Off Duty Mom

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Try not to suck, ok?

In our ongoing series of How to Be a Better Arguer, I bring you Lesson #8

If you’re new to these lessons, scroll down. Start with the first one and then work your way back here. These lessons were originally posted on social media in 2020, but they were beloved — BELOVED, I TELL YOU! — and so they’re being reprinted here for your viewing pleasure…

Ok. Here we go…

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Don’t be the bad guy.

This is probably the best advice I have when it comes to arguments. It works in a myriad of scenarios and is applicable to numerous parts of your life.

I’m a teacher. I’ve worked exclusively in large high schools for over 20 years and thus have seen my fair share (or more) of hallway fights.

One stands out for me when I think about “bad guys,” though.

It was the time between classes. The bell had just rung and I was standing at my desk chatting with a student. He or she (I don’t remember) was an Advanced Placement student and thus known around town more for brains than for brawn, as were the AP students who’d be coming to my room for the next class period.

Suddenly, two students burst into my classroom, entangled in one another. They hit the floor.

My desk was in the corner farthest from the door and it took me a few moments to hurdle myself over to it. By that point, the fight had slid its way from just inside my classroom doorway to just outside of it. A crowd formed, surrounding the fight and trapping me inside the room. This high school was huge so there were tons of kids to create this barrier so no other adults could easily get in. I was the only adult there, as a result.

I remember throwing a few kids aside to get them out of the way. Later my students would joke with me about hurling people like some sort of monster. I took it as a compliment. But, I was pretty powerless against the two boys I didn’t know who were on the ground trying to injure each other as much as possible.

A student of mine stepped into the crowd, grabbed the kid who was on top of the other kid and catapulted him in the opposite direction ending the bout, then, more or less, walked into my room like, “there ya go, lady, now let’s go learn some shit.”

Not all the AP kids were ALL brains and NO brawn.

But, to get to my point I actually need to tell you about the parent meeting that followed this incident.

I don’t remember everything, but I do remember sitting in a conference room with an administrator and the boy (and the father of the boy) who appeared to be the aggressor. I had never seen this kid before that day; not until he busted into my classroom, so my answer was clearly “no” when the father asked me if I had heard what the other boy had said to his son right BEFORE he stared wailing on him as the other kid curled into the fetal position, trying to protect his face (it didn’t work).

So, some boy said something mean. Alrighty. THAT boy would have been in trouble, then, particularly if it was so evil it might induce a brawl. But, the second kid became the bad guy when he knocked the snot out of Mr. Mouthy. He HAD THE UPPER HAND and just gave it away. What I witnessed that day was not a fight, but was a beating.

And, there IS a difference. If you’ve ever worked in an American high school, you might know what I mean.

If you do things the right way: ask questions, laugh in the face of the bully, use your words, stay true to yourself, take the high road, keep it classy, take pride in yourself—you win. And, you win because you showed BETTER.

If you try to argue with me about geopolitics and I retort with an ad hominem attack, I suck. I may be funny and I may feel good about sucker-punching you with words, but I’ve also shown that I’m an idiot.

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Have you, like, EVER seen an 80’s movie? We root for Daniel-san, Duckie, Veronica Sawyer (sort of?), and Marty McFly. We loathe Cobra Kai, Steff (and pretty much every James Spader character ever—not just Pretty in Pink’s villain), all of The Heathers, and Biff.

Do you trust Draco Malfoy? Want to listen to advice from the kids in Carrie’s class (or her mom, jeez…)? Feel like going to see Aerosmith in ‘76 with O’Bannion? Want to have tea and crumpets and discuss closet options with Joan Crawford?

If you allow yourself to slip into attacking language, condescension, snark and sarcasm (oooh, but I do love sarcasm and admit I too often don’t take my own advice here), Red Herrings, straw man arguments, and fighting language rather than the language of discourse, you become the bully. You’re the one delivering a beating; you’re Bloody Mary, you’re Genghis Khan, you’re DOLORES UMBRIDGE.

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Beating someone into argumentative submission might, on the surface, feel like winning. But, the “winners” of arguments have persuaded others to change their minds. They’re solving problems. They’re championing causes. They’re breaking down the walls that divide man. When you do this, you’re Atticus Finch! You’re Hermione Granger! Padme Amidala! Belle (oooh! A princess…)! Elle Woods! You’re (man, I want to write “Jesus,” but that feels like stepping into complicated territory…).

This really makes me want a Hermione Lego Minifigure…
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When you see injustice, bullying, misunderstanding, confusion, questions, disagreement, division, hurt, pain, arrogance, and differing perspectives, think about what will get someone on your side rather than push him away. Think about who can see or hear your discussion and consider whether those folks would be turned off by your words or behavior, heading to the opposite side just because of YOU, or if you might encourage people to come TO your side, even if they’re unsure if it, just because you’re someone with whom they’d like to be associated.

This is ETHOS. An appeal to ethos is an appeal to the audience because of your CHARACTER. If you can convince people that you’re worth listening to, your message might carry.

Feel free to let me know what you think. And maybe reread “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

I’m Off Duty Mom and this is my Masterclass.

#thanksforcomingtomytedtalk

Lesson #7: A Non-Sequi-whaaaa???

NOTE: Post first written for publication in 2020

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“BUT…HER E-MAILS!”

Let’s take a look at the NON-SEQUITUR.

I’ve seen this a whole lot lately: someone makes a statement in a post. These days, it’s probably about a political or social issue (or both). Someone responds with a completely different topic, typically something not at all in question.

Here’s an example: I saw on Facebook where a friend of mine posted something about the current US President having a pattern of lying (Note: at time of original publication, this referred to President Donald Trump). One response to this statement was, “Oh, so I guess Biden never lies?!”

That’s a non-sequitur. It’s a statement that does not logically follow the argument in question. Logicians would have a field day with the respondent to that post. Yikes.

See, here’s the thing: a post about one person’s lies is not necessarily an argument that another person does or does not not lie. Its not about another person at all. I might add, too, that pointing out one candidate’s flaws does not necessarily equate to an endorsement of his opponent. AND, stating that Joe Biden lies neither refutes nor proves anything about whether Donald Trump does. They’re two different arguments.

Boil it down to its simplest terms:

Person A: “Trump lies”

Person B: “Biden lies”

Person A: “Sooo…is this a statement of agreement or disagreement to what I said?”

Person B: “Neither.”

You might remember a similar fallacy from an earlier lesson: the Red Herring. The non-sequitur is similar, but the difference is in the motive.

Like the stinky fish for which it is supposedly named, the Red Herring is something a person “throws out there,” purposefully, with the intent of distracting you or putting you off of your track. It’s a diversion; a ploy.

The non-sequitur is flawed thinking. It’s a show of ignorance on a topic, inability to process intellectual discussion, fear, single-mindedness, or an honest mistake. But, it’s not malicious or conniving. Get pissed at the guy who hurls Red Herrings, but feel bad for the bloke who offers a non-sequitur.

Often, you’ll see non-sequiturs used, but it will be clear that those who use them don’t really understand what the conversation is about in the first place. Responding, “Oh, Biden doesn’t lie?” to the statement, “Trump is a liar,” assumes that the original speaker’s argument is: “Trump is a liar and is therefore the man less qualified to be president in a race between Joe Biden and him.” But, “Trump is a liar” does NOT, in and of itself, assert that at all.

So, here’s what you need to do.

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This is your response: “What do you mean by that?”

If I say, “Trump lies,” and you say, “Biden lies,” we’re just two people listing names of people who lie. The problem is that you (in this case) think we’re having a political debate whereas I just made a statement. So we need to establish:

1. Is this an argument or debate we are in? Person A didn’t appear to be making one, necessarily, but Person B surely wanted to duke it out.

2. What is your argument? Does Person B even know? What does he think we’re talking about, even?

3. What is my argument? Person B definitely messes this up.

4. Do you understand that your statement is not a logical response to mine? No. No. No, he doesn’t.

It would have been best if Mr. “Bbbbbbut Biden!!!! Aghhh the Dems!!!!!” had asked Mr. “Trump lies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” What he meant by that. There’s lots he could have meant by that…

-Trump’s ability to fabricate people, events, and cures for global pandemics with household products is impressive.

-All politicians are immoral and the record of Trump’s lies is but one example.

-The rate at which our current president lies indicates that he is an inappropriate choice to lead the Free World.

Etc., etc.

Had Mr. “Bbbbbbut Biden!!!! Aghhh the Dems!!!!!” asked, if he’s Right-leaning, he can respond with something that makes sense.

If Mr. “Trump lies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Follows up with “what do you mean by that?” to the creator of the non-sequitur, he could let him know that Mr. Biden’s record of truth and lies is a different argument altogether. And, “hey, if you want, we can talk about that — in another thread…” might be the follow-up to that.

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“What do you mean by that?” (Patent pending) is also useful as a response to

-racist/sexist/demeaning/offensive/classless “jokes”

-Ad Hominem attacks

-condescending comments

-a Red Herring (if you can catch it)

-someone clearly uninformed or misinformed on a topic

I wish I remembered to use “What do you mean by that?” more often. I’ll smile if I see you use it in the future. 💛

I’m Off Duty Mom and this is my Masterclass.

#thanksforcomingtomytedtalk

Argue Better: Lesson #6

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So, like, what does it mean to be “right” about something?

We’ve been taking a look at formal arguments, how to avoid flawed reasoning, and how to respond to illogical remarks. But, LOGIC isn’t the only means by which something can be right or wrong. People can argue about morality, religion, politics, ethics, and other concepts where “right” and “wrong” might depend on how you look at things, where you’re from, or any one of a bazillion factors.

It is possible for both opposing parties in an argument, or even multiple parties in an argument, to be “right,” if we’re willing to accept that the word “right” doesn’t always have a clear and singular definition.

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Think about this question: If Jesus went to the US polls in November of 2016, which candidate would He have voted for in the Presidential race?

Trick question. There isn’t a right answer to this. At least there isn’t in the technical sense. So, here is where we get back to that idea that nobody cares about your opinion. You can like or dislike a candidate, you can have personal feelings about politics in general. You can call the Bible the ultimate guide to life, or refer to it all as Christian Mythology. But, that hypothetical question about who gets Jesus’ vote? All you can do there is assess WHY your answer might be what it is.

Part of the problem with healthy debate comes from two opposing sides who try to prove that the other is wrong. But, “wrong” is subjective and neither side is willing to dig into WHY it takes the stance it does. And this is where discourse devolves into a fight.

Instead, you really have to take your personal beliefs out of the equation. When you don’t, you end up with an even worse relationship with your discussion partner than when you started. If I used my belief that cats are all demonic furmonsters, but you loooove cats with all of their fuzzy snuggliness, for example, we might as well just not talk. My “opinion” is irrelevant. And we’ll get nowhere.

And, I might add, that my personal experiences are also irrelevant. I might have had nothing but bad experiences with scratchy, hissy, allergy-inducing cat devils, but my experience is proof of nothing. I can talk about it, but what would it prove? Could I get you to care or change your mind? Would any amount of my sneezing convince you to kick out Mr. Flooferton and go get a goldfish?

This is one reason why climate change, racism, the #MeToo movement, healthcare, college tuition, and so many hot-button social and political issues are so disputed. People have vastly different personal experiences and far too many of those people are using those experiences as proof or justification for their arguments. But, climate change can be a thing whether or not you’re personally hot or cold right now. Racism can exist even if you have “a Black friend” or you have not personally witnessed, experienced or perpetrated it.

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So, our arguments with one another have to stop being about trying to convince someone of what is RIGHT. That will never mean the same thing to everyone. You can’t convince someone that your version of right-ness is best. Instead, these conversations should be centered around how to solve problems, how to work together instead of against one another, and how to leave this planet better than how we found it. Often, arguments, unlike fights, are about listening as much as they are about contributing.

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—-“It isn’t right for people to loot and destroy businesses in their own community.”

—-“But, it isn’t right for the community to stay silent as it’s citizens needlessly die.”

—-“But it isn’t right to violently riot and fight with police because they risk their lives on the job to protect us.”

—-“But it isn’t right for someone to be killed by a police officer due to direct force, especially when he’s been subdued and the potential threat against that officer is no longer existent.”

->None of those above people will ever persuade any of the others if they stick with this “right” line of debate.

Instead the conversation should shift to (and YOU can be the one to shift it!!!):

“What would it look like to have a truly safe community where everyone would live without fear of dying OR being looted?”

“What steps should be taken so that police officers can be more prepared for high-pressure situations without bringing harm to other human beings?”

“How can we utilize the system as it is to leverage better results for crimes both real and alleged?”

“How can we make our neighborhood one where law enforcement has positive interactions with the citizens and the citizens are respectful of the officers’ service to them?”

“Without pointing fingers or assigning blame for past problems, how can all have more peace?”

That’s just a start…

Thanks, y’all. Hope you’ve enjoyed my Masterclass. 😉

#thanksforcomingtomytedtalk

Lesson #5

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We want the same things.

Fundamentally, there are some basic things we all agree on (ya know, for the most part). Like, I think we all agree that breathing is nice. And the world can be a better place. No matter your disagreement, there’s always common ground you can find.

In this lesson, I’m going to assume you’re in an argument in its academic sense.

Generally, that’s the perspective for all of the lessons: showing you how to use the power of persuasion. If you’re just shootin’ the breeze about who the best 80s hair metal band is or why cats are better than dogs (they are not, I beg your pardon and thank you very much), seek advice elsewhere.

I’m talking about how to discuss reproductive rights with THAT aunt of yours at Thanksgiving, or how to be taken seriously in a conference room where you’re trying to convince your coworkers that your idea for that new account is the best idea, or how to help someone who has an “opinion” on Black Lives Matter see the error of their ways.

You start with common ground. What is accepted by both sides?

Aristotle is considered the the granddaddy of Rhetoric. His favorite type of spoken rhetoric was called “Deliberative” rhetoric (sometimes called “Deliberative Oratory” when used in speeches).

Deliberative rhetoric focuses on the future. So, you use future-tense verbs as much as you can.

If you dwelled on the past or focused mostly on what has been, the focus is usually to find blame. When we look at an issue, let’s say…institutional racism, we might be inclined to argue about the past. But, statements or claims like “MY family never owned slaves” or “What about all of that black-on-black crime that keeps happening?!?!?!” don’t do anything but antagonize.

When you speak in the present tense, you’re complaining or praising. Examples of this might include that “Many Secret Service Agents [are] just waiting for action” when daring protestors to get nearer to you. Or, another example might be saying, “Laziness is a trait in Blacks” (yep. You read that right. But to be fair, if you did, indeed, say that and a disgruntled and only semi-credible former employee published it in a tell-all book, it would be an example of Demonstrative rhetoric).

Present tense speaking is great for a commencement address or a commendation. But, the biggest problem with it, Aristotle found, was that Demonstrative rhetoric was divisive. It puts people in categories. Consider the difference between the statements “You are an American” versus “You were an American.” Present tense debate is values based: who are you, what do you stand for, how do you identify right here and now?

Future tense verbs used in a discussion make the conversation about problem-solving.

PAST TENSE: Judicial rhetoric (sometimes also called Forensic rhetoric: it’s the language of lawyers and detectives)

—What happened?

—Who did this?

—Who is to blame or praise for what’s been done?

PRESENT TENSE: Demonstrative rhetoric (sometimes also called Epideictic rhetoric: it’s the language of award presenters, pastors, motivational speakers, and supremacists)

—Who are we?

—What makes you one of us?

—What are our ideals?

—What good or bad qualities to you/we have?

FUTURE TENSE: Deliberative rhetoric: it’s the language of peacemakers, policy writers, problem solvers, leaders, and decision makers

—What can we do about this?

—How should we solve our problems?

—Where are we heading?

You can control the direction of your argument by shifting the verb tense. Consider this:

Person A: “Life starts at conception (present tense). Women who’ve had abortions are evil.” (there’s a little past and a little present tense there)

Person B: “I have rights guaranteed as a result of Roe v. Wade. (a little past and present tense)

Person C: We all can agree, though, that we like personal liberties and we’d like to see better healthcare and fewer lives lost in general in the future, right?”

***FUTURE TENSE

Person C shifted the argument to be about something other than when life begins or whether women’s bodies are appropriate to legislate. Person C is finding a platform where BOTH sides can look at how to work toward a shared vision. Maybe both sides can agree to advocate for better sex education, more access to contraceptives, better support systems for young and poor and scared pregnant girls, extensions to Head Start programs, stricter laws on men who abandon their families, or longer and harsher sentences for rapists who attack women behind dumpsters and serve only a few months’ sentence because they’re good swimmers who are blond white boys.

So, there’s my advice. When you go to visit Grandma Helga this summer and you just know she’s going to be all “destroying property and rioting is for hoodlums and thugs,” you can retort with something like, “well, Grandma, sure. Neither of us wants people to lose their livelihoods, so what should be done to make sure what triggered these riots, Black men too often dying in police custody, doesn’t keep happening? If we can think of solutions to end police brutality, we’d also stop those riots and demonstrations.”

I’m honored you’ve attended my Masterclass. 😄

#thanksforcimingtomytedtalk

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