Argument v. Persuasion: Winning or Winning Over?

I went to a party last weekend, and the conversation turned to one of the most deeply-held core values that defines us as civilized people: pizza.  Native-born Midwesterner that I am, I summoned my analytical and forensic skills in support of the innovation and achievement of deep-dish pizza, also known as “Chicago-style.”  There were others in attendance who hailed from points further east and extolled the virtues of thinner, less fulfilling fare.  Hard words about which was more “authentically Italian,” and which “tasted better,” ensued.  No physical violence occurred, though feelings ran high.

What intrigued me about our “discussion” was not that we had differing opinions about pizza, nor that our opinions were deeply held.  What got me thinking was how quickly and easily our discussion turned to debate.  I really am not that passionate about pizza, but I did not want to lose the argument!

None of us were really trying to persuade the others to convert to our point of view; generally, we tried to undermine or attack each other’s positions.  Some of us made bold assertions, claiming the authority of “facts,” in efforts to drive their opponents from the field.  Others took the approach of asking questions, more to cross-examine and weaken what someone else had said than in an honest search to gain insight or perspective.

“Well, I lived in Italy, and there is no deep-dish pizza in Italy!”

“So, you ate every single kind of pizza that exists in Italy, and you know beyond a doubt that there is no deep-dish pizza anywhere?”

I have a friend who is fond of saying that all of life is a competition.  It was enjoyable to debate something in which I was not very invested emotionally.  In some ways it reminded me of what attracted me to law school so long ago.  At the same time, none of us were persuaded to accept, or even really to listen to, another point of view.  If anything, we were pushed to reinforce our own opinions and strengthen our arguments.  it was more about talking than about listening.

We live in a society that believes in the power and purity of argument and competition.  Our concept of justice is predicated on the idea that confronting witnesses and evidence in an adversarial process leads to the truth.  We spend billions of dollars each year on athletic competitions that entertain, but do not lead to deeper wisdom or understanding.  We believe that wars change things.

Are you trying to win people over, or just holding onto your own little piece of the pie?

[Image by rainydayknitter]

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