Published: Friday, April 19, 2013


Agreeing to Disagree

The US Presidential debate is a much-awaited event for the American people. Photo: Reuters

The US Presidential debate is a much-awaited event for the American people. Photo: Reuters

How wonderful are some discussions over endless cups of tea. Almost all of us have memories of remarkable discussions with our nearest and dearest ones. Even accounts of casual talks draw deep lines in our minds. One may find it worthy to acknowledge an excellent orator who had fired bullets of epiphanies that set the course of thinking for the rest of one’s life. There are bittersweet instances when arguments went on and on until the night slid into the dawn but wishes to continue remained unfulfilled.

r02And there are accounts that would send chills down one’s spine reminding us of old wounds from a head-on verbal collision with the fiercest opponent. Some accounts are deeply annoying though, when we argue with formidable people who have a tendency to make a mountain out of a molehill. Discussions remain unresolved with people who find it too hard to separate facts from fiction. It may also be the sophists, who would irrationally argue just for the sake of arguing and dishonestly dismiss well-versed points.

Tradition tells us that Socrates the Athenian used to bait his opponents into arguments by gradually positing questions, the technique somewhat applied by lawyers during questioning the subject. The move has been also exploited by the Sophists, whose lineage can be traced to the Greeks. Although the Sophists were reportedly the teachers of a certain art in Greek times, the term’s contemporary interpretation points to those who cunningly elude their points to confuse and belittle their opponents to create a diversion in a discussion. The opponent would at one point run out of answers, become puzzled and give into the labyrinth of rhetoric.

However, there are even more cunning people out there who always avoid a discussion as a pre-emptive measure lest their delusion of grandeur shatters like a flimsy glass. And of course there are people who argue to put up a show for a third party.

Ironically, people having muscle power have greater chances to win debates.

Ironically, people having muscle power have greater
chances to win debates.

Differentiating between debates and arguments, the noted professor Abdullah Abu Sayeed had aptly put it this way in one of his interviews, “The main objective of a debate is to win and not the truth… despite knowing about the falsity of one’s point, some would continue deceiving the listeners with the use of attractive, persuasive yet false remarks.” Ironically for some, it has been the way to win over hearts and minds of many by presenting debates lacking well-wrought arguments. Before engaging in a discussion, it is hence important to know whether one is trying to engage in a debate or an argument.

Just as the fact that people can be divided on almost every issue out there, it is widely acknowledged that there must be a common ground to have a discussion, regardless of the variety between the opponents. It is important to have a reality check, agree on fundamental points first and compare whether there are at least a few similarities from where arguing can start. Otherwise it is just a futile attempt to tie up loose ends, especially when you know the opponent is dishonest to admit a ‘truth’.

Arguments also don’t go well with people talking through their hats or those who can’t go backwards for a broader view. It is useless with devil’s advocates, unjust people above accountability and those who do not reason. Also dangerous are the total winners or the total losers for their desperation to win. In such extreme cases, arguments are not good for health because you make enemies at the speed of light.

r04Irrespective of the expertise one may have in dealing with formidable debaters, unwelcoming situations may surface in life, such as dealing with a completely irrational person who would never even listen to the points others try to make. There are situations when you cannot really call the debate off despite knowing when to fold. It is always advised to keep one’s cool during such cases because losing one’s temper is a common pitfall that a cunning debater earnestly desires in an opponent.

Some debaters are bent on having the last laugh. In their wildest imaginations, they would just wish to have their opponent inside the wrestling ring, kneeling down at their feet admitting how wrong they were. Faced with such irrational people, it is always better to keep one’s calm and disengage peacefully. One may be straining at the leash to educate such an opponent how little they know about a certain thing but it would only fan a fire. In particularly difficult situations, being comfortable with the word ‘no’ and accepting refusals are actually reasonable ways to react. If someone loses their temper, it is wise to hold conversations for that moment leaving doors open for a next time.

Back into an argument when calm, one can patiently expose the flaws of an opponent. If the opponent agrees to disagree, there’s nothing better than to turn the page and save oneself the trouble. All arguments cannot be hammered out over cups of tea. Using legitimate arguments and not compromising civility while having a discussion are all that matters. It is merely wishful thinking that one will win all arguments and have unanimously agreed-over resolutions at all times. And one should also understand that is not the end of the world.