Friday, January 12, 2018

Speech #14: Cooling Hot Conversations

Have you ever lost a close friend? I lost a 50 year long friendship with a couple on the other end of the political spectrum because I was afraid to engage them in debate. All I dared talk to them about was the weather. The friendship became boring, it withered and died. The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is apathy.

It is a societal problem. We become ever more polarized because we only dare to have conversations with people who agree with us. That is unhealthy. I am here today to offer my personal tips to avoid that.

The meaning of the words all and none are crystal clear. Everyplace in between all and none is some. There are hundreds of synonyms for some. I call them SoS words Here are a few examples.

few/little/lot/couple/handful, many, most, hardly any, almost all, the vast majority, paltry/piddling/smattering, a bit/quite a bit, and so on.

All those Sos words mean more than 0% and less than 100% but it is not defined how many percent they do mean.

Here's the problem. In my mind, many is more than few. In your mind many is more than few. But when we converse, there is no guarantee that my many is more than your few. That causes misunderstandings and needless arguments.

Let me give you an example. I'll pick on Manal. Please forgive me Manal. Manal knows that there are about 70000 drug overdose deaths in America every year. But she doesn't say that. Se says “there a lot of OD deaths.” Sam, works for a life insurance company. He knows about the 70000 OD deaths. Sam and Manal are in complete agreement! But Sam also thinks about the 2.7 million deaths for other reasons so he says “no there are only a few OD deaths”. Now we set the stage for a pointless and stupid argument. Why? Because they used Sos words instead of numbers, and because they are not arguing about facts but rather the choice of words to describe the facts.

So here are my 3 tips.

Number 1
Replace Sos words in your speech with numbers even if you have no basis for the actual number.

We should have three magic numbers. 20% 50% and 80% When you use one of those numbers in an argument, it should be understood that you just pulled the number out of the air to avoid using a Sos word. There is no need to challenge, “Where did you get that percent?”

If you hear your opponent exaggerate, he might say 99.9%, let it go. My trick is pretend that he said the less inflammatory 80%. I try not to allow the debate to be diverted from facts to an argument about the choice of words or choice of numbers.

To be really mellow and achieve Zen, translate all of those Sos words and all of those percent numbers in your head to the universal word some. My opponent said “the vast majority” while I was thinking “hardly any.” But, we are both saying some. Instead of arguing, rejoice in your agreement and move on.

Tip 2: Troll Repellent

Suppose you say, “Sometimes X is true.” An argumentative opponent responds, “Yeah, but sometimes X is not true.” The other guy is using a debate tactic called trolling. You can ward off trolling simply by saying in the first place “Sometimes X is true, sometimes not.” Those two extra words, sometimes not, do nothing to change the meaning of your sentence. There is no linguistic or logical reason to include them. But using those two words acknowledges the contrary case up front and that repels trolls like garlic repels vampires.
Now combine tips 1 and 2. You should say “X is true 80% of the time and false 20% of the time.”

Tip 3: Choose Your Battles

When a conversation has already degraded to an argument over characterizations rather than facts, stay out of it. Suppose there is a heated argument about whether something is good or bad. There is 0% chance of you persuading anyone to flip flop on their opinions, only 20% chance of you improving the argument, and 80% chance of you increasing everyone's blood pressure by adding yet another voice to am already silly argument. Believe me, that strategy can add years to your life expectency.

There is less than 20% chance of my tips changing global society. Nevertheless, I am 80% sure that it is worth trying.