Q&A with Steve Dawson (Part 1)

A little while ago, I mentioned the St. Paul Street Evangelization project on the blog.  SPSE is trying put a Catholic presence in the public square that opens the door to dialogue.  They’re currently doing a fundraiser on IndieGoGo.

Since apologetics and arguments are basically catnip to me, I contacted Steve Dawson to ask some questions about the project.  I’ve divvied the Q&A up into two parts: the first is focused on a big picture view of the project, the second has more to do the specific way SPSE answers questions.

Can you give a precis of your project for the readers?

After I recognized that we needed to convert the culture — and I felt called to that during pro-life work, [as] I kept telling people that we needed to convert the culture in order to put an end to abortion — I would ask my friends and my family, “When was the last time you were out somewhere, and somebody tried to publically evangelize to you? In public, when was the last time someone tried to share the Catholic faith with you?” Across the board, I don’t think I met a single person to whom this had ever happened. I felt that that was a problem, and that we could do something along those lines.

I prayed about it, and I had this idea to set up a sign, out in public, and just allow people to come to us. With a couple of friends of mine, we just sat down and chatted about the sign, and what kind of literature we should have, and we just tried it.

The goal is to respond to the mandate of Jesus, and to take the Gospel to all nations — meaning, starting with our local area, to take our Catholic faith to the streets, but to do so in a non-confrontational way, where we just allow the Holy Spirit to bring the people to us that He wants us to speak to. That way, the people we talk to actually want to talk to us. It works great.

We find a high pedestrian traffic area, where lots of people walk by. We set up, we start praying the rosary, and we’ll just sit there, and pray at first. Generally, people will start coming right away, at least within a half-hour. But if it’s slow, and people are coming close enough and looking, we’ll offer them a rosary. If they stop, and start talking to us, that’s great.

What we’re doing is speaking to people about the faith, we’re meeting them where they’re at. People are asking questions, people are asking for prayers. We’re bringing people back into the faith who have fallen away, we’re having good conversations with Protestants about misconceptions that they have about the faith. At the very minimum, we can usually convince a Protestant who used to think that Catholics were not Christian that we actually are Christian.

Basically, the vision here is to spread across the country, to help local groups get started and to provide tools and resources for them so that they can effectively use this method, that has worked so well for us, in their local area.

We’re expanding beyond our wildest dreams. There has been interest elsewhere. There’s already a group in Detroit — they’ve been going out, and have been successful. Our own local Portland team is growing and growing exponentially. We just had 20 people out there last weekend. The Dominicans are helping out. Other priests are getting involved and want to offer sidewalk confessions. Fresno, California is starting up, Glenn Falls in New York started on Wednesday, and then we are working with people in Connecticut, St. Louis, Denver, the United Kingdom. It’s spreading all throughout the country, and in a short period of time.

 

What do you think makes for a productive conversation?

There has to be some back and forth, because you have to understand where the person’s coming from. They need to speak, but they also need to stop and listen for them to be able to understand what you’re saying. I know a conversation’s productive when there’s back and forth, where there’s patience on both [sides]. It’s friendly, it’s charitable.

A productive conversation moves — I don’t know if that makes sense — but it moves in a direction. It doesn’t stay, going over the same things over and over again. Sometimes it seems like a person is just not listening. What you’re saying is just not getting through, they keep saying the same things over and over again, and, to me, that is just an unproductive conversation. We’re not getting anywhere.

I always start the conversations with friendliness, with charity, with love. I’m very friendly, jovial. I don’t do it on purpose, that’s just the type of person I am, and it immediately lowers defenses more than to attack them. A lot of times they’ll be jovial back. That right there can make for a good conversation, a friendly conversation. When we get into the meat of the conversation, so long as there’s respect, and back-and-forth, and listening, charity, patience — that makes a good conversation.

 

Have you learned anything from this ministry that you would like to pass on to people having conversations with non-Catholic family and friends?

I’ve learned the necessity for patience. I’m not naturally a patient person. When I’m in a conversation, I think what I’m saying sounds reasonable. I find very rational the arguments that I’m giving. For me, when someone is just not being rational — when they’re saying things that are really irrational — I have a tendency to not be patient. So patience is so important, and I’ve learned that.

Also, charity. Just love the person you’re speaking to. They can tell if you’re just trying to win an argument, and whatever you say will not be effective. You have to be charitable, patient, and willing to listen. I’d say those are the most important things.

 

Part Two is up now.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

    I’m in contact with Mr. Dawson, and in the time since this interview there have been folks contacting the group from D.C., Ohio, Illinois, Philadelphia, and New York City. (Not bad for Month No. 4.)

    • Steve Dawson

      Thanks Leah for your support. May God bless you abundantly.

      In the Immaculate Hearts of Jesus and Mary,
      Steve Dawson

  • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

    “They can tell if you’re just trying to win an argument, and whatever you say will not be effective.”
    Oh the irony! “Don’t just try to win the argument, because then you’ll never win the argument,” is it? Something there seems…not quite right, somehow…

    • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

      You missed the “just.”

    • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

      And you can’t think of any natural interpretation more charitable than that one? Seriously?

      • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

        Can you? I’d like to see you try.
        Here’s where I guess you’ll go with it: you aren’t *just* trying to win the argument if you’re also trying to be charitable, patient &c. But then why are you trying to be charitable, patient, and the like? Well, according to that quote, it’s in order to be “effective.” Not in order to have a productive conversation; that’d be something different. It’s in order to be “effective.” What effect, I wonder, might he be talking about? Considering that it’s an evangelization project and that he talks about making people lower their defenses, I can only assume that the effect he means is…
        …wait for it…
        …winning the argument.

        So no, I can’t actually think of a more charitable interpretation than that. But, as I said, I’d like to see you try.

        • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

          The irony is dependent on equivocating on the word argument and disappears if you look at it the way it was clearly meant. Let me start out with some examples:

          Here in Germany we have religious education in public schools. It’s segregated by denomination and thought, in the words of our federal constitution, “in accordance with the principles of the religious body”. In the state where I went to school the students not taking religion get a replacement subject titled “values and norms” for which the state takes exclusive responsibility. I don’t want to discuss that system right now, it’s just background for my anecdote: I think I was about 13 or 14 when some of my friends had a unit on cults in values and norms. Since their teacher was lazy they got divided into groups each researching a specific cult and presenting it. We had a Jehova’s witness in our class (he didn’t have to take either subject) and my friends got the brilliant idea of inviting him in and making their presentation a discussion with him. I warned them but they wouldn’t listen. I wasn’t there to see it, but everyone who was says he totally trounced both them and the teacher. It turns out Jehova’s Witnesses actually do have stock answers to the points the man on the street will spontaneously come up with and their children know them. My friends admitted he clearly won the argument and I suspect if I asked them today they would still not have any answers to the points he made all those years ago. But none of them started taking his ideas serious. They collected their 5 (I think that’s a D in American money), shook the dust of their feet and moved on.

          The reason I could warn them is that I was regularly discussing the same questions with him on the schoolyard and knew both his and my friends’s arguments. And I had what at the time seemed like better luck. Early on he had given me a copy of “Reasoning from the Scriptures”, which is basically their hybrid catechism and mission manual. Taking an afternoon to read through that basically closes the inferential distance and then it was simple to think of points that didn’t have their answers printed in the manual. When I talked to him it took about five minutes to get to a question he couldn’t answer. Then he would make some lame excuse for stopping the discussion and return with an answer a few days later. About three weeks in he broke our discussions off altogether. I think I decisively won every single one of our arguments and at the time that was four fifths of what I wanted. But i didn’t make a friend, I have no more contact with him and, according to the grapevine, a friend of a friend of a friend had him proselytizing at the door less than a year ago, so he still seems to be a Witness.

          Fast forward a few years, and I used to meet Mormon missionaries at the bus stop near the university I went to. They probably had their base nearby, because I had the first discussion at that exact place three or four times. Once they start I don’t know of any polite way to disengage from them. But only once did they succeed in giving me a Book of Mormon and extracting a promise to pray about it. (According to their doctrine God promises everyone trying that a direct revelation that the Book of Mormon is true.) Whether natural or divine my experience was strongly disconfirming, so they didn’t get a convert. But they came closer than their fellow missionaries before and after them.

          The reason they got so close is that I believed one of them that he was subjectively certain of having gotten that revelation. But I’m digressing, the point relevant right now is that Mormon missionaries are not supposed to argue, just to explain and to ask for commitments. And the missionary with the sincere testimony was clearly striving to comply with that directive but not quite succeeding. He clearly did have answers to many of my points, and several times he would give a good fight for about two minutes, clearly enjoying himself as much as I did. Sometimes he would even fall into English (because he didn’t have the German vocabulary for Catholic-fighting) leaving Elder Sidekick somewhat befuddled. Then he would suddenly catch himself and come back to praying about the book of Mormon. Point is, he did have the natural drive to win the argument, but he also knew that would buy him nothing. And he actually knew that because the Mormon church has empirical results on what works in proselytizing.

          Let me be boring and spell out the moral:
          The argument is, in this context, a kind of contest easily won by being the better informed party. Winning it does not correlate well with convincing the interlocutor, or with making them interested, or charming them. Nor, for that matter, with being right. In fact valuing winning the argument over these goals tends to hurt them. And, contra you hypothesis in reply to Elliot’s comment, that is not because it makes a hidden thing obvious. If you talk to missionaries you already know they are trying to convert you and that is not the problem. But them just trying to win the argument is annoying, because it’s an additional problem.

          Now I guess you’ll redefine “winning the argument” as achieving an objective of the communication. But, to be blunt, that is just trying to win the argument.

          And I notice you do recognize the distinction. Because your contrast to being effective is having a “productive” conversation. I don’t see why products should be any better than effects.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            I had a longer reply typed up, but I don’t like to waste time, soooo…

            “The argument is, in this context, a kind of contest easily won by being the better informed party. Winning it does not correlate well with convincing the interlocutor, or with making them interested, or charming them. Nor, for that matter, with being right.”

            Are you trying to say that “winning the argument” is just a matter of being *more* right than the opposition, or of having more unanswered arguments (or some such thing)? I have a hard time thinking of any other interpretation of what you’re saying here, but your meaning is far from clear.

            If so, you’re way off track. For one thing, being more right than one’s opposition does correlate with being right. Maybe not very much, but it does. Also, and more pertinently, Dowd’s entire point rests on the idea that “effective” debate (argumentation, conversation, call it what you like) is debate in which the other side “find[s] very rational the arguments that I’m giving” – which, given that he’s an evangelist, is kinda not surprising. The desired effect, for him, is the thing where you say something and the other person is struck by it. They may not eventually *agree*, but there undeniably is an element of convincing, without which it’s impossible to understand his idea of success. Which, hey, is exactly what happens when you win an argument. You say toe-may-toe, I say toe-mah-toe, let’s call the whole thing off.

            I agree that there’s a connotative difference. “Winning the argument” is more like “You will see that I’m right,” whereas “effective” conversations are more like “We will see if I’m wrong.” But can’t you see that those are one and the same thing, just associated with two different affective states? The part about being convincing is at the core of both, and all the other stuff is just frill. That’s why it makes sense for him to have transitioned from one mode to the other: he didn’t reject the just-win-arguments mode because its *premise* was wrong, he rejected it because its *method* was wrong. The interlocutor’s submission was the goal the whole time. The only question is whether to seek it aggressively and directly, or whether to do so passively and indirectly.

            I guess at this point you could complain about the way I phrased my last comment, but that was the whole point: my entire position is that Dowd’s switch from “winning arguments” to “debating effectively” is at best a superficial change. It *seems* real and thoroughgoing, but that’s only because he has found a way to recruit everyday language to his side. If we just start using language a bit more rigorously, it’ll become trivially obvious that he hasn’t changed very much at all. Far from equivocating, I’m preventing the opposite fallacy: the use of two different-sounding words to imply two different phenomena when in fact only one is in play.

          • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

            Long replies seem to distract.

            1. If you argue only to win, you will win nothing.
            2. If you argue to win while keeping in mind the person you address, you may win.

          • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

            I mean “winning the argument” in the obvious way. An onlooking bystander, for example, could easily tell you who had won the argument , and distinguish that question both from who was right and from who was most likely to change as a result of it.

            And, frankly, I have serious doubts about your represented inability to understand it.

            I think this is neither effective nor productive, so I’ll bow out now.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “1. If you argue only to win, you will win nothing.
            2. If you argue to win while keeping in mind the person you address, you may win.”

            Right- hence the irony. “Keeping in mind the person you address” is typically understood as a positive character trait, a sort of virtue that distinguishes nice debaters from not-nice ones. But if it’s merely a tactic that’s adopted for the sake of expediency, just what kind of virtue is it? The irony rests precisely on this oddity: that Dowd is recommending that evangelists *seem* interested in the other person for their own sake, while in fact only being interested in them *for the sake of winning the interaction.*

            “I mean ‘winning the argument’ in the obvious way.”

            lol! Seriously? I ask for a clear, coherent definition of your terms and you only say “…in the obvious way”? I’m sorry, but that’s laughable, especially since you’ve provided zero reasons to think that Dowd (who, remember, is the center of this whole thing) means it in the same way you do.

            I totally agree that a conversation can be neither productive nor effective when one side can’t even begin to define its terms. So far everybody else in this conversation has understood my point (albeit perhaps in a different phrasing), up to and including the only other person to have accused me of constructing a straw-man. You’re the only holdout, Gilbert, so you’ll excuse me if I’m swayed neither by your obstinacy nor your puzzling decision to leave the conversation practically before it’s begun.

          • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

            It’s obviously not a character trait adopted for the sake of expediency.

            I always start the conversations with friendliness, with charity, with love. I’m very friendly, jovial. I don’t do it on purpose, that’s just the type of person I am, and it immediately lowers defenses more than to attack them. A lot of times they’ll be jovial back.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            Quote-mining, eh? Two can play at that game:

            “I’m not naturally a patient person.”

            If you look at his full statement (and not, ahem, just one cherry-picked line of it), you pretty much have to chose one of these options: he’s flat-out contradicting himself; he’s an inconsistent person when it comes to arguing with charity; or patience is a different quality than charity. I reject the former on the grounds that it leads nowhere interesting, probably isn’t what he had in mind, and is less plausible than the other two. Either of the latter two options, however, lead inexorably to the conclusion that there is a tendency or attitude that he has had to intentionally bring out in himself (if he displays it inconsistently) or intentionally develop for himself (if it’s different than what he is naturally). In both of those cases we can reasonably ask what motivation he has for emphasizing or nurturing that trait; in both of those cases, the only plausible answer (given, again, the context) is that he has done it in order to become a more effective evangelist.

            Anything else you’d like to try?

          • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

            Not naturally being patient contradicts being naturally jovial?

            Anyway, questioning a man’s motivations for doing what is objectively a good thing — and twinning, without any support, this explicitly and exclusively to a recent side-project here featured — is a rhetorical trick meant to smear a man’s name when you want to but just don’t have the evidence.

            It’s like an old running gag on Jon Stewart, though I might be conflating two: “I’m not saying your mother’s a whore … I’m just asking questions!”

    • http://paraphasic.blogspot.com Elliot

      It’s absolutely right. A lot of people use arguments like they’re rubber bludgeons capable of forcing the other person into submission. I remember in college having discussions with an otherwise well-meaning Orthodox convert who wanted to convey to me his problems with Catholicism. His approach was very logically aggressive and he tried to present his arguments as “clinchers” that would close the book on Catholicism. He made some fine points, but I would just laugh because I knew that I wasn’t going to accept anything taught in that manner.

      Real teaching (according to Aquinas) isn’t a matter of implanting information in someone else’s head, but walking the path to discovery with them so they can see for themselves. If another person doesn’t feel like you’re walking with them, but gets the sense instead that you’re whipping them forward or dragging them toward a preconceived goal, they’re not going to continue. Teachers need to engage their students’ interests and beliefs and to work from what the student already knows and believes toward something fuller. This is, of couse, difficult to do in practice and takes a lot of patience, but teacher and student benefit from it tremendously.

      • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

        “It’s absolutely right.”
        I didn’t say it was wrong, just that it was ironic.

        “A lot of people use arguments like they’re rubber bludgeons capable of forcing the other person into submission…Teachers need to engage their students’ interests and beliefs and to work from what the student already knows and believes toward something fuller.”
        My point exactly: the best way to force the other person into submission is to do so in such a way that they don’t even know that that’s what’s happening. Which, again, strikes me as being ironic.

        • http://paraphasic.blogspot.com Elliot

          Oh sure, I was just trying to illuminate. Not pick a fight. I tend to get excited about pedagogy.

    • CW

      As a non-believer whose had several conversations with evangelizing christians of various denominations, I think he’s right.

      A few times, the person seeking to convert me has seemed very caught up in their sense of superiority. They are right, I am wrong, and (and this one is the real problem) their rightness makes them better than me. They will demonstrate their superiority and the superiority of their beliefs by having me break on the floor. In that situation, I get defiant. I’m not inclined to listen to credit even good arguments because I don’t want the evangelist to triumph over me.

      On the other hand, I’ve dealt with people who seem to be motivated by love. They may be just as convinced that they are right and I am wrong about certain key issues, but aren’t focused on proving their personal superiority. In those situations, I’ve been much more open to engaging in a real discussion.

      • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

        “I think he’s right.”
        Um…yes, I also think that he happens to be right. He’s just right in an ironic way, is all.

        (Is this because I said that “something seems not quite right” with what he said? If so, where’s all of *my* charity? As if it’s all that hard to think up an alternative interpretation of that…)

        “A few times, the person seeking to convert me has seemed very caught up in their sense of superiority…On the other hand, I’ve dealt with people who seem to be motivated by love. They may be just as convinced that they are right and I am wrong about certain key issues…”
        Yes! This is precisely my point. I think that some people genuinely are concerned with helping others suss out what they (the others) believe, in what might typically be construed as a loving way. (For the record, I am not one of these people.) But I also think that some people are mostly concerned with winning converts and will do more or less whatever it takes to get there, and I think that it’s particularly funny when those people attempt to create a warm, fuzzy reputation for themselves. (Because, after all, isn’t it that much worse to try to deceive people about what you’re doing, rather than just being straight-up about it?)

        (For the record, I’m not one of those people, either. Nor do I think that those two sorts of people represent an exhaustive typology.)

        • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

          But I also think that some people are mostly concerned with winning converts and will do more or less whatever it takes to get there, and I think that it’s particularly funny when those people attempt to create a warm, fuzzy reputation for themselves.

          Steve is not one of these people. You have no basis for believing he is.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            Really? Then why does he justify patient, charitable argumentation on the grounds that it’s “effective”? When I talk to people who are not concerned with winning converts, they usually say that patient, charitable argumentation is best for finding truth, or just good for its own sake, or is good for building a reasoning community with diverse opinions, or some such thing. Not once have I heard such a person say, “Well, you should be patient and charitable and nice because that’s how you effectively change someone’s mind.”

          • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

            It helps that the whole interview was framed in questions regarding techniques, and effectiveness, and “productive conversations.”

            I accuse him, too, of answering the questions the interviewer asked.

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  • http://ereadingromanticism.wordpress.com Bernadette

    The best conversations that I’ve had with folks about religion have come through conversations that weren’t at all about “converting” the other person but were about just trying to understand the other person’s beliefs, why they held them, why they mattered to them, etc. Really more about a searching to understand the other person—and to find common ground—than to change anyone’s mind. Don’t know if such a conversation model could ever be ported over into a more overtly evangelizing model though.

    • http://ereadingromanticism.wordpress.com Bernadette

      “best conversations that I’ve had with folks about religion have come through conversations” Eek…I mean “the best conversation that I’ve had with folks about religion weren’t at all about ‘converting’…”

  • R.C.

    In defense of those who “use arguments like bludgeons”:

    What exactly is meant by that phrase?

    Isn’t it that they voiced their arguments while simultaneously holding the view that the arguments themselves were correct and true and thus sufficient to convince any person willing to be convinced by logic and evidence? That you, hearing their arguments, would change your mind because you are just such a person?

    If that’s what’s meant by a person who “uses arguments as bludgeons” then, well, sorry to be a noodge, but…if the argument is actually correct, shouldn’t you be convinced? No matter how it was delivered, but especially if the tone-of-voice in which it was delivered suggested that the speaker was himself convinced and found the argument likely to be convincing in general?

    And if the argument isn’t correct, then of course you’re obligated to show the speaker that it isn’t so that he can dutifully revise his views in response to new evidence/argumentation.

    But until you have shown him that, he doesn’t yet know it; and thus has has (as of yet) no reason to doubt the correctness of his argument. Given that state-of-mind, why should he be under some obligation to pretend like he’s less than certain? (At the moment, he is certain. To pretend otherwise would be dishonest, wouldn’t it?)

    Don’t get me wrong: I know well that sounding convinced of one’s own rightness (on the merits) often comes across to the listener as “sounding convinced of one’s own superiority.” This, naturally, can anger the listener.

    But isn’t that usually the listener’s fault? Isn’t it generally a result of the listener’s pride? A visceral reaction, saying, in effect, “I could interpret your tone as that of being convinced on the merits, which is almost certainly what you believe and intend it to be (if you’re thinking about your tone-of-voice at all). But it bugs me that, now that I’m a grown-up, some other grown-up could possibly believe he has anything at all to teach me. So in defiance of all probability, I’m going to give you the least-charitable hearing I can and assume that you not only think yourself personally superior to me, but actively intend to convey that by your tone.”

    Isn’t that basically it? (Or is this too much projection on my part? For I confess I’m just as prone to this kind of pridefulness as the next man. Indeed, if you all tell me you’ve never felt this way, then perhaps I’m more prone.)

    I say all this to point out: Perhaps our ability to be angered by someone else trying to convince us of something is entirely proportional to our pridefulness and insecurity.

    Perhaps sometimes he’s not using a bludgeon; but we’re rather bruising rather too easily, and our very bruising is with polemical purpose.

    P.S. None of the above should be applied to the man who tries to propagandize us by swaying our emotions through advertising instead of convincing us through fair argumentation. The latter is an intrinsically respectful adult mode of discourse inasmuch as it acknowledges that the other has a mind and communicates with that mind through fair-n-square persuasion. The former is intrinsically disrespectful of our humanity, treating us as animals to be domesticated or objects to be shoved about. The man who tries to persuade me has done me a compliment; the man who tries to propagandize me ought to be told to go to hell, or, if he is particularly forceful about it, perhaps hanged.)

    • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

      If that’s what’s meant by a person who “uses arguments as bludgeons” then, well, sorry to be a noodge, but…if the argument is actually correct, shouldn’t you be convinced?

      Unfortunately, not everyone is Mr. Spock. (Come to think of it, that’s kind of the point of Mr. Spock.)

    • http://paraphasic.blogspot.com Elliot

      Hahaha, I agree about Spock. As the person who introduced bludgeons to the conversation, let me explain. I think that as much as people have an interest in the truth, in discussion their arguments (though sound) can sometimes be employed with the intention of achieving dominance over another person. I argue to win, damn it! In this case the soundness of the argument doesn’t really help, because our natural pridefulness dictates that the conversation will not progress: the person being bludgeoned will fight back and resist and if necessary just leave the discussion altogether.

      Consider the following example from my life. From a young age I got kicks out of playing Socrates with people and pushing them to admit that something they believed was stupid or self-contradictory. It never worked. I knew I had “won the game” when they just got angry at me or started ignoring me, because my wits had beaten their wits. But I was the only person who learned anything from it, and unfortunately it took me a while to learn the important lesson: that using other people’s stupidity for sport is just not nice. Alas, now and then I fall back into that mode and just indulge in the sport of pointing out how stupid other people are. But it never does any good, and frequently makes me look (and feel) awful in the long run.

      So to summarize: there is an art to being right, and because the human mind is a tangled thing and not a machine, if you want to help people see the truth that you see, you need to help them find the path through that tangle to a place where the view isn’t obstructed by false prejudice or misconception or ignorance.

      • http://paraphasic.blogspot.com Elliot

        Hmm, got a little distracted there. The middle paragraph should end with: “The pain of humiliation makes it nearly impossible to learn, and the fear of being humiliated by an aggressive interlocutor is frequently enough to make people shut off the conversation.”

      • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

        I knew I had “won the game” when they just got angry at me or started ignoring me, because my wits had beaten their wits.

        Way I’ve been told, Socrates “won the game” precisely that way at least once. Maybe you were a really good faux-Socrates.

  • Kelley

    I’m cracking up… the Dominican holding the bike helmet in the picture is my spiritual director!

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