How to Answer Questions without offending people
Plus: how to spot common fallacies
This page covers enough topics to form a large book. Each idea has not been developed, but these things may be useful as a starting point for other ideas. I don't make any great claims for these ideas, other than that they have helped me.
arguments against religion | why do some people turn away | interpreting the Bible
|ANSWERING SIMPLE QUESTIONS|
In my experience the single most important issue when answering a question is to listen. It is so easy to say what you think the other person needs and simply not help them. Try restating the question to clarify the issue.
2. Identify the key question
What is the real issue? What is really bothering them? It may not be what is obvious. Also, most questions are compound questions - they involve lots of different issues. Agree on the most important issue, and stick to it. If you try to answer more than one or two questions, no matter how good you are, your message will not get through.
3. Get your priorities right
The objective with most answers is to leave the person happy. This may or may not mean transferring complex data. It may just mean showing that you care. It may be showing that there IS an answer (even if they don't understand what it is). Be humble. Admit what you don' know. Leave them as a friend. Feeling a good spirit is most important. After all, if they feel good about the topic they can go away and find their own answers
|ANSWERING YOUR OWN QUESTIONS|
Things that really worry you
At university, I had a friend from Oman (near Saudi Arabia), He had a great outlook on life. Why Worry? If something is wrong, either "A" will happen or "B" will happen. If "A" happens, the problem is solved, so why worry? If "B" happens, it means either"X" or it means "Y". If "X" happens, you have to do such and such. If "Y" happens, you have to do something different. That's just how it is, so why worry about it? And so he went on. Every "worry" is just a set of possibilities. All you need to do is understand the possibilities. Maybe you will find you can change them. If not, at least you can prepare for them. In either case, what's the point of worrying? It is much better to just be prepared. "If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear!"
How do people learn?
Sources of knowledge are:
Rules for teaching those who differ from you
God speaks by his spirit. Always the objective is to help people feel and recognize this spirit. If answering questions just turns into a debate (or "Bible ping-pong"), don't do it. Debates seldom get anywhere. But let us assume that you must debate (e.g. you have an audience that is genuinely interested):
Is it a heated question? Are things moving too quickly?
TV style debates are seldom any good at finding real answers. SLOW IT DOWN!!!
- Restate the question. At the very least, this ensures that you are talking about the same thing! "So what you are saying is..." It is very common for person "A" to ask one question, and person "B" then answers something different.
- Do not leave a question until it is resolved, or at the very least find out if the person is happy with the answer you have given. It shows you care, and stops the conversation moving on before you get anywhere.
- Add some light relief. A compliment, a joke, anything to release tension.
Is it a serious question?
Or is it just an objection? An objection is a symptom of something else.
What if you can't answer the question?
|BEWARE LOGICAL FALLACIES!|
The more I see of life, the more I believe that most of what we say is not logical. Most of it is nonsense. If someone talks nonsense, you don't have to worry about it. If you are bothered about something that is nonsense, stop being bothered!
"Nonsense" is not a technical term. A better term is fallacies. The same old fallacies have turned up again and again since the beginning of time, and they even have names. (I have only used classical names here where they seem to be memorable). In each case, the fallacy is commonly used as a reason for something when in fact it is no reason at all.
If you can learn to identify fallacies, you can quickly defuse nearly any argument and show it to be just a lot of hot air.
Where fallacies can be worthwhile
Fallacies did not appear by chance. In this life, so much is uncertain that we have all kinds of tricks for getting closer to the truth. So, for example, if an idea is popular it DOES NOT PROVE that the idea is true. But sometimes it does, so it is worth bearing in mind. In fact, all of these fallacies are probably better than just blind guesswork. But if you rely on fallacies you must expect to be wrong a lot of the time.
Sometimes fallacies can also be useful for injecting a little humility. For example, if someone accuses you of being mad because you believe in "X", it may not be strictly relevant to point out that they themselves believe in it, that others believe in it, or that some very good person believes in it, but it should stops your opponent from shouting so loud.
|Fallacies of formal
(these mess around with the classic format "all A are C, B is A, therefore B is C")
The most basic fallacies
- MAYBE = ALWAYS: "X can cause Y" means "X did cause Y"
- EXISTENTIAL FALLACY: based on a an unproved assumption (or on supposed proof that doesn't exist).
The linguistic trick
ACCENT: stress one word or phrase to change the meaning
Confusing groups and individuals
- COMPOSITION: if they're good on their own, they're good together - e.g. custard and chips
- CONCEALED QUANTIFICATION: "members of X are crooks"
- REIFICATION: talking of the ABSTRACT as if it were REAL: "it's not us, it's the marriage/economy/church/etc."
|Fallacies of relevance
(stress totally irrelevant ideas)
Missing out important information
- Change the question: set up a STRAW MAN: a false version of what your opponent says, that's easy to knock down.
- BOGUS DILEMMA: if you do X, then EITHER a bad thing will happen OR a worse thing will happen. (In fact there are usually other, less severe alternatives)
- REFUTE THE EXAMPLE: attack the illustration, not the idea behind it (or ATTACK TRIVIAL POINTS).
Rely on ignorance
- ARGUMENTUM AD IGNORATIUM: lack of evidence = proof. i.e. shift the burden of proof
- ONE-SIDED ASSESSMENT
- UNOBTAINABLE PERFECTION: your idea has faults, so I reject it, even if it's better than what we have now.
Avoid discussing it at all
- ARGUMENTUM AD LAPIDEM "it just is." (from lapidem = stone: to prove that life isn't an illusion, you kick a stone to show that it's real)
- ARGUMENTUM AD NAUSEUM - just keep on repeating what you say
- LOADED WORDS: imply it without saying it as such.
- SHIFT GROUND: "I said it all along" "but this is different" (how?) "what really matters is.."
|Fallacies of intrusion
(adding in - intruding with - powerful, distracting ideas)
Using popularity as a test of truth
- ARGUMENTUM AD POPULUM: appeal to popular prejudices - "everyone does it" / "everyone knows that...."
- ARGUMENTUM AD NUMERUM: if "most people" say it, it just be correct.
- "TU QOUQUE": = "you too": you yourself do it.
Changing the subject
- RED HERRING: a very strong idea distracts you
- IGNORANTIO ELENCHI: if accused of X, then deny Y (politicians love this one!)
|Appeals to emotion|
Appealing to their limited comprehension
- ARGUMENTUM AD MISERICORUM: find an example of misery that the idea could cause, even if overall it's better than alternatives.
- ARGUMENTUM AD SUPERSTITIONEM: superstition
- ARGUMENTUM AD SUPERBIAM: pride
Appealing to nasty, weak feelings
- ARGUMENTUM AD METUM: an appeal to fear
- ARGUMENTUM AD INVIDIAM: envy or inferiority
- ARGUMENTUM AD ODIUM: hatred
- THE GENETIC FALLACY: if a "bad" or "stupid" person said it, then it must be wrong.
Using sweeping platitudes
- ARGUMENTUM AD MODUM: "moderation in all things"
- Or any other nice sounding statement that does not apply in all possible cases
- ARGUMENTUM AD BACULUM: blackmail
- ARGUMENTUM AD HOMINEM: (circumstantial): "you are X, so you must agree"
- ARGUMENTUM AD HOMINEM (abusive): mudslinging - you are a terrible person, so why should I listen?
Using false authority
- ARGUMENTUM AD CRUMENAM: people with money agree
- (or ARGUMENTUM AD LAZARUM: ordinary, poor people agree)
- BLINDING WITH SCIENCE: JARGON; get to territory where they think you know more than they do. Works every time. (Whoops - not that I ever use this trick of course :-)
- FALSE PRECISION: putting precise numbers to it - makes it sound like a fact, not an opinion. Did you know that 77.6% of all statistics are faked?
- ARGUMENTUM AD VERECUNDIAM: appeal to so-called "expert"s.
(e.g. jumping to conclusions)
Fallacies of newness
- ARGUMENTUM AD NOVITAM: "if it's new it must be good"
- (or ARGUMENTUM AD ANTIQUITAM: "if it's OLD it must be good")
- NON-ANTICIPATION: "if it was good we'd have it already"
- SECUNDUM QUID: a conclusion based upon very few examples.
- COMPLEX QUESTION: asking two things at once. e.g. "do you still beat your wife: yes or no?"
- ANALOGICAL FALLACY: if X is like Y, it is in EVERY way.
Focussing on one crazy event
- EX POST FACTO STATISTICS: If you throw five dice enough times, you'll eventually get all sixes. Do you read special significance into that exact throw? The same goes freak weather, road deaths, etc.
- ACCIDENT: using an extreme case to justify your position (e.g. "don't do X because look at what happened to Y")
- ABUSIVE ANALOGY: sarcasm "this is like...[insert something offensive]!"
The bottom line:
Most people don't care what you say. They really just want to know if you care. Read 1 Corinthians 13. All of it.