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    • #4057
      Argumentative Atheist
      Points: 100,923

      Something that I have always advocated for is being more polite while debating and arguing with religious people and others who have a fanatical or fundamentalist mindset.

      Before now I have never written the reasons why into a note, which has meant that I have to keep explaining them repeatedly.

      So, here they are, in no particular order. The reasons why I advocate for more polite arguments, even with people who just don’t get it. No matter how much you explain the simplest things.

      1: People don’t pay attention to people they don’t like. [1,2,4,5]
      It’s a truism that people pay more attention to the people they like or admire. When they are talking to someone, especially in a debate or argument, the manner in which a person talks to them makes a huge difference. The likelihood that they will pay attention to the points being made is significantly improved if the person is being polite to them.

      2: There is always an audience.
      This is much more important on social media than almost anywhere else, but it remains true for pretty much everywhere. Often you are never going to change the mind of the person you are arguing with. Not going to happen. The people more likely to actually change their mind are the ones who wont bother to argue with you. They don’t know their own mind on the subject, so they can’t phrase a coherent response, and wont try. However, they might be interested in the subject and pay attention to your arguments and points, even if they don’t interact in any way. Take Facebook for example. How many comments do you read without replying or even giving them a like or reaction? Again, they are much more likely to actually pay attention to what you say if they like you, and they are much more likely to like you if you are being the polite and reasonable person in the room.

      3: Backfire effect. [3]
      A peculiar idiosyncrasy of the human mind is that when someone’s core values feel threatened they stop using reason to evaluate their responses, and instead the “fight or flight” response of the human brain kicks in. This means that people no longer use logic and reason, but instead use raw emotion in order to evaluate the arguments they are presented with in a debate. The more aggressively their opponent argues with them, the more insulting and derisive their opponent, the more likely it is that the fight or flight response will be triggered. After this point no reasonable argument is possible. They aren’t paying attention to the argument any longer, they are simply trying to win it.

      4: Get your opponent to explain themselves. [2,6,7]
      One of the most effective ways to actually change someone’s mind about a subject they don’t understand well, but are none the less emotionally invested in, is to get them to explain the subject and their opinion on it in detail. This highlights to them their own misunderstandings and vague misconceptions. The YouTube channel “Cordial Curiosity” has many videos that are an incredible example of this in action. However, people are not willing to do this with people they don’t like. See above.

      5: Validate your opponent. [2,7]
      No really. “When people have their self-worth validated in some way, they tend to be more receptive to information that challenges their beliefs,” this is the opinion of Peter Ditto, a psychology professor at UC-Irvine who studies emotion and its connection to political and religious beliefs. This is pretty much impossible to do while you are insulting your opponent.

      Some links to back up my assertions. Psychologists and psychological studies pretty much universally agree that to change someone’s mind on a deeply held personal belief you need to get your opponent to start genuinely looking at the arguments and points being made. This is much easier with polite and genuine conversation that draws in your opponent and establishes a rapport, than with aggressive, dismissive or derisive language.

      [1] With references to psychological studies and written by a professor of psychology. You will note I hope that it specifically states that you should be ready to see the other person’s perspective, appear open minded, keep your emotions under control, and finally respect your opponent.

      [2] The most useful article here, admittedly written by a reporter for a New York magazine, but using direct references to 3 different psychologists who are also directly linked in the article, and several different psychological studies, which are also directly linked to so you can check the conclusions yourself, I particularly like one section titled “don’t be such a dick,” which is using quotes from Peter Ditto who specifically works with emotion and its connection to political or religious beliefs.

      [3] Here is a short video (admittedly on YouTube but with a full list of sources from genuine psychological studies) which helps to explain the backfire effect and why it is important to get the other person actually explaining their own point of view without triggering their fight or flight response.

      [4] Another article written by a different doctor of psychology also from psychology today which largely agrees with the first one, although it phrases it rather differently,

      [5] A video with advice from a Harvard psychologist this time, it’s not long at 1.15 but you will note how it also focuses on positive ways to win the argument and emphasises listening to the other person and making them feel like they are heard and understood rather than simply dismissed.

      [6] A YouTube channel called Cordial Curiosity, this is an amazing thing to watch as random people get pulled from the street and get challenged on their most deeply held beliefs, but respond with smiles and a genuine attempt to explain their position.

      [7] An article for Vox. Which isn’t a great start I admit, but it uses the work of Robb Willer, a professor of sociology and psychology at Stanford University and a series of six studies that he and co-author Matthew Feinberg published papers on. It explains good ways to try and alter your argument to try and improve your chances of changing your opponents mind.

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