I promised my students: no matter where life was taking them, they would be better off for learning to make a decent argument. And it's true, isn't it?: a person's opponents may include only his or her mother-in-law and insurance company, but--at certain points--everyone has to either argue, or accept a whole bunch of cockamamie craziness.
Unfortunately, though, we very often decide something's worth fighting for only to blow it. We find ourselves in a tizzy and forget: winning an argument hinges upon fairness and respect.
- If we expect others to give us time but offer nothing of real value, in return, we lose.
- If we presume to know everything about others and their situations, we lose.
- If we--in any way--come across as thinking we're "better than," we lose.
- If we reveal how narrow-minded we are, we lose.
- If we go in with no understanding of the other side, we lose.
- If we convey a negative attitude, we lose.
- If we fail to establish common ground, we lose.
- If we neglect to explain why we're arguing (why it matters), we lose.
I lose arguments more often than I'd like to admit, mostly because I forget: if I'm arguing well, it shouldn't look as though I'm arguing, at all.
I go back in time and remember this particular street preacher, in Dallas: how he stood on the corner of Cedar Springs and Throckmorton and beat on his Bible, howling for LGBT souls. I was straight as an arrow, but I kept a clear berth. I didn't like the way he sold the Jesus I had tucked way down deep in my heart.
When I get my feathers real good and ruffled, I try to remind myself: I never saw anyone talk to the street preacher; far as I could tell, he lost his argument over and over. I know I don't want to argue like him, but What Would Jesus Do seems too hard to obtain, so I aim for Mister Rogers. Over and over, I fall short, but I'm working in that direction. I am.
Please view this video of Mister Rogers defending PBS to the United States Senate: