Whether the response should be by law or voluntary
- What the most effective response should be
- Look for opportunities to agree. Within those many smaller questions, you may find that you agree on some issues and vehemently disagree on others. The more agreement you can find, the narrower and more efficient your argument will be.
- There are other kinds of qualifications. There are also other ways you can always qualify your opinions. Each way of qualifying shows you are not taking an absolute black and white position and are sensitive to certain kinds of counter-arguments that you have incorporated into your position.
- Assumptions: “assuming this is true, then I believe the best way to tack climate change is …”
- Likelihood: “Although I know it’s not certain, I think it’s more likely than not that…”
- Context: “Under the current circumstances, I think we should, but I realize things might change in a few days and we could reassess.”
Bottom line: When you want to take a position don’t just settle for yes or no, dig deeper and keep asking yourself sub-questions to figure out what you really think.
Questions to ponder
- Can you think about questions in society that are presented as if there are only two sides? Why do you think they are presented this way? Is there any truth to this?
- What happens in argument when people act as if there are only two sides? What happens in society?