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DEPARTMENTS: Nursing and the Arts

How to Argue With Kindness and Care

Young-Mason, Jeanine EdD, RN, CS, FAAN

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doi: 10.1097/NUR.0000000000000513
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The unrest is palpable. Americans are distraught. Family members have become exiled from one another unable to have rational discussions among themselves. In many social and work circles, there is a spoken agreement to never talk about politics. Many report that they no longer watch the news, whereas others watch it constantly. Those who carefully research facts versus fiction distrust their findings. The danger now is that individuals are slipping into an exile of passivity, a quiet despair thinking that there is nothing that they can do to resolve their differences with those whom they love and care for the most. The Dalai Lama's wisdom is relevant here, “There are two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called Yesterday and the other is called Tomorrow. Today is the right day to love, believe, do and mostly live.”

So, how do we go about this? This is the most difficult question to answer. In the present climate of deep distrust and anger, it seems insurmountable. But a way to begin could be finding a way to argue with kindness and care. For this endeavor, I would suggest the philosopher Daniel Dennett's 4 Rules on How to Argue With Kindness and Care.

For a discussion of the merits of Dennett's 4 Rules, we turn to Josh Jones, author at Open Culture. “Drawn from Aristotle and his Roman and Medieval interpreters, the ‘classical trivium’—a division of thought and writing into Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric—assumes three things: that it matters how we arrive at our ideas, it matters how we express them, and it matters how we treat the people with whom we interact, even and especially those with whom we disagree. The word rhetoric has taken on the connotation of empty, false, or flattering speech, but it originally meant something closer to kindness.”1

“Like their classical predecessors, these rules directly tie careful, generous listening to sound argumentation. We cannot say we have understood an argument unless we have heard its nuances, can summarize it for others, and can grant its merits and concede it strengths. Only then, writes Dennett, are we equipped to compose a ‘successful critical commentary’ of another’s position.”1

Dennett outlines this process in 4 steps:

  1. Attempt to re-express your target's position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I'd thought of putting it that way.”
  2. List any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
  3. Mention anything you have learned from your target.
  4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

“Here we have a strategy that pays dividends if undertaken in the right spirit. By showing that we understand an opponent's positions ‘as well as they do’ writes Dennett, and that we can participate in a shared ethos by finding points of agreement, we have earned the respect of a ‘receptive audience.’ Alienating people will end an argument before it even begins, when they turn their backs and walk away rather than subject themselves to obtuseness and abuse.”1

Everyone's individual liberty and freedom of thought matter. We have a long way to go toward honoring this goal. But we can take the opportunity afforded us to begin the journey with compassionate understanding.

Reference

1. Jones J. How to Argue With Kindness and Care: 4 Rules from Philosopher Daniel Dennett. www.openculture.com/2019/06/how-to-argue-with-kindness-and-care-4-rules-from-philosopher-daniel-dennett.html. Accessed January 5, 2020.
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