Lesson 5 : You’re an Idiot, But Don’t Take It Personally

In Lesson 2, we talked about not getting dragged into the mud when your opponent engages in name-calling.  Perhaps understanding WHY they get so emotional is paramount to better handling those situations.

Imagine that a skydive represents the span of one’s life and the ground below is the inevitable encroachment of death, and you’ll getskydiver an appreciation as to why the devout react so viscerally to you for calling their parachute into question.  Now throw in the fact that their skydive manual AND training insist that it’s foolish to question the parachute.

So they call you a name.

In a formal debate setting, that’d be a huge win.  So if your only goal was to win an argument, congratulations.

But I, for one, am concerned far less with scoring points than changing minds. And realizing that when the devout lash out it’s less because they’re mean-spirited and more that they’re scared to death.  OF death.

As those of us who WERE once members of a faith-based community can attest, we shouldn’t expect somebody to jump right to the final “acceptance” stage of grieving for their own mortality.  In fact, anger may be a sign that they find themselves moving past the simple “denial” stage.

angryPYour best move at this point is to offer them olive branches, not club them over the head with harsh reality.  Search for commonality[s] and try to build off that.  Mine desperately for nuggets of agreement in everything they say.  Don’t let any chance to tell them you agree to pass.  Examples:

Them:  “We don’t have any examples of ‘something’ coming from ‘nothing’, therefore [blah] …”
You:  “I absolutely agree that it doesn’t seem that anything can just magically ‘poof’ into existence.  So if we can build on that…”

… will be far more compelling to your audience than …

You:  “What about virtual particles?!  Hawking says [x], and Laurence Krauss says [y] and maybe you should read more before you start typing…!!!”

The bottom line is, if they already think you’re an idiot, try your best not to prove them right.  And try even harder to appreciate what they’re going through.  No matter how vitriolic they might be, they’ve at LEAST shown they’re willing to have the discussion, and that’s a great start…