Tips, Videos, Handouts

The best arguments

In this video from his newly mowed backyard Craig explores what makes a good argument. What types of discussions are the most satisfying? It’s not the ones we win, Craig concludes.

In fact, the best discussions are not arguments at all but “explorations.”

Here’s a related Good Group Tip that Craig wrote: Okay to change your mind.

This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody. Hey it’s Craig Freshley here. I just cut the lawn for the first time this spring and while I was cutting the lawn I was thinking about a meeting yesterday.

We were talking about politics. We were talking about how to have hard conversations with people of different political parties. And somebody said, “The best arguments I’ve ever had are the ones where we both come away with seeing things in new ways.”

I started thinking about that; thinking back on arguments I had with fellow students back in college as a philosophy major, thinking about arguments I’ve had over countless dinner tables and on countless walks. And the best arguments I’ve ever had are the ones where we each came away with a new perspective on things!

This is very different than: “The best arguments I’ve ever had are the ones that I won.”

There is this idea that we go into an argument with the objective of winning. But why? Well it’s probably about ego and pride. I want to give myself a sense of satisfaction of being better than you. But when I look back on the arguments that I’ve had, that’s not what I really cherish.

And what’s this about winning an argument anyway? How do you know that you’ve won? Well in a formal argument — we call that a debate — there’s a way to tell who wins and who loses. There is a proposition. One side defends the proposition. Another side opposes the proposition. And at the end of the debate the audience or a set of judges vote and a winner is declared. But what’s that about? It’s about whoever is better at supporting or opposing the proposition, the initial idea. You win the argument if you’re better than the other guy at citing evidence, at clever dialogue, at rational thinking, of backing up the initial thought. It doesn’t necessarily mean that new thoughts are generated or created. That’s the best argument: when new knowledge is created.

So I’m thinking that if I want to win an argument I’m going to focus on my talk. But if I want to come away from an argument seeing things in new ways, I’m going to focus on the listening. I’m going to draw out new knowledge from the other person and try to create new ideas rather than simply blindly defending my initial idea.

Thanks for listening everybody.

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