The Etiquette of Talking Back

This article by Stephen Kigwa is meant to educate you on the intellectual code of etiquette that one should observe, when talking back in a debatable issue. It is undisputed fact that in every serious matter, men and women will most certainly both agree and disagree about matters that ultimately affect action and/or feelings. You probably have watched a debate on a Television talk show and witnessed how intelligent people, who have been to school, engage in a shallow, petty, empty and vicious argumentation.

What is the use of a conversation if everybody in it ends up holding on to the same opinion they had? Every conversation should and must be viewed as a meeting of minds-by appealing to facts, voice of reason and truth. Winning a debate on a television show should not be traded for ‘learning’ the ‘truth’ out of the discussion. Anybody who regards conversations as a battle can only win by disagreeing successfully, whether he is right or wrong.

It must be born in mind that you can only win by gaining knowledge, not by knocking down the other party. Most debaters on television talk shows have perfected the art of adorning themselves with a robe of propaganda-to despise, scorn and to isolate something that they can disagree with.

Here is rule number one: Listen not to contradict; not to believe and take for granted; not to find faults but to ‘weigh and consider’. Unfortunately, many people listen with an intent not to understand, but to reply. You must not begin to talk back until you have listened carefully and are sure that you understand before you choose to express yourself. You must be able to say with utter certainty; ‘I understand’ before you can say any of the following: ‘I agree’, ‘I disagree’, or something that you don’t often hear being said, ‘I suspend my judgement’.

If you can say ‘I agree’ you should at least have grounds for doing so. To agree is just as much an exercise of critical judgement on your part as it is to disagree. You may as well be wrong in agreeing as in disagreeing.  It was Adler Motimer who once said that ‘to agree without understanding is insane; to disagree without understanding is impudent.’  When you fully understand what is being said, it prepares the way for a candid evaluation of your response before your carry out your obligation of making an independent judgment.  Any response not based on understanding is, for lack of a better vocabulary, primitive. It is equivalent to saying: ‘I don’t know what you mean, but I think you are wrong’.  How could you possibly disagree with something you don’t even understand! What position would you be challenging in the first place?

Rule number two: All human disagreements can be resolved by eliminating both the misunderstanding and ignorance of the wider scope of issues at hand. All rational men (and that also includes women) can agree even if it’s agreeing not to agree. Man is a rational being. That rationality is actually the root source of his power to agree. However, the imperfections of this reasoning is the major cause of most of the disagreements that occur. Man is also a creature of passion and prejudice. The language he must use to communicate is an imperfect medium clouded by inadequately transparent thoughts, emotions and colored by selfish interests.

Rule number three: The purpose of every serious communication or conversation should be to try to convince, persuade or dissuade the other party. To be able to do that, you must develop rhetorical skills-learn how to convince or persuade; learn how to respond to anyone who tries to convince or persuade you. Please note that even when the parties disagree, each party’s line of persuasion should be respected. Hence the man who at any stage of a conversation, disagrees should at least hope to reach agreement in the end. He should be as much prepared to have his mind changed as he also seeks to change the mind of another.  He should always bear in mind the possibility that he misunderstands or that he is ignorant to some degree.

Rule number four: You must never suppose that to criticize is always to disagree-a very popular but very unfortunate misconception. I long for the day when men and women of manners will dominate the television talk shows and after a debate proclaim; “You have convinced me that such and such is true”; “You have persuaded me that it is probable that…”; “Based on what you have said, I suspend my judgement”. Though not so obvious to most people, suspending judgement is also an act of criticism. It is taking the position that something has not been shown. It is saying that you are not convinced or persuaded one way or the other.