This past week has seen a bunch of high-profile incidents take place, each one stirring up a load of controversy. Wednesday saw an undercover video released that purported to show a Planned Parenthood official discuss the sale of aborted fetuses (whether this is true remains a heated uncertainty), reigniting the national conversation on abortion and reproductive rights. Thursday saw the fatally horrific shootings of two U.S. Military recruiting stations, raising questions on gun laws and national attitudes toward global terrorism. In both cases, responses from both sides of the aisle have come hard and fast, and as is usual with such topics, many of the debates have been been far from civil. It seems that we as people have a hard time tackling controversial subjects without pitching our points in hyperbolic, no-holds-barred tirades, devolving the conversation until both parties are reduced to witticisms, wisecracks, and one-liners. I mean, we're only discussing lightweight topics like death and ethics, right? Of course this is the time to crank up the sarcasm and party politics!
If that attitude doesn't seem quite right, this list is for you. I have my own strongly-held beliefs in regards to these topics, but that's not what I'm writing about, and that's certainly not what anyone needs to hear. What we need as a nation is to find out the best answers to these issues, and that is not going to happen if we keep couching our discussions in terms of partisan poppycock. And now, I present a guide to avoiding a-holery while tackling heated issues.
1. Don't name call, you dumba--determined individual!
"Who ya calling dummy, Dummy?"
Really, I'm embarrassed that this has to make the list, but if anyone doubts the validity of this item, read an article's comment section on...pretty much any topic. Look, if you're arguing for your point, you're not doing yourself any favors by belittling your opponents with a pile of grade-school insults. It's petty, annoying, and contagious; eventually everyone's wallowing in the mud, even more deeply entrenched in their beliefs then when they started.
2. Do some research before running your mouth.
Again, this is obvious in theory, but often neglected in application. Most of us have some sort of affiliation in our life, whether it's religious, political, or otherwise. These affiliations often color our own viewpoints, and when an argument rises up, it's easy to fall back on a bunch of half-baked ideas informed by our loyalties. You know what's wrong with this picture? If everyone just falls back on prefabricated responses, instead of actually investigating the subject at hand, none of us get any closer to the truth. In the end, both sides go away, high fiving each other over beating the "other guys," and nobody wins.
3. Don't crack jokes about serious topics.
Right-wing pundit's response to new restrictions on abortions.
Left-wing pundit's response to concerns over the potential use of fetal matter in consumer foods.
As the old saying goes, "You catch more flies with honey than vinegar," and making light of your opponents' concerns definitely isn't honey. We all enjoy a good joke, even a bit of dark comedy from time to time, but when discussing important issues, you're not doing any favors by mocking those who disagree with you. And really, are death and mutilation really something you want to laugh at? I mean, come on, what kind of world are we trying to build?
Artist's conception of humanity's current world-building initiatives.
4. You don't have the answer to everything, so stop acting like it.
I think you dropped your name tag, Sir.
Of course we all know we don't know everything --it'd be crazy to think something like that! Trouble is, for all of our assurances to the contrary, a lot of times we argue as if our heads are the repositories for all wisdom. You know how annoying it is when you lay out all the facts in front of a person, and they still won't give up on their stupid position? That's exactly how you come across when you dig your heels in and spout off your "insight" without considering all of the facts before you.
5. Don't try to "win" an argument; try to find the truth.
Let's face it --we all like to win, and we've been making competitions out of arguments long before "gamification" entered the modern lexicon. It's thrilling to defeat an opponent in a debate, but you know what? If that's your goal, you're chasing hollow victories. I know it's hard to avoid the temptation of royally crushing the opposition, but that doesn't advance the human condition. What we really should strive for is finding solutions to our problems. That process requires passionate debate from all sectors, no doubt, but the debate is only a means to the end. If we can't recognize that, we'll just keep on getting gridlocked in every situation, until we reach a stagnation so critical there may be no way to recover from it.