I recently saw an incident on Facebook where a person laid out his case for why Al Gore should be president. Although I hold some admiration for Mr. Gore as a public figure, I didn’t think it was a strong enough case to convince me and I usually steer clear of politics posts. But I did read through the comments… deep down inside me there still lives a small hope that a discussion emerges rather than unconstructive bickering and the sorts of ad hominem attacks that you see when you watch politicians malign one another.
Another person had decided to make his dissent known. And the original poster (OP) engaged in a style of debate I can only summarize as moral bludgeoning, which involves using the unquestioned moral sentiments of our day to make your opponent back down rather than taking his issues head-on. I saw the OP ask if the dissenter thought that he, himself, would do better as president. I saw the OP accuse the dissenter of hipocrisy.
I saw the OP try to sell Gore on his military service during the vietnam war. And when the dissenter listed his reasons for being unimpressed, I saw the original poster trying to bully the dissenter as someone diminishing a veteran’s service record. The OP said he had to call “bull”.
All of this in the name of what? Did the original poster want the dissenter’s best interests? Was the original poster interest in hearing from anyone who disagreed at all?
I argue that the OP, thought he knew better than everyone else and wanted to be “right”. I argue that the OP operates from a mode that as long as his side is in the majority, they can do what they want. After all, isn’t that democracy? Isn’t democracy the most important moral rule of our day?
Now it’s time for me to point out some “bull”:
- if you post something that is meant to influence others but you only want to hear from people who agree with you, you probably have no sense of self-worth and likely attempt to substitute the agreement of others.
- if when someone on your “friends list” disagrees with you, you use every dirty trick in the book to try to take down their credibility and malign their character, there’s a 100% chance you have no real friends.
- if you believe that the majority has the right to do whatever they want… legally, you might be right. But morally, you believe in tyranny rather than liberty.
Influencing with Integrity
I would feel bad if I ended this post on a judgmental rant. So I want to talk about what I think influence looks like when it has integrity.
It’s natural to want to try to influence the people we know. To challenge them to rise to be the best sort of people they can be. But our motives for doing so may not always be honorable. And even when we think our motives are “in their best interests” the means have become accustomed to using may be poorly suited or downright inappropriate for the sort of relationship we have.
Influence with integrity begins with dialogue, and dialogue begins with listening.
Rather than using fear-based emotional arguments, influencing with integrity entails sharing a logical progression of facts that leads to an assertion. Rather than meeting dissent with ad hominem attacks and strawmen, it involves acknowledging the validity (however small) of the dissenters argument and explaining how they went wrong or saying why you wont.
My call to the world is to thoughtfully respond rather than to blindly react. An observation: The comments box on any blog or on social media are nearly worthless for dialogue of this sort. A dialogue of back-and-forth blog entries, however, might be just the right medium. If your thought is that we don’t have the time, then I could say the same thing about any desire to influence. It takes time to do it well and if we don’t care to do it well we should leave it to others who will.