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Dec 05, 2012


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Travis Greene

Sadly, I think such uncharitable summaries are what people really think. Conservatives are fascists. Liberals are Marxists. Pro-life people hate women and sexuality. Pro-choice people promote promiscuity and hate babies. Setting up an argument with the usual "Here's why you are dumb and I am right" structure is not a style, but a reflection of genuinely not understanding, let alone respecting, a viewpoint with which you disagree.


"If your point is to persuade or open a conversation, why would you resort to uncharitable characterizations of the person you want to persuade?"

I'd agree that uncharitable characterizations make for bad strategy. But sometimes characterizations aren't really that strategic... people blow off steam, etc. Also, what if that uncharitable characterization is, in fact, true? It could be that the strategy may be about truth-telling, not persuasion.

Of course, all of this is in the context of Marshall McLuhan's "the medium is the message." Uncharitable characterizations in language unmediated by human interaction have a different consequence than ones that are, due to nonverbal communication that speaks louder than words, etc. I can think of a 100 ways to say "I love you", all with different meanings spending on the tone of my voice and nonverbals. Online, you'd have to use context clues...

A good question you ask!

Michael W. Kruse

Thanks Travis. I think we are oriented (naturally? by culture?) toward seeing opponents as stupid/malevolent instead of being people who might be persuaded.

NKR, I agree that not every form of communication is about persuasion. I think some communication is intended to create solidarity among like-minded partisans. It is a type of bonding. It just mystifies me that when the explicit goal is to persuade that people do this with such frequency.

Gordon Jewett

Not many have studied the art of persuasion. - Not very good at it myself. I think the reason we're prone to using uncharitable characterizations is the same reason society is prone to sliding toward barbarism. Every one of us is born with a "bent soul" (C.S. Lewis)and we act the way our conscience is trained (E. Stanley Jones). We need a society and thus consciences trained by the Word and the Spirit and a little bit more than common grace to overcome what we're born with (Dare I name it? -SIN)

Michael W. Kruse

I say name it! ;-)


This is really true... I admit to being tested (and failing admittedly) about not being charitable to those that disagree (ugh, really? Making a statement about the UN over a disability treatment specifically created to mirror US laws?) I also found it particularly grating when someone, usually out of the thin blue sky, start to mouth off on where I live or how I live just because it tends to be of a disagreeable political nature to them. I mean, I haven't said a word and suddenly my presence means that they have to say something about socialist paradise... and a such a normal thing to say, that a retort means that I'm bringing up politics and he's in no mood to deal with it. bleh.


I can think of a couple reasons people (including myself) can be uncharitable at times to those who disagree.

The first is that they really aren't trying to persuade other people, they just want to win the argument. I might be more concerned about being right than the other guy being wrong.

The second is that we are really trying to persuade ourselves of our own positions. We want to build polar differences between sides so that we can clarify our own position and have more confidence in it. It's unsettling to have to distinguish between shades of grey rather than just pick black or white.

Michael W. Kruse

JHM, good points. I sometimes sense an author/speaker says that he/she intends to persuade when in fact this is a cover story for another motive. The cover makes them appear open-minded and considerate, when in fact they're aim is to create solidarity among like-minded people in opposition to their opponents. When we do this we get to feel magnanimous while in fact being polemic.

One thing I haven't raised here well is that there are probably times when uncharitable behavior is warranted. Jesus called the Pharisees "white-washed tombs" and "snakes." Paul wished for a slip of the knife during circumcision for the Judaizers. Not every instance of communication is an attempt at persuasion. ;-)

Dennis Sanders

I think there are a few things going on here. First is that there is a lot of hubris going on. I've been around folks who will make a judgement on some group of people without really getting to know them. I believe what's behind that is a sense that their viewpoint is the right one and they want to make sure everyone knows about it. Part of the hubris comes from not really being in community with people who might share a different viewpoint (think the Big Sort). Since people aren't around other voices, they don't really get to know people, which then leads to us filling in the blanks.

There's another issue that tends to bug me at times and might be related to this post. Many times, I hear people talking about the need to have a conversation on issues like race and same-sex marriage. Now being autistic, I tend to take thing literally, but I always thought conversation was people chatting with each other and more importantly, listening to each other. But the thing is, most of these discussions are not discussions but someone basically telling another person what they should think. That totally confuses me and frustrates me.

Michael W. Kruse

"But the thing is, most of these discussions are not discussions but someone basically telling another person what they should think. That totally confuses me and frustrates me."

Preach it! ;-)

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