How Can You Argue Effectively Against Someone’s Reality?
There are certain ways to argue a point in order to get someone to listen to what you have to say, and even grow to believe you. The bigger the lie or the bigger the change that a person must make in order to adjust to what you’ve told them; the harder it will be for you to convince them. People are more apt to believe you when there’s an immediate threat being posed, when they aren’t as knowledgeable about the subject, or when you have a monopoly on the information. People also take into account the reliability of the person trying to convince them of something. Although there are many rules that go along with providing an effective argument, there are still those ideas that threaten people’s reality in ways they are not willing to modify.
People feel entitled to their own reality. Two people can hold to opposing views, and their own view will be real for them individually. People believe that their reality or facts are unquestionable. There are even some principles that you can use to negotiate yourself through an argument. For example:
“FIRST PRINCIPLE: AVOID EVASION!
SECOND PRINCIPLE: AVOID TENDENTIOUS RENDERINGS OF OTHER PEOPLE'S VIEWS!
THIRD PRINCIPLE: AVOID TENDENTIOUS AMBIGUITY!
FOURTH PRINCIPLE: AVOID TENDENTIOUS ARGUMENT FROM ALLEGED IMPLICATION!
FIFTH PRINCIPLE: AVOID TENDENTIOUS FIRSTHAND REPORTS!
SIXTH PRINCIPLE: AVOID TENDENTIOUS USE OF CONTEXTS!”
These principles are examined in Arne Naess’ book “Deep Ecology” in relation to his interpretation of Gandhi’s nonviolent verbal communication (NVC). Gandhi’s NVC encourages people to say what they mean and mean what they say in order for the conversation not to result in ill feelings towards one another. When you speak in abstract terms it’s easy to believe that two opposing views can both be right/legitimate, however, when you get more specific it’s sometimes hard not to want to interfere with someone else’s reality.
The types of realities that I am referring to are cultural and social realities. Abuse, and racism (as well as other kinds of ‘isms’) are the types of realities that might lead others with opposing views to want to change the person’s opinion. As much as you believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, there are certain situations in which you’ll think that your stance is the right stance. This is when things get complicated. The general public agrees that abuse is inacceptable, so if you abuse someone, then you will go to jail. There is a general acceptance that abuse is bad, and we can therefore avoid the reality that abusive people have created for themselves by punishing them (law). However, can you really ever do away with a person’s reality within himself or herself? For instance: how can you convince someone to stop being racist? How can you convince someone that certain people deserve the same types of rights that they do? Racism is unacceptable on the surface level: people have to be politically correct, and hate crimes are punished. But racism occurs at a more personal level, and cannot be regulated adequately because there are many ways to mask racism.
I began thinking about this issue when Alan Gomez came to speak at my school about the immigration laws in Arizona. He said that when you start a conversation with someone about the laws on immigration, you have to speak to them as if you only get one opportunity to convince them. He framed the situation in this way because people have had years of history and fact that have allowed them to avoid the issue of racism. It is even a topic that comes up in my Cities class: when you’re looking at a policy or a law, you have to look at who is included and who is excluded.
I would find it difficult to accept someone else’s reality if there was a moral question involved. It would be even more difficult to try and interfere with that reality. These people have created a reality for themselves in which they have enough background/history to back up their point of view. The more common realities (i.e. racism) have enough support from other people to make them ‘true.’ There is also the fact that because racism can be masked, so there is not immediate threat posed to the person who believes that a certain race to be inferior. Alan suggested that the best way to deal with them is to represent the reality that you believe in as best as you can, and try to get as many supporters as possible.
1. Naess, Arne. The Ecology of Wisdom. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2008.