Thank You for Arguing

Jay Heinrichs

Thank You for Arguing (TYA) is about the art of convincing or persuading others or finding “harmony in discord,” as Horace said. While lighthearted and full of satirical humor, it presents many helpful points, some of which we know but too often ignore and others that fresh and edifying. TYA offers a good many gimmicks that aren’t terribly helpful, but much of what he says is worth considering and applying. Some of his key techniques are: (1) Fighting and sarcasm never persuade; they inspire retreat and/or revenge. (2) Agree with your opponent on lesser points; if he scores some points, he’ll be more willing to allow you to do so. (3) Advance reason that supports your position AND that appeals to your opponents emotions. (4) “Seduce” your opponent with humor and by listing five possibilities, two extremes at the top and bottom and place yours in the middle. Most people take the middle road. (5) Capitalizing on your opponents’ emotions is also effective. Saint Augustine, he notes, was among the greatest persuaders who ever lived. A rhetoric professor, he made his name as one of the founders of the Christian Church. To convert pagans to Christianity, he prayed upon the emotions of his audience; he wanted to make them cry, because, in that state, they are open to persuasion. (6) Show that you once believed what your opponent believes but that you were overwhelmed by sheer logic. (7) Define your terms (Socratic), which will often narrow your differences and promote agreement. There are only three kinds of issues, he argues: (1) Blame (relates to things in the past), (2) Values (relates to the present), and (3) Choice (relates to the future). The past can’t be changed. People generally won’t allow their values to be changed. If given very bad, very good choices, people will generally pick the best choice, even if it results in an alteration of their values. On balance, TYA is well worth reading, especially the first half of it.