Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Last Word

If you are a regular visitor to this blog, it’s a pretty safe assumption that you have an interest in at least one of the two most polarizing topics of conversation--religion or politics. Really, the only way to heat up a conversation faster is with sincere “yo’ mamma” jokes. I try to keep the dialogue civil and keep up the appearances of a meeting of open minds...but let’s not kid ourselves. Arguments are battles. It’s perfectly natural for us to want to win. It’s a desire that, at times, even clouds our judgement.

Simply being aware of this aspect of the human conditon can offset it, but only to a point. To get me the rest of the way to fairly assessing my opponents’ points, I’ve started ending debates with an admission of sorts. If I’ve learned anything new, I let them know. Not only that, I let them know in the order that they would want to hear it. For example, if they actually offered an argument that makes me think the possibility of a deity is just a little more likely then before, I’ll point that out. If they corrected a flaw in an argument I use, I’ll admit to it and assure them I will no longer use the faulty argument. If they bring to light a novel way of looking at things, even if this way doesn't change my mind about anything, I will still offer whatever praise I can for originality. And if all I can commend is my opponent’s friendly disposition, then I will do so.

Examples of general phrases to end a positive exchange with another human being:
Thanks for the conversation, you are a congenial voice for your worldview. I hope to chat with you again.
I feel better about Christianity/Islam/Hinduism/Magic: The Gathering now than I did prior to our talk.
Gosh, you're swell.
You get the picture. Truth be told, I get to use these closers more often than not. Many religions pride themselves on brotherhood and non-confrontational missionary work and it shows. Your results may very, especially if you tend to engage trolls.

Still, they can't all be winners. Some people are too passionate about their faith to have a calm conversation with someone who isn't seeing things as they do. Others are going through a type of cognitive dissonance which makes them so uncomfortable they attempt to make it stop by sabotaging the debate. In poker, we call this going on tilt. A player gets mad about a bad beat and starts to play sloppy--this can quickly end a game by, most often, the tilted player losing all his money, or the tilted player gets lucky with their erratic behavior and hits big--taking the other player out of the game. The "tilted" debater can force the same two outcomes by either descending into irrational name calling or prompting a similar reaction from you. My advice? Don't return crazy with crazy. Diffuse the argument with a simple closer and move on. Atheists have a bad enough wrap as it is without more of us throwing around f-bomb laced ad hominems.

Examples of general phrases to end a negative exchange with another human being:
I understand your frustration. I'll think about what you've offered, please consider thinking about what I've offered. (this works even if you have no intention of thinking about their argument further.)
At least we can agree that one of us is right. (I like ending this with a winking emoticon.)
God bless. (Sure, you don't believe in God, but they do. This may or may not be said mockingly depending on your nature, and may or may not be taken as mocking depending on theirs.)


  1. Totally agree. The only thing I will add is I also tend to end conversations when we start circling back and covering the same ground. I figure once everyone has said their piece and starts repeating themselves the usefulness of the conversation is over. Any ideas that could be exchanged have already happened. I usually end with some variation of "thanks for the interesting conversation".

  2. "My general response to something I don't agree with is, "We all have a right to have our own opinion and if I can respect your...I would appreciate it if you would respect mine rather than going to war. There is enough of that going on and has been ever since Genesis was written."

  3. or go on tilt ... it releases so much bad boy bad girl energy

  4. Grundy, this is excellent advice.