[ Author: Kathy Petersen ]
It’s easy to get “tunnel vision” when arguing with someone, particularly if arguing online. “The other person is wrong, wrong, wrong and I’m right, so I need to point out everything that they’re wrong about!” Well, I doubt anybody would say that out loud, but we do tend to say such things with our actions, when we act that way.
There are a few reasons why we sometimes need to just let things go.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
First, it causes the relationship to be more adversarial than necessary. Do we really need to argue about the precise name of this particular shade of blue? Yes, we’re human so it’s easy to fall into the trap of proving the other person wrong (or yourself right) about everything, but they’re human too, and when they act like that, don’t you think it’s a little odd, or overkill? Don’t make a big deal about little things! If you find that you must say something to show that you disagree with the other person, you can simply say, “I disagree, but let’s focus on this other issue instead.” There, you’ve registered your objection, but you can keep the main thing the main thing. Which brings me to point two.
My second point – though not second in importance – is that it is very easy to get sidetracked, if you’re making every point a point of contention. If you’ve ever gotten into an argument or even just a discussion with someone (online or in real life), I’m sure you have at some point stopped to wonder how exactly you got from Point A to Point B. You started off the discussion by talking about the weather and ended up discussing the possibility of life on Mars, or the latest election, or the finer points of World War II.
Or, in a religious discussion, you started off talking about the qualifications of a true prophet and ended up arguing over what age David was when he fought Goliath, and what age Jeremiah was when he first started prophesying. [True story, happened just yesterday to me. He was a Mormon with a bone to pick and insisted – without evidence! – that David and Jeremiah were 14, just like Joseph Smith was when he had the First Vision, and this was proof that God was behind it all.]
It is easy to get distracted into discussing minor points, and leaving major points unattended, if you rush off to tilt at every windmill, instead of staying focused on the main point. Sometimes minor points need to be addressed as well but be very aware that they will more likely than not end up dragging you off the main point, and you’ll never get around to addressing the main point. As with the first point, it may be helpful simply to say, “I disagree, but let’s focus on X, until we get that fully discussed.”
Third, whether intentional or not, people do tend to try to stick to familiar topics when they’re arguing, and will divert attention away from their weak spots (i.e., something they’re not used to arguing, or something that they know they don’t have a good answer for), by turning the conversation to something they know they can competently discuss – particularly if they think they can “win” because they have a very strong argument. It is possible and often probable that when a person brings up a related (or non-related!) point, that this is what he’s doing.
Keeping on track
An example from a Mormon might be as follows: Let’s say that the topic of the conversation is the Trinity, and after a few rounds of back and forth conversation, this particular Mormon is on shaky ground. Instead of addressing the actual arguments you present, he instead says, “You say you believe the Bible, but so do all these other denominations, and who is right? You all claim the same authority, but you have thousands of denominations and thousands of beliefs!
This is what happens when you have lost apostolic authority and prophets in your church – everybody just gets to believe whatever they think, and to interpret the Bible however they want, and it leads to thousands of beliefs, and division of the church. I’m so thankful that we have modern-day prophets and apostles, who teach us how to understand the Bible correctly. It’s a proof that we’re the One True Church, and this proves that the Trinity is wrong.”
At this point, you can choose to discuss this point if you wish, and it wouldn’t necessarily be wrong to address the claims he made, but you need to be intentional about doing so, and conscientiously stop discussing Biblical arguments in favor of the Trinity, then conscientiously start discussing Mormon claims of prophets. And, to keep in mind that when a person pulls out such a wildly off-topic point for discussion, that it likely shows that he’s on the ropes, flailing badly. It’s easy to get distracted, but it’s usually better to stay focused on the main point (that he’s so desperately trying to get away from). As said before, you can say something like, “We can discuss true and false prophets in a bit, but first let’s stay focused on the Trinity.”
Find common ground
Finally, when you disagree with a person on almost every issue, it can become easy to caricature that person as being completely opposite, to the point where if he says the sky is blue, you’ll want to find a way to disagree with him, just because “he’s wrong about everything else, so he must be wrong about this too!” Don’t. Find points of agreement. If he makes a comment you agree with, be vocal about agreeing with him (or at least click “like”, if you’re in a Facebook group). You may disagree about religious matters but find that you’re in near-total agreement about political or social issues.
Remember that when you’re discussing issues of a religious nature with others, it has eternal significance. Or it should. I hope you’re not arguing online just to argue but are arguing in the hopes of demolishing their bad arguments that are keeping them in a false religion, so that they become true believers in Jesus Christ. [Or if in a non-religious argument, that you still have high motives – and even argument that are not inherently religious in nature, such as about abortion, can have eternal/religious significance.]
If you feel a reflex reaction to disagree with a person or find fault with his arguments, just because you’re in an argument with him, realize that the other person feels the same way. Showing that you have some common ground can also help him lower his defenses that are leading him to reflexively contradict and find fault with you and your arguments. And isn’t that something you want?