Topography of Conversation (Or “Why Essays are Horrible”)

I have been trying for the past three months to write a post that discusses how we handle controversy. I have been part or been audience to a lot of arguments (mostly civil) over the course of my life and I would love to speak from my experience to some common faults that people make both when responding to other opinions and in interpreting their own. Moreover, I’d love to present that discussion objectively.

The problem is that every time I sit down to write about handling controversy, it ends up turning into a rant on my own convictions.

I’ve entitled my thoughts “A topography of controversy.” Professors in school often pushed me to “say something” in essays. They introduced me to a subject and demanded a defensible conviction as soon as possible. I think this is the opposite of what we should do. We should spend as much time as possible mapping out the discussion with the clarity that comes with being non-partisan. Then we can know what is true and defend it.

We need to survey the land before we try to build something on it. Unfortunately we grow up with the pressure to believe something as quickly as possible so we often build shaky convictions on unsure foundations. So what do we do once we’ve made this mistake?

Well, that’s easy. Just try. Just think. Be humble and be willing to change some convictions. Retrace your steps and start again from square one. Reset. That’s easy. The problem is: what do we do with others?

Well, that’s also easy. Absolutely nothing. We can argue and we can defend our positions thoughtfully, but at the end of the day if a person doesn’t want to think, they can’t be made to.

So I will not be able to fulfill my wish to objectively discuss land-surveying strategies in the near future. But I can suggest this: review your beliefs. Every once in a while, retrace your steps and go back to the beginning. “Why do I want to believe this?” “What invested interested to I have?” “Why would I want to believe or not believe this?” Watch how people discuss the issues that concern you and you might be surprised.

And don’t disagree with me cuz I’m right about everything.


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