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March 1st, 2019
For those who like to engage in discourse of any kind, whether this be philosophical, practical, or even fantastical, the kind of reaction people have to disagreement is a window through which we can understand much about such a person.
We must of course be mindful of situational differences. There is a vast degree of difference between someone stonewalling several dozen frenzied journalists who are hounding a person with questions as they try to get into a car and someone who stonewalls a single person in calm debate, as often happens in lover’s quarrels. The person confronted with dozens of questions from dozens of sources is in a completely unwinnable situation and stonewalling such confrontation is not only forgivable, but probably wise. Stonewalling a single person, however, speaks volumes about such a person’s inability to process their own emotions and give productive words to unravel internal and external conflict.
A large problem that skews our view of people and their arguments is the manner through which they deliver such messages. Jordan Peterson, for example, seems to speak in a way that seems perpetually on the verge of yelling while simultaneously evoking the notion of a passionate desperation to get a message across. Regardless of what he says, such a method is bound to find success for the simple reason the people relate to emotion far more readily than they do an analytical deconstruction of the message. We might draw the uncomfortable connection between such a speaker and Hitler who was perhaps a master orator when it came to the method of oration as opposed to the message through which such oration was delivered; simply put, Hitler had a bad message but he had a compelling and emotional way of packaging it.
Severing the emotion evoked by a tone from the actual message meant by the words is extremely difficult, especially when the message touches on inherently emotional subjects. The levels upon which emotion can be provoked in the hearts of listeners multiplies the more ways such emotion is engaged.
Often, the method of oration is used as merely a delivery vehicle for something far less convincing, like coating a bitter pill or poison with peanut butter and feeding it to some unsuspecting victim.
Sussing out the core of a message from it’s emotional resonance is an extremely difficult thing to do, requiring a high degree of emotional regulation on the part of the listener. There is, however, another way to find out if a speaker is trying to communicate in good faith: And this is when they are actively met with calm and level-headed disagreement.
If such a source of disagreement is stonewalled, the evidence starts to point to the probability that our impassioned speaker has themselves intoxicated with their own message and is riding their own high more than they are trying to find some better way of thinking and being.
If, however, such a speaker listens intently and is willing to tarry out into the new territory opened up by such disagreement, we know our speaker is at least acting in good faith, if not actively looking to change for the better.
It is an uncomfortable truth that a better way of thinking that we have not yet discovered is going to be –to some degree – at odds with the way we currently think.
However, this need not be a battle of winning and gaining, defeat and victory. Our thinking can morph to hunger for such disagreement for the benefit of two simple reasons:
Either the counter-argument will become a stone upon which to sharpen our point.
The counter-argument will embody some superior way of thinking that we can adopt and in so doing be equipped with a more powerful tool.
In this sense, argument can become the opposite of violent battle. Whereas in war the victor takes the weapons of the vanquished and thereby gains strength, in argument, the “defeated” can usurp the tools of their opponent and expand their territory of thought.
It all boils down to a simple question: when faced with disagreement, do we entertain fear or do we invoke curiosity?
Only one of these equips us more fully for tomorrow.