There are 3 ways to challenge a statement. The one you pick says a lot about your character

    Taylor Swift is a political asset working for the Pentagon

    The FBI instigated the January 6 capitol riots

    Nikki Haley is not a natural American citizen and is therefore ineligible to serve as president

    Claudine Gay’s ouster as president of Harvard was motivated by racism

    Videos of the October 7 massacres allegedly taken by Hamas are actually deepfakes

These are a few of the headlines that have graced stories in recent weeks. Whether you believe them or not is entirely up to you. 

The more important question is this: If you don’t believe them, how should you respond?

One option is to demonstrate that there is no factual evidence or logical basis to support such assertions. Another approach is to simply ignore them and let your silence communicate that you don’t take them seriously. The third alternative is to disparage the source through accusation, innuendo, or ridicule.

The tactic you choose may say more about how secure you are in your own opinions than it does about the positions you seek to refute.

A well-reasoned, soundly articulated argument signals that the opposing view has merit and, as such, warrants a logical, fact-based response to demonstrate why it should be rejected. Silent dismissal signals that the argument is absurd, like the moon being made of green cheese or Elvis still being alive.

Ridicule and disdain, however, are rarely necessary or beneficial. They are the last refuge of the ill-informed and the insecure. They also typify the latest addition to the Ethical Lexicon:

Eristic (er·is·tic/ e-ris-tik) adjective

Describing an argument that aims to discredit a different point of view rather than searching for truth; characterized by disputatious and often subtle and specious reasoning

The sad reality is that too many of us aren’t interested in truth at all. We’re interested in ideology, feelings, and simplistic retorts when others challenge our opinions. And the simplest repartee is one that discredits the source without addressing the substance of the argument.

In the 2020 docudrama, The Social Dilemma, filmmakers Jeff Orlowski, Davis Coombe, and Vickie Curtis lay out a compelling case for the dangers of social media as malicious, manipulative, and addictive. Although the film was well-received, skeptics argued that claims were overblown and that research does not support the movie’s conclusions.

My exchange with one such skeptic proved instructive.

In the film, Tristan Harris, former Google design ethicist and cofounder of the Center for Humane Technology, asserts that we are predisposed to embrace new technologies without contemplating potential dangers. As an example, he comments that no one ever questioned whether the bicycle posed a threat to society.

It turns out he is wrong. Upon first appearing, bicycles were blamed for a slew of social ills including illiteracy, immorality, infertility, and insanity. 

There are 3 ways to challenge a statement. The one you pick says a lot about your character

My correspondent observed that since Tristan Harris lacked the attention to detail to verify what he said about the bicycle, why should anyone trust him on his larger points?

His objection was not invalid, but it is eristic. It also proves nothing at all.  The remark about bicycles was a throwaway line intended to illustrate an imprudent cultural passion for innovation. A bit sloppy, yes, but hardly a refutation of the film’s major thesis. Indeed, the wariness that once made people long desperately for the status quo has widely given way to giddy infatuation with anything and everything new.

From the sophistry of the ancient Greeks to the classical debates of academia to the modern gladiatorial melees of cable news, we tend to place more value on scoring rhetorical points rather than on uncovering the truth. As a form of entertainment that may drive audience engagement, but it carries a high risk when making decisions in business and in life.

In any organization, there are a variety of reasons why lines get drawn between competing factions. Sometimes, it’s due to varying interpretations of evidence, objectives, priorities, or long-range vision. Other times, it’s due to ego, entrenched establishment, or tribal loyalty. And the style of argument employed to advance one position or refute another will usually reveal the underlying motives.

Organizational and communal prosperity begin with recognizing that we all want the same thing: the success of our organization or community.  If we are secure in our position or belief, we shouldn’t be afraid of arguing our case on its merits. If we can’t make our case coherently, we should do our homework to discover whether or not we’re on solid ground. Either way, disparagement, sarcasm, and character assassination have no place in civil and productive discourse.

Because when they do, even if we win the battle, we end up losing the war.  We might claim victory in the skirmish, but we make enemies of those over whom we prevail—and they will surely be looking for the first opportunity to take revenge. Even worse, we may have scuttled a proposal that would have benefited the organization, so we all end up losers.

In contrast, if we present a compelling case while showing respect for the other side, we earn respect and gratitude for showing a clear path forward that holds the best likelihood for success. At the same time, we contribute to a culture where there is no place for eristic argument, where the natural response to losing a debate is, “Thank you for showing me where I was going wrong, so now we can work together to make things right.”

Fast Company – work-life