The essence of conflict

Fibrodenial wrote something recently about how interesting it is that when people argue they frequently act as if they might actually change another person’s mind. In some ways this is obvious. But to me, the insightful part is that she’s pointing out how silly it is to imagine that during an argument, one might actually find just the right piece of evidence or point out just the right flaw in logic to make another person exclaim suddenly “Oh yeah, I guess you’re right”. I guess deep down we know that in certain arguments, people have strong opinions and no amount of ‘rational thought’ or ‘hard evidence’ will change that person’s mind. And yet we still think in terms of I am right and you are wrong. I wonder how often an argument is really this black and white? Probably not very often. Of course there are certain disagreements in which one person is “wrong” and the “truth” can be “proven”. I do “believe in” the predictive power of the scientific method for example (sounds like an oxymoron to ‘believe’ in the scientific method). But there are hard sciences, soft sciences and even non-scientific truths and flawed logic can be used within all of these contexts. Besides, truly scientific arguments are much less common than arguments where both people mostly agree with the evidence, the facts and the logic, but that the interpretation/opinion still differs significantly.

I guess, the main reason I thought that this insight (regarding how desperately we want to change another persons mind) was so important is that changing another person’s mind is rarely going to happen. Knowing this may help me become less “invested” in future arguments. If I know from the start that I won’t change your mind, then maybe I need to rethink what it is that I want from you in the first place (do I want to change your behavior? maybe I just want a pleasant exchange of ideas?). It’s probably more fun to share opinions with people when they aren’t too invested in changing your mind anyway. If everyone could think in these terms, I’ll bet most negotiations would become MUCH easier and we could achieve world peace in a few short days (ok maybe I’m getting a little carried away).

My sister, Kitty also had some interesting thoughts about conflicts a while back (she was reading Critical Conversations at the time). She was talking about how important mutual respect is during any type of argument or negotiation. I love to argue, so I will try to remember these key points (mutual respect and I won’t change your mind) next time I get into an argument.


4 Responses

  1. A HUGE thumbs up on this one! If the debate isn’t too heated, I often try reminding myself that understanding another person’s feelings and ideals is a way of getting to know more about them. Note I said “try”? I get swept up in my own right-ness (or righteousness) way too often! Still, I think what you’ve said about being more aware of our tendancy to focus on changing others’ opinions is half the battle. Your sister’s book sounds interesting! If I take up reading again, I’ll have to check it out.

  2. This is the reason that politics can be so divisive(?). One’s stand on a political issue generally has nothing to do with facts, but is entirely based on opinion. Therefore, if two people have access to the exact same set of facts, they can still reach opposite conclusions as to what they mean…. Kinda like the cup being Half empty or half full….

  3. True again. I generally vote the party line purely for philosophical reasons and ignore the individual opinions of the politicians (since their all morons anyway). Anyone who goes into politics is an egotistical, self-centered idiot anyway, so I don’t even want to know about their personal opinions and hidden agendas. Was that too harsh?

  4. Agree with you.

    Well, in person I don’t really argue. When I know that the person I’m talking to is close-minded and not ready to listen to me, I let him be. I leave him alone. No sense talking to him.

    On the internet, that’s a different story. haha. I guess it’s because for many people it’s ok to have “enemies” online. But lately, I don’t argue with online people anymore. I won’t gain anything from them, specially from the close-minded ones. :mrgreen:

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