The Basics of Discussion and Argument

The act of verbal interaction between two parties holding differing, or even opposing, point of view can be roughly grouped into five distinct categories.






The first interaction is a broad and general conversation. When two parties will speak about opinions, preferences, events that are usually beyond their immediate surroundings. While aspects of their surroundings can often trigger a conversation between two associates, they also have the ability to spark a conversation among two strangers. At this point one person will usually point out an event or preference and express their preference to the subject. Since the two are invested in the conversation at the lowest possible level, just barely enough to warrant talking about it at all, when one encounters anther's belief they are easily able to merely ignore it or rationalize it away with preconceptions. Some examples would be

They don't care about the weather because they are probably staying indoors

They are unpatriotic because they seem too foreign

Rather than to explore another view or to relate to a common one, someone is just as likely to merely continue on their way or to change the subject to something else. If one encounters to many differing points of view, one is likely to draw the conclusion that this person is "too different, too dumb, or too judgmental, etc." to warrant further conversation. Likewise, if someone encounters many opinions that are similar to their own, they may feel a kinship with the individual and continue talking with them. This is how many people become friends, especially at an early age, simply be having a conversation and realizing that they both like the same thing. At the same time, someone can be equally infuriated when having to interact with someone who seems to have an opposing point of view for every one of your personal preferences and long-standing beliefs.

When these two persons touch on a topic that is important to them, or one that is/was in their immediate surroundings. Something like seeing a "Grateful Dead" poster, shortly after leaving a tip, when deciding whether to rent a scary movie or a comedy, or when trying to determine if it's better to buy a new washing machine on credit or to pay cash for an older, but used, model are all topics that can lead to a discussion among two people. This occurs when confronted with a choice that generally has two outcomes, usually a correct one and an incorrect one. While discussing a music band, one can say they like them while another says they do not. There are two outcomes, but in this case there is no correct/incorrect answer. This would be an example of a discussion so long as these two discuss why one likes the band or the other dislikes them. On the other hand a debate would occur if one person says instead of "I think the Grateful Dead are a terrible band" the following phrase, "The grateful dead are terrible". In the case of the washing machine, buying on credit would be the right option if the used model is in such bad shape that it breaks be fore you get your moneys worth or when the repairs would push the ost beyond the cost of a new machine. On the other hand, if you cannot afford to make the credit card payments then the used machine will be the better choice.

If you are discussing the act of buying a washing machine, such as if you are moving into a building without one or if your machine is threatening to break down, then it is strictly a discussion because this new washing machine is outside of your immediate environment, an event that will take place in the future. This same talk would become a debate if it is discussed in the present, such as if your washing machine broke down and you were deciding then and there how to purchase a new one. It is a debate because the conclusion arrived at will have an immediate impact upon both people involved in the talk. Just as how talking about whether you prefer horror or comedy movies would be a discussion, whereas if you were having the same discussion in a video rental place or in front of a Redbox it would become a debate.

The argument is usually the next progressive step in the interaction between two people, but it is entirely optional and ideally a debate allows two parties to come upon an optimal course of action without coming to argument. When one party insists it is correct, yet either does not have or isn't willing to share their evidence, an argument can develop. Occasionally, when two parties are debating whether to rent a horror/comedy movie, a voice comes on over the loudspeaker telling the two of you "ATTN: This store will be closing in 10 minutes, please bring all materials to the checkout desk now."

Under this kind of pressure one might use alternative arguments, such as "we picked your movie last time" or an unrelated bit of evidence such as "The last horror movie you picked we agreed was terrible" or "I' ve had a really bad day at work so could we please watch my comedy movie." Likewise, a discussion about buying a washing machine might turn into an argument if the new model is on sale for only 1 more day or if the used washing machine is posted on craigslist and could be sold any minute.

It is during times of pressure when a debate usually becomes an argument and when unrelated pieces of evidence are considered, such as "we bought a new washing machine last time and it broke in less than a year", despite the lifetime of the old machine having no effect on how long the new machine will last. Also, there is the ever popular "I make the money around here and if I want a used machine that is what we'll get" or the equally popular "I' am the one that does the laundry around here and if I want a new machine that is what we'll get".

At this point, if they are lucky, a compromise can be reached or a previously unconsidered "3rd option" arises. Otherwise a fight ensues. When two persons converse about a topic to which they hold opposing beliefs, when that topic is present in their immediate environment, they are under pressure to come to a solution, and they cannot arrive at that solution despite using increasingly non-related forms of evidence, they will fight. The fighting can often times be a form of physical confrontation; such as wrestling, boxing, shooting, or torture. But the fighting can also be verbal form of assault that transcends the topic at hand to openly confront the other person, their values, their common sense, or their very eligibility to be able to make the decision in the first place. Such as when a father is trying convince his son to wear a bike helmet with no success, only to eventually threaten to take away the bike and state "your just a kid and you will do as your told". Another example is that the government in the US does not try to convince children not to smoke cigarettes, instead they just claim that until you turn 18 you are a minor and are too young to be entrusted with such a decision.

While all good discussions stem from a good conversation, and all great debates stem from a great discussion, it is usually possible to convince someone to change their mind without giving in to pressure and starting an argument. Since arguments typically employ evidence unrelated to the specific topic at hand, they can be used to affect only the immediate outcome and are not reliable in causing long-lasting change in the target individual. That evidence can even be hurtful or offensive, and when people feel under pressure they can often say or do things that they later come to regret. Lastly, you should never have reason to ever start a fight with anyone, unless you are trying to prevent them from hurting themselves or somebody else. Even if you win, this kind of treatment will, at best, only result in someone doing what they are told the one time you do it, rarely more than that.

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