How to Win Friends and Influence Enemies

10-10-2021Letter from the PastorFr. Don Kline, V.F.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Peace and Joy in Our Lord Jesus Christ!

I recently listened to a Catholic talk show host by the name of Jim Burnham. Jim is considered a wise sage in the Catholic media world who is known for his ability to share the faith in ways that are accessible to those blessed enough to hear him speak. During his show, Jim was discussing how to have meaningful conversations with people who would rather shut you up or as some say, “cancel you”.

Perhaps you have found yourself in a conversation with someone who disagrees with you. Learning these three very different ways arguments are often framed will better equip you in the conversation. Identifying these three ways of arguing are essential for every thoughtful person to grasp especially when confronted by those who disagree with you particularly in matters of faith and morals.

When challenged by someone who does not share our Catholic values or morals, there is a temptation to be silent and just listen to avoid conflict. Of course, there is a time to listen but there is also a time to speak. “There is an appointed time for everything” as we know from the Book of Ecclesiastes. The question is: Do you know when to be silent and when to speak out? Why do I ask? Because one of the many problems with the “silent and listen only” response is that the truth may not be spoken. This tactic often results in misinformation or disinformation leading uninformed or ill-formed people down the dark path of confusion.

Most people understand that there are many “verbal fallacies” that get tossed around. We all hear or see the fake news every day. There is a reason why some politicians and some media types belong to the least trusted group of people. Similarly, we all hear the lies that come from some celebrities’ mouths. You can also find fake personalities all over social media. It is helpful to recognize these fake and false statements that people use when presenting an argument or making their case for one thing or another. If you can identify these fallacies and dismantle them, you will be better able to communicate and even defend your thoughts.

Each of these arguments are often used to influence and even manipulate a conversation. The first type of argument is called argumentum ad baculum - the Latin loosely translates as an “appeal to the stick”. This style of argument uses force or even threats to make its point. It is meant to make or force others to accept their conclusion. Intimidation is the key to its success. The point of this type of argument is that the person who communicates this way is basically saying: “agree with me or else” or “agree with me or I will pummel you into submission” or “agree with me or bad things will happen to you.”

The reason this is obviously a dangerous and insidious way of arguing is that instead of arguing your case using logic, compelling reasons and facts, you are simply saying, “I want to force you to ‘adopt’ what I'm saying. I want you to ‘short-circuit’ the reasoning process. I don't have to give you any reasons. I don't have to make it appealing to you or convince you with an argument that is compelling to you. I want you to believe my truth and if you don't bad things will happen.”

We see this type of argument used in our times to silence opposing views or cancel them all together. For example, there are those who will say “agree with us about Black Lives Matter or we will cancel you.” Others will say, “Agree with us about transgender rights. Agree with us that people can change their gender if they feel like it and if you disagree with us then we will de-platform you.” We have all experienced people accused of racism or sexism for no reason whatsoever. Similarly, people have been labelled as homophobic and transphobic because they don’t have the same thoughts. We have all seen public figures who were harassed at their residence or at restaurants by others who disagree with them. Sadly, there is a corrupt attitude that says: “You must agree with us, or we will threaten physical harm or we will burn down your business or burn down your city or tear down your statues or make you pay a huge (ine or close down your business.

This argumentum ad baculum is really a popular way for people to argue lately but it not original. Bypassing reason to get to a coerced conclusion or coerced agreement has been around since the apple core hit the bushes. You may have heard the saying: “a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” Forcing someone to except your conclusion without giving them proper reasons and arguments and facts may get compliance but you're not going to reach an agreement. People who disagree with you might be able to silence you by force, but they will not change your will or your thoughts. Unfortunately, the physical “beat down” is a way to express one’s thoughts but it rarely changes hearts. Silencing people who disagree with them by threat of being canceled or by threat of being blackballed or by threat of you making sure you never work in this town again is not an acceptable way of winning an argument.

You may recall what happened in El Salvador in the 1980’s. The gorillas had a slogan that was very chilling. They said: “vote in the morning, die in the afternoon.” They wanted to suppress the vote. There is also a famous line from Don Corleone in the movie the Godfather: “I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse” and by that he means, “I'll will force him to do what I want” and if you have seen the movie, you know what he does to get the desired results. It's argumentum ad baculum an appeal to the stick and an appeal to force or the threat of force to get your way.

To be continued next week…