Over the last decade I have seen the priorities of discourse trend away from arguments based on principle to those fed by the desire for power. Persuasive speech driven by facts has given way to forceful tactics where anything goes as long as you persuade or shut up your opponent. Honesty has lost its value while influence is the goal we all seem to be grabbing for.
A few years ago a friend shared an article on Facebook regarding an author she had issues with. The article was full of fabricated untruths that vilified the author. I pointed this out to my friend.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said, “I don’t think people should read her books.”
She was using the article to frighten people from reading rather than putting out her own thoughtful opinion based on facts and reason.
In this world of instant results, it seems we have lost the willpower to take the time to actually engage over our differences. We would rather convince people of something in a matter of seconds. Our world of pictures, where we can with a snap show the universe a fabulous meal at a restaurant — “You need to go here!” or of a disastrous vacation spot, “Avoid this place at all costs!” — has turned us into toddlers who use only short sentences and a lot of jumping up and down to get our opinion heard.
To my point, I received a phone call from a polling firm earlier this summer. They asked a series of questions regarding political issues. For most questions, I was given 4-5 responses to choose from, except one question where I was given only two possible answers, neither of which reflected my opinion and both were very one-sided.
“Are those the only answers to choose from?” I asked the surveyor.
“Umm, no,“ she replied. “There are three more listed, but we were told to only read the first two unless asked.”
The polling firm was obviously looking for a particular answer, not caring about the integrity of the survey.
When we use false, exaggerated or manipulated information, not only does the argument fall flat, but the source loses respect and credibility. Which is why, according to recent Gallop polls, less than a third of Americans trust the media. But it is not just the media that are using these tactics.
There is a current court case in Canada where a scientist has been accused of manipulating data in order to show certain results… celebrities being sued for posting complete falsehoods on Twitter… and the thousands who reposted a picture of President Obama not having his hand over his heart during the national anthem while military members saluted around him, not bothering to check the source. Turns out it was “Hail to the Chief” that was playing and he wasn’t supposed to have his hand anywhere near his heart. We have become just as quick to put something out there because it reinforces our opinion whether there is validity to it or not.
If we want to maintain our integrity as individuals or as a society, I propose that we need to all take stock in how we try to persuade others…
Are we totally honest with our approach?
Are we open to hearing rebuttals?
Are we willing to take the time to have open and civil conversations over our differences?
Are we willing to be principled rather than powerful?