We need to argue more often with each other. We need to get frustrated, analyze our methods of argumentation and go back for another round in the ring of discourse for the sake of making ourselves better communicators who can defend what we believe in.
I mean this for those I agree with, those I disagree with and those in between. We need to argue with each other so we become better at it, for without those skills we retreat into our echo chambers and the skills that our English teachers and university professors have tried to instill in us are put to waste.
In a study titled “Conversational receptiveness: Improving engagement with opposing views,” the researchers note that “across many domains, other viewpoints can help us increase the accuracy of our own beliefs by exposing us to new information and perspectives.” This is important because an uninformed argument can fall apart with a basic counterargument, whereas an argument that considers possible rebuttals has been strengthened under scrutiny.
More important than needing to expand our knowledge of other perspectives, however, is the need to engage with those who have differing opinions in order to prevent polarization. When a person is constantly surrounded by sources that only reinforce their opinions and beliefs, it creates an echo chamber, which researchers of “The echo chamber effect on social media” define as “environments in which the opinion, political leaning, or belief of users about a topic gets reinforced due to repeated interactions with peers or sources having similar tendencies and attitudes.”
Echo chambers accept a person’s belief system without question, which leads to weak claims that are not supported by reason or fact—both of which are necessary to make an argument. If you are always in agreement with those around you, it may be time for you to take into consideration what you actually believe; agreeing with everyone will lead to a contradiction of thought if you treat every idea equally and qualify each one as correct.
In his free marketplace of ideas theory, John Stuart Mill “claims that the free competition of ideas is the best way to separate falsehoods from fact,” and he also looks at how ideas compete against each other without an overarching authority deeming one better than another. This results in the best arguments—which must be composed of strong claims backed up by reasons and support—winning the agreement of the people, for the other arguments have been successfully rebuked.
Of course, this means that argumentation must occur both in good faith and fair dealing, for if the people involved try to skew the argument or knowingly introduce false information, successful argumentation is impossible.
According to the American Bar Association, “good faith and fair dealing” means that “parties cannot evade the spirit of the bargain, lack diligence or slack off, perform incorrectly on purpose, abuse their power when specifying the terms of a contract, or interfere with or fail to cooperate in the other party’s performance.”
“The spirit of the bargain” means that both people should remind themselves that the other person is not trying to be malicious or harmful with their opinions; rather, they are trying to express their viewpoint. Arguing in good faith means both parties are interested in the argument for the sake of discussion rather than winning.
For example, in his article about debating vaccine politics with a friend, Adam Grant writes, “Arguing well is a skillset, but it’s heavily influenced by your mindset. A good debate isn’t about one person declaring victory, it’s about both people making a discovery.”
In the same spirit, people in an argument should not subject themselves to immature forms of argumentation such as insulting, belittling or becoming irrational. This also pertains to using pure emotion to further your argument rather than fact, for emotions are not feasible counterarguments when faced with facts. In addition, arguing with more emotion than intellect is often unreceptive and manipulates the other person in an appeal to pity or by demonizing them for their beliefs. After all, as the conversational receptiveness researchers concluded, “Simply choosing to engage with opposing views may not lead to greater understanding or cooperation if the language of that engagement is unreceptive.”
This is where conversational receptiveness, or “the use of language to communicate one’s willingness to thoughtfully engage with opposing views,” can lead to a successful argument. Engaging with a person to find out why they think a certain way through listening to their argument and subsequent reasoning is the only way to avoid becoming polarized. This does not mean you have to agree, but it’s a good way to learn why someone holds a particular belief.
Disagreeing with your friends about the latest House bill or how much billionaires should pay in taxes should not be something that ruptures your friendship simply because you cannot agree; it should be a learning experience. Politics are inherently personal because the government’s decisions affect us no matter what, but just because your political views don’t always align does not mean that you cannot engage in meaningful conversation with that person. These conversations will either make your opinion more informed or make you feel more secure about your current one; either way, they lead to greater understanding.
Therefore, stop being afraid to disagree with your friends. When you avoid conflict and debate, you’re refusing yourself the opportunity to become a more informed person, a better communicator and a more engaged citizen.