My friends are pretty argumentative…in a fairly healthy way…most of the time.
It comes from placing value on knowledge.
Recently though, I’ve been involved in annoyingly moot arguments that devolve into is-not/is-too arguments that are no fun for anyone.
The advice I was given was “agree to disagree”, which I hate because that basically means “We’re both going to think the other one is an idiot and inwardly judge the other but never be honest enough to say it out loud.”
I hate that kind of hypocrisy.
I was thinking about how two very intelligent people could be caught in a is-not/is-too crossfire when obviously they should be intelligent enough to sort it out when I realized that some things are simply unknowable. Matters of faith (for example whether God’s name is Jesus, Yahweh, Allah, etc.) can never be known rationally, only through faith. Other things we rely on others to inform us. (For example I “know” that gravity pushes things through our atmosphere at 16 feet per second per second, but really I only know that someone told me that once and I believed them; I never actually measured it myself.)
I thought of all the things I didn’t know first-hand only through outside sources and in a semi-Descartesian revelation I realized that I know very little…at least nothing major.
I don’t actually know that the moon circles the earth. I’ve heard it told and through observation it makes sense, but I’ve never actually tracked it’s course across the sky.
I don’t actually know that they speak Spanish in Spain. I know that books have told me that Spanish is spoken in Spain, but I’ve never actually been there.
I don’t actually know that we dropped bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I know that’s how it was described in history books, but I wasn’t there to see it.
I have not tested any of this knowledge or observed it in any useful fashion…most of us haven’t. What I do know is that “reliable” experts have made the observations and proven them…actually I don’t even know that…I’ve never met any of these experts, so I couldn’t even say that definitively. What I do know is that the books that I have read on the subject tell me that experts have made these observations and proved them.
This might seem like a silly argument, but if you’re ever involved with a “Does not!” “Does too!” “Does not!” “Does too!” it’s useful.
Next time you’re in a face-off, instead of “Does not” say “What’s your source?”
Instead of saying what you believe to be true, say what leads you to believe what you believe is true.
For example, I was in a silly argument over how many puppeteers it took to control Big Bird. I said “one” and my friend said “at least two”. I thought it was dumb to design a puppet that needed to walk around and be controlled by more than one puppeteer. He thought it was dumb that I believed Big Bird actually walked around. We couldn’t agree on how many puppeteers it took to control Big Bird, so we were stuck in argument-land. We could agree on three things:
- Neither of us knew for sure since neither of us ever controlled Big Bird.
- His experience as a puppeteer led him to believe that practically it would take more than one puppeteer.
- Wikipedia makes the statement that one puppeteer is able to control Big Bird.
He might think Wikipedia is wrong and I might think his experience is limited, but we can all agree that we don’t know and what our sources are.
Simply put, it’s citing your source. Sometimes we can cite first-hand experience, but who of us can actually say how universal health care might affect this country? How many of us has actually gone to the countries most dangerous inner city and seen how guns and public schools affect America’s youth? How many of us has seen first-hand what the climate was like a million years ago and can compare and contrast today’s climate?
Many of us “know” these things, but only through secondary sources and not through first-hand observation.
The game we developed in these arguments is called “What’s your source?”
If you can’t agree on the “truth” you can at least agree on what sources lead you to which truths.
It seems such a small thing, but when dealing with loved ones it’s so much more pleasurable to have your sources disagree than to disagree yourselves.