How Do You Argue?

I like a good fight, of the verbal kind anyway. A spirited exchange of ideas, an attempt at persuasion and perhaps some changed minds.

I have some political buddies I have been meeting with regularly for about a decade. We get together to talk sports, politics and world affairs. Over a couple of hours, we hope to solve the problems of the world, at least until next time.cover117586-medium.png

Sometimes the discussion can get a little heated. (Not on my part, I’m always calm – which can be very infuriating for the people I am debating with.) People can get emotional when discussing something that is important or near to their hearts. At those times, sadly, the quality of our discussion deteriorates. No-one’s mind is changed – we are no longer effectively stating our case.

That isn’t unusual when people talk about important issues. Working in politics I lament that too often policy and ideas have been abandoned, as politicians hurl personal attacks at each other that have nothing to do with the issues at hand. If I say that you are a fool, then your idea must be too. If I repeat it often enough people will start believing it, even if I provide no evidence. Public discourse is basically dead.

Richard A. Holland Jr. and Benjamin K. Forrest are trying to counter that with their book Good Arguments which is subtitled “Making Your Case in Writing and Public Speaking.” Just those words, “public speaking” probably caused you to shudder. Getting up in front of an audience is something few of us like to do.  It can’t always be avoided though.

I could argue that this is more than a book about writing and public speaking; it is also about how to better structure your thoughts in casual conversation, in e-mail or even on Twitter. I can think of at least one politician who should read this volume. Actually, I can think of more than one.

The book is designed for classroom use, but it is not a dry academic text. I found it easy and practical, simple to digest. Yes, it could be used in a class setting, but it would also be beneficial for anyone who wants to learn how to be a better communicator. Which can be really important the next time you need to challenge someone on Twitter who is resorting to an ad hominem argument.

Or maybe I am too much of an optimist. Maybe the time for Good Arguments has already passed. Perhaps we as a society have deteriorated to the point where emotion rules, truth is irrelevant, and he or she that yells the loudest wins, no matter what they are yelling about.

I hope not.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Academic through the Baker Academic Bloggersprogram. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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