Of provocation and persuasion!

I was inspired to write this post by seeing an ad for that shirt today. I will not be wearing that T-shirt above, even though I definitely favor those positions. When I was in college, I used to enjoy  provoking friends and enemies with inflammatory and outrageous statements. My purpose was, ultimately, to learn how and what others believed and were emotionally attached to. When I would make such statements face to face (always), I could usually look forward to the following reactions from friends and antagonists, in order:

  1. Involuntary guffaws (“right, he’s making a joke”), followed quickly by…
  2. Tentative, conflicted smile, fading as they surveyed my unsmiling face (“can he really be serious”)…
  3. Raised brows with “darkening” countenance, smile turning to sneer, as they interpret my attitude as arrogance (“I think he really means it, the jerk”)….
  4. Outraged and vociferous shouting of disagreement (“I’ll show him”)…
  5. Complete shock and silence, after I admitted I could be wrong…
  6. Mostly rational, though grudging debate, as we discussed the relative merits of each other’s position. Sometimes I would concede the superior validity of their position, other times they were persuaded by my points.

This is how I learned to: evaluate information, listen for understanding, gain perspective, think for myself, and often, persuade others to my “cause”. But the most important lesson I learned is humility. Others sometimes turned out to be smarter than me, or better informed, or more accepting of other viewpoints. I was willing to say “I was wrong, you make more sense.” My main point here is, while provocation can be both a useful learning tool and a way to reveal what someone else is really thinking, it can also function to make enemies, divide people unnecessarily and make the provocateur look immature and foolish when they refuse to admit when they are wrong or to take responsibility for wrongdoing.

The shirt above may or may not have been specifically designed to provoke, and it does function to make it clear what “tribe” you identify with and to signal your virtue to your tribe, but the reason I will never wear it or anything close is that it probably cuts off the possibility of dialogue before it even starts, and thus impedes the learning and perspective of the wearer. In my youthful quest to learn through provocation, I was careful to keep my position and intentions hidden until face to face with a “worthy opponent”,  in a relatively quiet and neutral place, so we could really have a dialogue.

It’s still important to me to have a “worthy opponent”, someone as intelligent and informed as I am who differs on many issues, but with whom I can still conduct a civil discourse. I would recommend that to everyone–but so many people seem to prefer the “echo-chamber” of their own personal and their tribe’s opinions. I‘m not sure who even wants dialogue today, in 2018, or who has the skills and attitude to debate rationally. I invite all my readers who disagree with any of my posts to engage in reasoned debate.

 

Author: iamcurmudgeon

When I began this blog, I was a 70 year old man, with a young mind and a body trying to recover from a stroke, and my purpose for this whole blog thing is to provoke thinking, to ridicule reflex reaction, and provide a legacy to my children.

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