You’re feeling awesome. You woke up on the right-side-of-the-bed. Your hair is on-point. The weather is beautiful. Work is going well.
And then, in an instant, someone comes along and ruins it.
It might be the person who cut you off on the highway. Or the coworker who just doesn’t know when to stop talking about last night’s episode of your least-favorite show, or especially that @sshole on the internet who knows just how to push your buttons.
Staying in a good mood is usually easier if you avoid the internet – or at least the comments section of any article on the internet (really, any article. You can find the most positive topic and there will be someone to spin it the wrong way). In addition to the keyboard warriors looking to hit you with their “knowledge”, there are the people who get paid to start fights online. And of course you have the trolls who do it just for kicks. But you shouldn’t have to stay away from your favorite sites. You’re awesome, after all. You know why you support the things you do, why you love what you love. And you’re confident that no matter what someone throws at you, they won’t be able to shake your conviction.
But then there’s that annoying quip, that backwards belief, that mind-bogglingly asinine quote, that gets you right in the gut.
It can be hard to feel awesome
Even when you know that you’re right. You can’t get into the minds of others (best X-Men power). It doesn’t even have to be a stranger; it could be someone you know, an old friend or lover, that blindsides you with one of those backwards beliefs we were talking about.
“We made fun of the Democrats together! How are you switching sides?”
“We’ve been hunting together for years! How can you be in favor of gun control?”
Or whatever view that seems so completely normal to you, yet isn’t held by someone else. Then suddenly you’re in a full-blown argument, pulling out all the stops, hurling insults with rapid speed (worst X-Men power) in a desperate attempt to prove you were right all along.
Those 19 GIFs for winning any political argument on Facebook will only get you so far.
Especially when it comes to politics. It often seems easier just to give up. Just say to yourself, “Everyone sucks anyway.” You can even buy merchandise to support your cause of not-having-a-cause: Everybody Sucks.
Why do people argue so much?
Well there’s the obvious, simple answer: Because people like to be right. No matter what the topic or issue is. People argue because they like to argue, and they like to (need to) win.
Though, on some level, it’s not even conscious. Published in PsychCentral: “These responses are not rationally chosen… they are triggered by external stimuli which cause your brain to fire almost instantly.”
People who argue aren’t always looking for truth; it’s often just a knee-jerk reaction. So don’t be so hard on yourself: Humans have trouble differentiating between emotional responses and logical ones.
Plus, we’re all insecure creatures. When we feel threatened, we immediately go on the defense. Our intrinsic fight-or-flight mentalities kick in when we’re faced with an idea or argument that challenges what we believe (we know) to be true.
But how, in the Age of Information, can people remain so close-minded?
The problem is arguably getting worse: the way we now consume information can be called “narrowcasting,” i.e. we’re looking at the social media posts that often lack context, and information that caters to a small, like-minded audience. Our instincts to fight or flight when faced with an opposing POV are not tailored to the Information Age, as it’s much easier to find things we agree with and ignore the rest. Even though we have greater potential to expand our worldview than ever before, we are actually becoming more entrenched in our own opinions.
Does this make it easier to stomach? Of course not.
You can be the answer
Identify, and avoid engaging in, these logical fallacies:
- Appeal to ignorance: Something must be false, simply because it can’t be proven to be true, e.g. aliens must exist, because we can’t prove that they don’t.
- Tautology: You state the same thing twice, but in different ways. Similar to a circular argument: “You’re stupid, and if you disagree with these facts it just proves how stupid you are,” or, “The Bible is the word of God, because the Bible says so, and the Bible is infallible, so the Bible is the word of God.”
- Appeal to authority: You make your argument using the words of an influential/famous person that support your argument, e.g. “President Obama supports ________, so they will make a great president.”
- Sweeping generalization: You assume that because something is true in certain cases, it must be true in every case, e.g. “This person is educated, so they must be voting Democrat,” or “This person is Mexican-born, they can’t support Trump.”
- Red herring: You distract from the real issue, e.g. someone says, “Trump is a misogynist,” and the response is, “Hillary mishandled emails!”
- Faulty analogy: You assume that because two things are alike, they’re alike in every way, e.g. “Someone is voting the same way as me (or differently) so that means agree (or disagree) with me on every issue.”
- Slippery slope: If something happens a certain way, it will surely start a chain of events leading to a negative outcome, e.g. If your child doesn’t study every night of the week, they’ll never get good grades, they’ll never get into a good college, they’ll end up working a blue-collar job they hate, etc.
Do your research. Think for yourself. But always listen and keep an open mind. Listen before responding. And don’t play a role in an explosive situation. Simply walking away from an argument is more effective that punching your opponent in the nose, even (or especially) if they deserve it.
You won’t get credit for taking the high road. But, to put it simply, it’s always better in the long run if you’re not the asshole. As long as you’re not dragging yourself through the mud, you won’t have to spend time with people who are. Some days, everyone sucks. That doesn’t have to include you.
Read this next: You’re an @sshole: Being right in the Digital Age