4 Good Ways To Disagree

“A basic rule of civil debate that should always guide not only Christians but all serious people: always describe your opponents’ view as they describe it, and if you are going to accuse them of leading to a conclusion they do not actually embrace, say they do not actually embrace it.  Attributing to adherents of a particular view certain beliefs they explicitly reject is unfair at best, and dishonest at worst.” – Rodger Olsen

People don’t know how to disagree anymore. In fact, society has come to believe that disagreeing with someone means you personally detest them. This is nonsense.
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A lot of the criticism I receive is from people attacking things I never said, or points I don’t believe. This phenomenon is not unique to me. It’s everywhere. Whenever someone expresses an opinion, antagonists immediate twist and warp what was said.
This is unfair, uncivil, and really very barbaric. What is more, it is very unhelpful. It doesn’t change anyone’s mind, and it simply spreads around false belief and slander.
There are plenty more civilized ways to disagree with someone. The quote above describes some foundational rules for civil debate:

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1. Don’t Fight Scarecrows:

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Describe your opponent’s view in the best possible light. Describe their position the way they would.
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Why should we do this?
 
First of all, it’s only fair. You wouldn’t like someone twisting what you said, or painting your view in the worst possible light, correct? So don’t do that to other people.
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Second of all, it’s a logical fallacy to set up a weak example of an argument and knock it down. This is called a “straw-man fallacy,” and other than ad hominem attacks, it’s the most frequent type of criticism I receive.  What have you really accomplished if you knock down a weak version of an argument? Nothing. You’ve accomplished nothing, except maybe falsely convincing yourself that you don’t have to listen to what the other person is saying.
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If you really want to refute an argument, you have to refute the most sound, and best represented version of the argument. Like the name suggests, straw-men attacks are just lazy, weak, and unfair. You haven’t defeated a real opponent if you fight a scarecrow and win.
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2. Don’t Fight Windmills:

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If the above point was don’t fight scarecrows, this point is don’t be Don Quixote. Don’t fight windmills. In other words, don’t attack something the other person doesn’t actually believe. If you are going to accuse someone of leading to a conclusion they do not actually embrace, say they do not actually embrace it.
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Similar to the above point, this is only fair. Perhaps you see a line of reasoning leading to a certain conclusion, you can point that out, but if it’s obvious the conclusion leads to something the other person doesn’t believe, don’t claim they believe it.
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This reminds me a Brian Regan joke where he made fun of negative campaign ads. He saw one ad that marketed the other candidate as someone who wanted to taser 7-year-olds. True, he did vote for allowing 7-year-olds to be tasered, but it was only in worst case scenarios, like in case one got a gun. You don’t want the kid to accidentally shoot themselves or someone else. Perhaps opponents of this view foresee the allowing of 7-year-old tasering leading to 7-year-olds being innocently tasered, and that might be a legitimate concern, but to say the political candidate WANTS to taser 7-year-olds is just ridiculous slander.
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You wouldn’t like people claiming that you believe terrible things that you don’t actually believe, so don’t do that to other people.
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What is more, what are you actually accomplishing? Okay, you showed how a raisin-only diet is harmful…but no one believes in raisin-only diets…. Your reasoning may be flawless, but what’s the point if the other person doesn’t even believe what you are refuting?
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3. Find common ground:

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It baffles me how some people are so opposed to finding common ground. Many times, when my critics attack something I don’t believe, I’ll explain to them that I don’t believe what they said I believe. I’ll point out how I actually agree with some of what they are saying.
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But as soon as I point out how we agree, the other person will immediately seek to find how we don’t agree. I’m left there thinking, “What! What are you doing?” It’s amazing how many who preach inclusion and tolerance are so strongly opposed to agreeing or finding common ground with those they deem intolerant.
I guess I’m just a terrible person that many don’t want to be caught agreeing with me on anything.
The people you disagree with are not your enemies, or at least they don’t have to be. Most of my critics are Christians (or claim to be), and I’d like to think we don’t have to be enemies. I find it sad that some of the non-Christians who disagree with me are much more civil, and I find discussing our disagreements much more pleasant than debating with hostile Christians.  Of course, it’s only the non-Christians who cuss me out, but still. I think Christians should behave better.
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You can always find common ground with someone you disagree with, and when you find it, talking about your differences becomes much easier. Both sides will actually listen to the other, rather than just trying to make the other side look stupid. Real progress can actually be made. Viewpoints can change.
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4. Actually try to understand the other side:

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Everyone has reasons for what they believe. People don’t believe things just because they’re stupid. Perhaps they have poor reasoning, perhaps they lack knowledge that would help them see the truth, perhaps they have baggage in their past that prevents them from seeing the truth, whatever it is, it’s a reason, and reasons can be understood. Very few people are just stupid.
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If you understand the other side, not only will you be better able to point out how their stance is flawed, but you will be able to articulate your disagreement with compassion, and then the other person might actually listen to you.
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When you are discussing your disagreement, don’t put yourself at odds with your opponent. You should be on the same side. You’re both seeking the truth, or at least hopefully you both are. Not everyone seriously wants to seek the truth, in which case, it’s hard to have much of a positive civil discussion at all.
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Civil debate is the only kind of debate worthy of spending your time on. Hostile debates where people call each other names, twist words, and seek to embarrass or defeat the other side are harmful. They waste time, and no one ends up changing their beliefs. In fact, it’s more likely that the participants in such debates will only become more closed-minded.
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I have been in more debates than I care to count, and I’ve seen a lot of good and a lot of bad. I’ve learned a lot, and I still can do a better job at sticking to these rules myself. Hopefully, if we keep these guidelines in mind, and truly seek to will the good of others, we can all make much more progress toward finding truth.
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Now I’m going to post this, and wait for all the comments from people twisting my words, saying I believe things I don’t, and just overall saying I’m hopelessly wrong.
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For those of you who actually seek to engage in civil discussions seeking truth, you have my thanks and appreciation.
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4 Comments

  1. I love this! There! ( :

  2. Excellent! I really like how you point out that we should try to reason the way our “opponent” would when we are considering their viewpoint. At the very least, that will help us to understand why they might come to the conclusions they have — even if we still disagree.

    Finding common ground is a great point as well. Why make war where there is none? 😉 I'll be sharing this!

  3. Well thought out and well written!

  4. These are great reminders and ones that I do try to keep in mind.

    Here via the Faith Filled Fridays link-up

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