All Dogmatic Statements Are Untrue!

Here's an old but very useful exercise. When confronted by someone with strong and vocal convictions, challenge him or her to argue the opposite case. Suggest that if the person understands the situation so well, she or (more likely) he can surely articulate the countervailing argument.

There are some predictable results. Often the person tries to fudge the game. He denigrates the contra-argument in order to strengthen his own. Faced with this, the best tactic is to chide the person into playing fair. You say something like, “You'd be kicked off a high school debate team for making an argument so poorly!”

But once the person has made an honest effort, you normally see him begin to moderate his position. He will likely continue to support the original statement, but it will be with caveats and context and a little more consideration.

It is a useful exercise and why, of course, high school and college debate teams teach more than just skills in argumentation. And it is particularly appropriate if you spend a lot of time with highly opinionated, testosterone fueled men in their thirties, as I was wont to do in years gone by.

A sad fact of life is that the less people know about things, the stronger their opinions about them tend to be. This little technique is helpful in making them see the larger picture. But if they refuse to take your challenge, you may want to heed the advice of my mother and, “Never argue with people who are wrong.”

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