by Steve Cuno
Author’s note: The inspiration for this article was an angry note from a friend. Any attempt to guess which friend or to point fingers risks missing a great opportunity to see if the shoe fits.
Disagreement is inevitable. When it happens, let’s see if we can handle it sans ad hominem attacks.
Not that any names you may be tempted to call me are de facto undeserved. For all I know, maybe I really am bitter, on the attack, or hateful. Maybe I really am intolerant, misogynistic or privileged.Maybe.
But then, maybe not.
Either way, no such inferences can be drawn from the fact that you and I disagree. Nor from the fact that, through no fault of my own, I happen to be white, straight, middle-aged, middle-class, American and male.
Now, if your objective is to establish that I have character flaws, let me save you the trouble. They are myriad. You have no idea.
But the original question had not to do with me or my character. It had to do with facts, and with our drawing different conclusions from them. Deserved or not, personal epithets will get us off the subject. We, our friendship and enlightenment will be better served by focusing on the facts and where they lead.
If we have our facts wrong, let’s set them straight. If we have them right and they allow only one conclusion, let’s accept it. If the facts allow room for two or more conclusions, let’s have the decency to allow each other the same room.
Should the conversation break down, should either of us resort to facts-be-damned stubbornness, or should our under-the-collar temperature rise dangerously high — we are human — let’s leave it alone for a while. A willingness to detach from a dysfunctional conversation but not from each other is a sign of maturity, human decency, and commitment to friendship.
Above all, let’s not fling invective. Should either of us ever slip — again, we are human — perhaps the other can resist the temptation to rebut or fling back. (With luck, we will not both slip at the same time.) Should an onlooker happen to fling, let’s not dignify it with so much as the least attention.
Granted, there are times when sticking to one’s guns trumps all. It would not have served for the likes of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Harry Houdini to disengage in the interest of seeking not to offend.
Yet even in public debates of far-reaching implication, leveling an ad hominem attack only weakens one’s case.
There is no better way to avoid escalating a dysfunctional conversation than by not participating.
Steve Cuno, who admits to routinely ignoring his own advice, is the founder of the RESPONSE Agency in Salt Lake City. You can read his marketing blog by clicking here and his quasi-skeptical blog by clicking here.