I’ve recently been engaged several debates on heated topics in which most participants consider themselves to be rational. Yet, many of these discussions end up with insults being thrown around.
I’d like to offer a few tips, based on my failures and successes, to keep the conversation civil.
Let me first list, from least civil to more civil, statements of disagreement. Let’s use the notion of “rationality/irrationality” as the concept we want to convey.
1. You are a f****** irrational fool!
(Expletives only evoke undesirable emotions.)
2. You are an irrational fool!
(Stay away from nouns of insult.)
3. You are irrational!
(This is stated as a permanent characteristic. Not good.)
4. You are acting/commenting irrationally!
(Better, but why not eliminate the “you”?)
5. Your position is irrational!
(Better yet, but stop yelling.)
6. Your position is irrational.
(Closer to civility, but you’ll need to add reasons.)
7. Your position is irrational as demonstrated by Y and Z.
(Good, but we can make this softer.)
8. It seems irrational to hold X as demonstrated by Y and Z.
(Fine, but “demonstrated” is merely how you perceive it.)
9. It seems irrational to hold X after considering Y and Z.
(Great! But can we now use a more Socratic method?)
10. Isn’t it irrational to hold X after considering Y and Z?
(Great progress, but I think we can do more.)
11. Wouldn’t some consider X to be irrational after considering Y and Z?
(Now we’ve allowed our interlocutors to address the argument without feeling the need to defend their identity. And we’ve innocuously invited them to look at the issue from outside their perspective. Now let’s just add a final few softeners.)
12. Is it possible that some might consider X to be a bit irrational after considering Y and Z?
(Excellent! The apex of civility!)
I’ve written this primarily as a reminder to myself to stay civil and rational.