I’m not the kind of person who always thinks he’s right. How could I be? There have been plenty of times when I was wrong. So I’ve always felt that if someone had an opinion that was different from mine he had a right to it.
And so there was a time back in my high school days when life became downright irritating. Why? Every time I opened my mouth some new kid in our class made it his duty to make me wish I hadn’t.
And he did the same thing to everyone else! What a pain!
I didn’t know back then that there are people who actually study such things and take great delight in doing what that kid was doing — using word games that are taught in books written just for that purpose. But one day I happened to be in the library, where I ran across a book called “The Art of Being Right,” written way back in 1830 by someone who studied the ways people manage to win arguments when they are actually wrong.
What an eye-opener that book was! The minute I opened it and began reading it I knew that the new kid had read it and was using the tricks in it.
Guess how long that lasted, Johnny?
You know something? There are more crooked ways to win an argument than there are honest ways. And do people use them! Even today, people use the same false arguments in that 184-year-old book.
And smile while they’re doing it!
Until they run across someone who has read the same book. :-)
I’ll show you some of the things I am talking about. I’ll bet you have heard some of them.
Can you remember what happened right after the Boston bombings? Do you remember how many times it was reported that the bombings must have had something to do with “the Second Amendment people” because Al Qaeda hadn’t claimed responsibility for it? Remember that? I do. And I’m sure many of you do too. That’s called Arguing From Silence, which is arguing from a lack of evidence instead of from evidence. It’s right in the book.
I once read something about that written by a humorist whose name I can’t recall off hand. It went like this:
“Hey! I just learned that elephants can make themselves invisible.”
“No kidding? How?”
“They hide up in cherry trees.”
“Are you nuts? Where’d you get that idea?”
“What do mean, idea? I’ve got proof!”
“Proof? What kind of proof?”
“Easy! Have you ever seen an elephant up in a cherry tree?”
See what I mean? :-)
About six months ago I read about two politicians who were arguing about something on a talk show. The host chimed in and said they disagreed too strongly and so a middle of the road approach had to be the right one.
How many times have you heard that one?
Sounds good, doesn’t it? And we often nod our heads when someone says it. But is it really true?
If someone says a pill is a deadly poison, and someone else says it’s perfectly harmless, should you take half a pill? That would be the middle view. Sometimes an extreme view is correct just because it’s correct.
One thing that drove me nuts about the new kid in our high school was that he always had a pat answer for everything. No matter how wrong he was he’d say something like, “Oh well, all’s fair in love and war.” That book taught me that saying something like that doesn’t prove a thing.
After I read that book — and figured out that the new kid had read it — I began having a little fun whenever he shot his big mouth off. You see, he had learned what to say, but he had never learned what to do it if someone said the same thing to him. And so one day he was arguing vehemently that people had a right to commit suicide, and I asked him, “Oh yeah? Then why don’t you go hang yourself?”
It came right out of that %$#@! book! You should have seen his face when he realized I knew how he had gotten so “smart.”
Being from a larger city, he was always carping about our little town, which I happened to like. After I read that book I just waited for him to do start carping about our town again.
“I hate this little burg!” he said one day before English class.
I’d been waiting for that moment for more than three weeks. I reached in my pocket, took out some change, counted out 94¢, and handed it to him.
“What’s this for?” he asked me as all the kids listened.
“Bus fare back to the big city.”
Then I turned to the kids and asked them if they thought he should go.
Ah, you should have been there, Johnny. What a beautiful day!