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Debates and arguments don't usually change opinions

Debates and arguments don't usually change opinions

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I see lots of folks arguing on both sides of most every issue these days, not only on the opinion page, but on social media. As a matter of fact, for my entire adult life I've heard debates and arguments between folks who disagree with each other, and I've participated in more than a few myself, and sometimes one of the parties involved will make a better argument than the other.

What I've noticed is that it doesn't matter whose argument was the best; neither party ever changes their mind because of the argument. We tend to dig in our heels and reject anything that doesn't line up with what we already believe. People are stubborn like that.

Think about it: Try to imagine ANYBODY you've ever argued with totally changing their mind because of your stated position and saying,

"My goodness, you're right! What I chump I've been! I think I'll totally change my mind based on what you've just told me!" Nobody does that.

We generally apply "confirmation bias," which means we ignore any new information or opinion if it doesn't line up with what we already believe. In other words, when we hear something that supports our mental narrative or belief system, we accept it as proof, but when we hear somebody arguing to the contrary, we reject their argument out of hand. It's human nature. When we hear new information, we automatically compare it to information we've already accepted as the truth.

When arguments/debates happen in person, even when the other party is making a point, we're typically thinking about what we're going to say next rather than paying attention to whatever they're saying in that moment, and usually they're doing the same thing.

Sometimes when I read the opinion page, I find myself simply looking at the bottom to see who wrote the letter, and if that name is one I recognize, I'll decide in that moment whether to read that person's comments or not.

Some people’s comments are so incendiary that,for me, their letters aren't worth reading. In other words, if you disagree with them, their letters are specifically written to make you angry.

Other folks -- even some who don't believe like I do -- sometimes express well thought-out talking points that bear consideration. It’s all about the delivery, as well as the “spin” they put on any data they choose to cite.

This brings me to Proverbs 12:18, which reads, "There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, But the tongue of the wise brings healing."

I'm sure I'm not the only one who does this name-check exercise while reading the opinion page, and I imagine there are people who see my name at the bottom and reject or accept my opinion letters just because of things I've previously posted or written that they disagreed with. I try to be factual whenever possible, but we've all got opinions, and there's no such thing as an unbiased news report, either - we all just have to decide whose bias we agree with, and those are the people we listen to.

I guess my point in writing this letter is that we could get more done in this country if we could find common ground rather than simply forging harsh, angry diatribes that serve no real purpose. Angry incendiary opinion letters or media posts don't change anybody's mind. They just cause some folks to stop listening.

Richard McCuistian



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