Tonight, a few of us got together at an airport hotel bar to socialize, watch the debate, and have some beers. At some point we were joined by a business traveler, with whom we had a nice conversation slash bull session about a wide array of topics.
One thing that struck me was that every so often, he’d say something none of us agreed with, like “Wouldn’t it be better to just stop following the news for six months?
Wouldn’t you be much more relaxed?” We’d argue with that, and he’d put up his hands and say “Look, I’m just throwing it out there.” That struck me as odd, but I was too distracted at the time to offer a proper reply. What I should have told him was:
“Don’t apologize. What you’re doing is forcing me to examine my beliefs, and see whether they’re well supported. If there are sound reasons for believing what I do, I ought to be able to find them. And if you uncover a flaw in my reasoning, then you’re doing me a favor; I can stop believing something that isn’t true.”
I’ve been hanging around with people who value argument for so long that it’s become natural to assume that everyone is comfortable with the give and take of spirited debate. It’s easy to forget that in most situations, telling someone they’re wrong carries a subtext: “you’re an inferior person; you don’t know as much as I do, or you haven’t thought things through as well as I have.” (Obviously, I’m exaggerating a lot to make a point.)
But of course that’s not necessarily true. Nobody knows everything, and no one has the time to think everything through. Two people arguing can pool their knowledge, expose flaws in each other’s reasoning, and point out cases that the other hadn’t considered.
I want to believe as many true things, and as few false things, as possible. So if you can show me where I’m wrong, great. Don’t apologize. You’ll be doing me a favor.