To Win You Must Lose: How to Argue Better | Dave Sumner | TEDxMcMinnville

Sharing buttons:

have our words and opinions ever been

more under the microscope from Facebook

to Twitter from the daily from the Daily

Kos to Fox News we seem to be arguing

all the time and these arguments are

having an effect in fact recently the LA

Times reports that 52% of Republicans

think that Democrats are less

open-minded than most Americans 70% of

Democrats think Republicans are less

open-minded and it gets worse 46% of

Republicans think Democrats are more

immoral than most Americans and 35% of

Democrats think the same about

Republicans now listen I am all for a

good argument arguments a really

important way we have for knowing the

world but we need to learn to argue

better and by that I don't mean some

shallow platitude like let's all just

agree to disagree what I'm talking about

is a 2,000 year old tradition the

tradition of rhetoric that teaches us

how to argue more productively

now rhetoric you're saying what's that

well it's the tradition of studying how

language creates meaning and the ethical

questions that arise when we write and

when we speak for an example let's look

at Socrates to remember him Plato's

teacher 2,000 years ago he argued for a

living and on one occasion he was

engaged in a dialogue with a Sophists by

the name of gorgeous and Socrates wanted

to know if gorgeous was the same kind of

man that Socrates claimed to be and he

said I am one who had glad to be who

would be glad to be refuted if I say

anything untrue and who would be glad to

refute anyone who speaks untruly but

here's the important part then Socrates

says however it is the greater good to

be refuted than to refute because it is

a larger benefit to be delivered from

evil than to deliver another think about

this Socrates is saying it is better

to be shown where you were wrong than to

show another where he or she is wrong

how does this change argument he's

saying we need to reframe the way we

think about argument we need to think

about argument not as argument to win

but as argument to learn how would this

change Thanksgiving dinner you're

sitting across from your uncle read it's

always an uncle isn't it and he starts

to push your buttons and instead of

trying to figure out a way to prove him

wrong what if you start to think about

what he's saying and perhaps whether or

not he's saying something you can learn

from let's take this one step further

what if uncle Reid were to do the same

and listen to your argument and your

reasons my guess is that you wouldn't

that my gift my guess is that you'd

leave the dinner a little listed a

little less dyspeptic and a little more

enlightened and in fact if you are both

arguing to learn rather than to argument

arguing to win you might learn something

you might be rid of your own evil in

fact to win you must lose that's the

better way according to Socrates now

metaphors matter and have you ever

noticed that all the metaphors we have

for argument come from war we attack we

defend we counter we win we lose and

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson point out

that the metaphors we choose shape the

way we see an idea so if we frame

argument as a fight how will we ever

argue to learn well lake often Johnson

also point out that we can change the

metaphor they ask us to imagine what if

we were to think about argument instead

of as war as dance Wars our adversarial

dance is cooperative war has winners and

losers Dance has partners war wounds

dance heals metaphors matter and the way

we frame the argument is going to make a

big diff

francy and whether or not we can argue

to learn now another thing another

really useful tool in arguing to learn

as a lesson we can take from American

pragmatism in 1861 Oliver Wendell Holmes

jr. was a senior at Harvard and an

abolitionist and he quit Harvard that

year and he joined the Massachusetts

Volunteers and he spent the next four

years as a Union soldier fighting in the

American Civil War during that time he

was wounded three times he saw the

ravages of battle he were he experienced

the worst horrors of war and he almost

died of dysentery when he returned to

Cambridge he had decided that the price

of war was far too high and that we must

find another way

and so with William James Charles purse

and others he invented a new

philosophical school called American

pragmatism and pragmatism is important

because the underlying principle for

American private pragmatism is


that is the underlying principle is that

the only thing we can be confident in is

our own ability to misunderstand to make

a mistake to be wrong in short he's

saying the only thing we can be certain

of is our own mistaken assess

sink about how this would change

Thanksgiving think about how if you and

your interlocutor are both aware of your

own mistaken us think how that would

change the conversation think how that

would help us be rid of our own evil now

okay back to Thanksgiving how many times

you've been driving home and you're

saying to your wife or your or your

brother or your husband you're saying

uncle Reid he says that he's just

defending the Second Amendment but I

know he just loves the power of guns and

how many times was Uncle Reid been

driving home of that Lois and said Dave

says that he just wants a safer society

but I know he just wants to take away my


now both of these are examples of what

Wayne booth calls motive ISM Wayne booth

was a Dean at the University of Chicago

in the 1960s and he was witnessing the

conflict and the rhetoric that

surrounded the Vietnam War and he was

alarmed by how all sides seem to be

talking past one another and so as a

student of rhetoric he decided to to

examine what was going on and he came up

with the idea of motive ISM that is the

idea that people were going to the

assumed motives of their interlocutor

rather than accepting their given

reasons now isn't uncle Reed just a gun

nut right isn't he just in LA all this

stuff about the Second Amendment and

personal freedom isn't this just a cover

I mean he just really is fascinated with

firearms and he just really you know is

compensating for some kind of male

insecurity right well maybe but probably


and how can I know the only thing I can

know are the reasons that Reed gives and

think about this have you ever presented

a carefully articulated argument and had

your interlocutor your dance partner

ignore your reasons and accuse you of

some secret motive it feels like an

attack it feels like you've been

dismissed and your character and you

have some kind of character flaw but

think about how it would be different if

you listened to the reasons of your

dance partner think also how it would be

different if your dance partner listens

to your reasons without accusing you of

some ulterior motive the dance continues

were able to make progress now back to

uncle Reed poor uncle Reed he actually

is my real uncle

how many times of it have I been talking

to uncle Reid and we start way too far

down the road we talk about climate

change we talk about welfare we talk

about taxation and we really don't back

up to the deeper issues right what we

really need to talk about is what do we

think about fairness what do we feel

like our obligations are to each other

to future generations

what role does hard work or Luck play in

the way we move through the world

what role does science or religion or

tradition play in helping us understand

the world now if we can back that truck

up and find the place where we begin to

disagree we actually might find that

there's this large space of things we

agree on if we can back that truck up

and find a shared epistemology a shared

way of knowing the world we might

actually make some progress

we might actually gain some

understanding of one another but don't I

need to speak truth to power don't they

need to stand up and be brave and tell

people how it is well sometimes we do

but more often than not we need to think

about levels of community who are the

people we have arguments with there are

a brother

there are spouse there are neighbor

there are colleague right and after we

have this argument don't we need to be

able to live with work with talk to our

dance partner so before we accuse our

dance partner of being crazy

before we get self-righteous and

indignant let's think about the

relationship let's think about the

community let's think about how we can

preserve this relationship past this one

argument so this reminds me of a recent

op-ed from a woman by the name of Aaron

Carmen and she is writing about Ruth

Bader Ginsburg's what she calls her


radicalism how she approaches argument

and Justice Ginsburg says fight for the

things that you care about but do so in

a way that will invite others to join

you right then she warns about righteous

anger she says she says that righteous

anger can consume us and in response to

this ms/ms Carmen says it may seem

strange for a feminist to counsel

against anger when those of you who are

not straight white men have had to fight

just to have room to express it but the

risk of burnout over fast flaming

conflict is real our current

conversations value catharsis over

strategy this doesn't mean picking the

middle point of two polls and calling it

common sense it just means thinking past

instant outrage and doing sustainable

work neither miss Carmen nor Justice

Ginsburg are advising us to be passive

about things we care about it but

they're telling us to be strategic it's

really easy to be offended it's really

hard to be effective there are a few

people in this world who have led more

effective lives than Justice Ginsburg so

let's take some advice from notorious

RBG let's argue in a way that invites

others to join us now so far I've argued

that we must argue learn that metaphors

matter that we must accept our own foul

ability first that reasons are important

not motives that we must back that truck

up that levels of community must be

considered and finally that we need to

not be offended but we need to be

effective and I want to finish with one

of my favorite rhetorician zhim and by

the name of Kenneth Burke and in Kenneth

in Kenneth Burke study above the window

on the sash he took a crayon and he

wrote ad bellum per if a condom and in

Latin this means towards the

purification of war and he spent his

life studying rhetoric and studying how

we could use words instead of fists or

rifles or ICBMs and the following quote

sums up most of what I've tried to talk


today he says the progress of human

enlightenment can go no further than in

picturing people not as vicious but as a

mistaken now let's stop right here if I

see uncle Reed as vicious there's no way

we can proceed if I see him as mistaken

we can have a conversation I mean you

can't dance with vicious right Burke

goes on when you add that people are

necessarily mistaken that all people are

exposed to situations in which they must

act as fools that every insight carries

its own special kind of blindness let's

stop here again so I not only need to

see uncle Reed is mistaken I need to see

myself as mistaken I need to realize I

am human I am fallible I'm necessarily

mistaken he finishes by saying then you

complete the comic circle returning

again to the lesson of humility that

underlies all great tragedy

so let's not shy away from talking about

things that are important let's not shy

away from the issues we care about but

let's do it with humility let's do it

knowing our own humanity our own phal

ability and if we do so we just might

complete the comic circle we just might

avoid tragedy thank you