A useful two-letter word

16 Sep

The accusatory screed drips with venom: “Corporate CEOs are all rich!”

Verbal attacks are nothing new.   One can substitute any forcefully-announced statement to clobber YOU who have an opposing view. To wit:

  • ·         Johnny gets to stay up until 10 pm on a school night!
  • ·         The rich aren’t paying their fair share!
  • ·         Fast-food workers can’t earn a living wage!
  • ·         Public school teachers don’t have to contribute as much for their health insurance coverage!
  • ·         Susie’s mom doesn’t have to put up with a lazy child like you!

What is the most effective response to an emotion-laden claim?  The little word:  So?

Don’t feel like you have to fall back to counter arguments that begin like this….

  • ·         My uncle is a CEO of a small book-binding company and he and his family certainly are not rich
  • ·         I know plenty of 3rd graders who have to be in bed by 9 pm during the school week…
  • ·         I happen to know a few ‘rich’ people who pay LOTS in taxes…
  • ·         Maybe it’s not a bad idea for a person to hold down TWO minimum-wage jobs

….instead take a deep breath and say the two-letter word, “So?”  Then pause to listen for their rationale.  What you have just done is give them the space and the invitation to explain to you their unarticulated pre-suppositions.

Last week we began to examine ‘enthymemes’.  That’s a fancy term for an informal argument that is missing one or more premises or even the conclusion.  The unarticulated parts are in the argument-advancer’s mind.  He just didn’t mention them.

·         When someone says, “Shucks, it’s raining!”, that statement is part of a larger argument

If it rains, the wedding ceremony will have to be moved indoors.

It’s raining

Tf, the wedding ceremony will have to be moved indoors.

So, too, with the earlier claims, they are part of an incomplete argument.

When someone condemns CEOs for being rich, this is probably what their argument looks like

Rich people are bad

Corporate CEOS are rich people

Tf, Corporate CEO are bad

Once you help your conversational partner spell out their 1st premise, then you can gently ask them whatever next comes to mind.  I would probably probe by inquiring,   

  • “Why do you consider rich people bad?”
  • Or, “What is so bad about rich people?”

At the very least, you have gotten the other person to THINK. Maybe he or she is just passing on something picked up in the air, on TV or from a friend.  It might not really be what he/she thinks.  You are doing people a service when you take the time to ask them with sincerity what they mean and why they view life the way they do.  And you are showing them THEIR responsibility to have reasons for what they believe.   

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