In the midst of crisis, it is easy to fall prey to convenient arguments and compartmentalized thinking.
Convenient arguments are ones that are simplistic and short term. They are incapable of withstanding any scrutiny and are designed to make a quick point that supports one’s current opinion. But they are weak. They are weak enough to allow the one using them to drop the argument at a moment’s notice in order to take up the complete opposite argument when it is convenient. The problem lies in what is argued. Too often, arguing with someone who is making convenient arguments is frustrating because of the lack of apparent consistency. The reality is much more complicated though.
It’s not the actual words or arguments that matter in a convenient argument. They don’t actually. They are handy things that can be used as weapons, even if most of the handy things weren’t designed to be used as a weapon.
Stop listening to the actual words of the argument presented. A better way to listen is to hear the foundation of the words that are spoken – that’s what really matters. Is the argument based on excuse and accommodation? Is what is spoken intended to maintain and defend the status quo? Or to turn it over? Is what is spoken intended to dehumanize or delegitimize an opponent, enemy, idea, belief, or theory? Is what is spoken designed to fire up an emotional response of support or outrage? Is what is spoken designed to distract from a weak argument made elsewhere?
I suggest we stop listening to statements and arguments as if they occur in a vacuum. They don’t. They are often connected to longer term situations. Listen with an intent on understanding the deeper issue and you’ll look past what is immediate. You’ll also have a better sense of how to deal with an argument. When your focus is on the longer term, what happens in the short term is not as important. When your focus is on the longer term, losing in the short term is not that big of a deal. Sometimes strategic defeat goes a long way towards ultimate victory.
The other danger we face is compartmentalized thinking. It doesn’t matter what we are talking about – we should be looking to see the connect the issue has to other things and how it impact these other things and how they impact the issue at hand. When we do this, it gives us the opportunity to find more places of common ground – things that people care about. For example, if climate change is your issue, then you may want to consider how it relates to the person you are talking with on their terms. Maybe they care about gun rights. How does climate impact gun rights? Good question. Off the top of my head, I’d say that gun rights is really about freedom. If we continue to have climate disasters, guess what – we’ll have to make adjustments, some that go against our freedoms. And who wants that?
Granted, I just made up this situation. And yes, the argument is simple (remember, this is just an example, not a fleshed out line of reasoning. Don’t lose sight of the point). The point being that things are connected. We don’t live in a compartmentalized world. Things impact one another. We live that all the time. We don’t even have to look far. Think back to toilet paper shortages. I’m guessing that had more impact on people than just the amount of toilet paper that was available for use.
Compartmentalized thinking is like experiencing time as a series of unconnected seconds with no immediate past or future. They are just moments. If you follow social media, that’s how so many deal with whatever the injustice of the moment is. It’s also why we never seem to be able to solve these things. We aren’t considering how things relate. We aren’t considering how one action impacts other things than just the intended target.