I was going to title this post “How To Gracefully Be Wrong,” but there’s only so much hypocrisy that I can tolerate on a daily basis. As I’ve said before about a few topics, whatever I know about this subject, I know by not doing it.
I am, however, an expert at obnoxiously insisting on my own point-of-view, even when presented with other reasonable alternatives that I didn’t really listen to before repeating what I just said, but louder and with more gestures.
Thus the title.
Debating stuff is fun, and at college, it tends to happen a lot (or maybe this just happens to be true around the people I’m friends with). Despairing professors, take note—we really do think about important things sometimes. And there would be no need for this post if we all had similar opinions on important things.
But we don’t. Ever.
So, disclaimer: I can be an arrogant jerk. I’m going to give advice about gracefully being wrong anyway, because there’s something fun in learning from other people’s stupid mistakes.
One: Don’t become your opinion. Sometimes I tie my identity to what I believe, even the tiny little things. This is silly. And people do it all the time. No one is going to say, “Hey! You are not just critiquing my view on predestination or the Czechoslovakian government or whether Paula Deen should be considered a good cook—you are attacking me and all that I stand for!” But that’s what it feels like, and even though we convince ourselves that we can go into “debate mode” where all is logical and orderly, emotions are a big factor too. Try to distance yourself, at least a little, from what you’re arguing, or you won’t ever be able to change your mind.
Two: If you can’t back down, back away. What I mean by this is that if a “discussion” ever becomes more of a drama than a conversation, it might be time to run in the opposite direction, because pretty soon you’ll find it really hard to back down from what you originally said. So, for example, don’t go on national TV. Or any other situation where you go into a discussion knowing that no one will change his mind. Those talking head debates on news shows stress me out like nothing else can, because I know that no one will ever say, “You know, that’s a good point,” or “I like the way you approached this issue.” There’s no time to have a nuanced discussion and too much pressure for anyone to change his mind. So, if you’re in a situation like that, don’t be.
Three: Love others. Love others even more than you love the truth. Not because you should ever have to compromise the truth in order to love the person who you’re arguing with. Because, most of the time, when we focusing on loving truth and knowledge and stuff like that, what we really mean is that we love being right or being admired for our intelligence, wit, and superior speaking skills. And then we say things that we regret. If we focus on loving people, this is less likely to happen.
Four: Practice by disagreeing with super cool people. If you respect someone, you’re more willing to let him change your mind about something, or at least see merit in a different point of view. I have never seen an interesting, reasonable discussion between two people who really dislike each other. It just doesn’t happen. I’m not saying you should only debate things with your friends, but as a general rule, if you would challenge this person to a duel to the death (or have pictured this duel and its results with great pleasure), you should probably avoid getting into heated conversations with him.
Five: Don’t be hungry, tired, or otherwise in a bad mood. Ideally, all debates should take place in a coffeeshop atmosphere with 2-7 intelligent people sitting in a circle, following general rules of etiquette to discuss a topic that all of them have thought about before and desire to learn more about in a spirit of humility as they sit in front of a warm, cozy fire. Also, unicorns.
We’re not perfect people, so our discussions won’t be perfect. We’re selfish people, so we don’t like to admit that we’re wrong. And we’re opinionated people, so we have the tendency to be firm in our convictions, even the ones that shouldn’t have that level of certainty attached to them. But guess what? We’re also redeemed people, which means learning how to be gracious, even in the little things.
At least, that’s what I think. You’re welcome to argue about it with me sometime.