May 27, 2008

Why Conversation Is Better Than Argument

Adrenaline splashes the walls of your stomach, your blood pounds hard in the tips of your fingers and your face is flushed with color as you close an air-tight case.

It's the Arguer's Rush, and I looked for it in all my conversations, waiting for someone to step into the dance so I could push back. But lately I've been avoiding the dance entirely, and not because I agree with people more, either.

In fact, I'm much more likely to respond to someone's challenge with a nod of my head and something like, "Good point, I disagree, but good point." And to the expert arguer, that's a maddening response. She wants me to pick up my sword and swing. I might believe differently, but she wants me to prove it, usually so she can tear my proof apart. It's not surprising that over time I stopped falling for it.

I still love argument, but I'm being drawn more and more to conversation. And I think that conversation is different than argument (and better) because of a few of the assumptions that arguments make.

  1. Argument assumes that there's only one right answer. Each side tries to prove that they're right and you're wrong. If both sides are partially right AND wrong, the argument is a waste of time. Conversation can include various ideas without the assumption that only one is right.

  2. Argument assumes that the right answer is represented. Two arguers aren't going to consider that they're both wrong. Conversation can withstand the suggestion that none of the participants know the right answer.

  3. Argument assumes that the better arguer is right. This is why good arguers love to argue, and why I'm less likely to respond to a request for examples and proof. Just because you can quickly dismiss them doesn't mean you're right. In conversation, the best arguers can be deflected by an off-topic suggestion, acknowledging a good point they made, or saying the magic words: "I don't know".

  4. Argument assumes that everyone thinks they're right. When you enter into an argument with someone, you're telling everyone listening that you're 100% sure about what you're arguing. Conversation can allow people to suggest any idea, no matter how loosely held, to explore the breadth of the topic.

Of course, conversations can do all of the things above, and become arguments. But an argument is grounded in these assumptions while a conversation can fully exist without them. And that's my argument for why conversation is better than argument. Perhaps you'd like to have a conversation with me about it in the comments section below?

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