You’ve likely seen arguments turn sour by way of ad hominem attacks.
Once a personal remark is made, it’s difficult to steer the disagreement back to focusing on the topic at hand and not on the people who are presenting their respective arguments. To those who watch, a disagreement is difficult to follow when personal remarks begin to fly back and forth. To those who partake, being personally attacked for an ideology entices them to dig their heels into the ground and attack right back. Those who begin commenting on the person behind an opinion tend not to arrive at beneficial results for their cause.
This article aims to explain why you shouldn’t verbally attack the people who hold opinions with which you disagree.
Abandonment of What You Believe
Disagreements begin with two contending notions. If there are two parties partaking in a friendly disagreement, they will begin to structure arguments to support their cause. They will look for, organize, and present evidence to support their claims. They’ll begin to hold stake in their opinion as they spend increased time and effort into strengthening their stance.
If you intend to compete with those whose opinions you don’t agree with, you’d have to do the same. Your points would need to be validated with evidence and then effectively presented as an argument for why you’re right.
If you steer away from strengthening your argument only to begin focusing your efforts on attacking the person whose argument you’re up against, you’ll serve to abandon your efforts at building a legitimate case for truth. Attacking people for their opinion labels your own opinion as not strong enough to contend. It communicates the notion that you perceive your argument to be weak, and that abandonment is the best choice of action.
Believing the things you say to be aligned with truth entails focusing solely on what makes the arguments you present valid. The personal particulars of the individual whom you argue against are distractions you abandon your argument for.
Focusing on others simply means you’re not focusing on continuing to strengthen your argument. It means that you’re not actively listening to, and understanding, the points that others make and making educated rebuttals. Attacking the people behind opinions is a sign of laziness, and a lack of devotion to the truth. Attacking the people behind opinions is an abandonment of what you believe to be true.
Ideas Are Harder to Attack Than People
Ideas can be molded and controlled. You can make ideas as bulletproof as your heart and mind desire; but only if you put in the work. There are ideas which closely align with truth and ideas which don’t stand a chance. It takes hard work to shape an idea into something which resonates with others. You need evidence, your packaging must be pleasant, and your presentation should be seamless. You’ll meet masterful sculptors of ideas; sculptors which are themselves imperfect.
As hard as it is to mold an idea into a perfect truth, it’s even harder for people to mold themselves into perfect beings. By attacking the person behind an opinion, you serve to attack things they can seldom control. How someone looks, sounds, or acts like are easy pickings because they are often out of the control and focus of the person who you’re up against.
Taking shots at the sculptor and looking past what they’ve worked so hard to sculpt communicates that you’ve found nothing blatantly wrong with the sculpture itself. It is enticing to comment on the uncontrollable aspects of your well studied counterpart during contentious disagreements.
By focusing on the controllable aspects of ideas, and people’s attempts to shape these ideas into truth, you sign yourself up for the challenge to tackle what someone else considers perfection to be. It’s no surprise that people are imperfect. Pointing out that obvious fact will entice others to point out all the imperfections you live life with too.
Focusing on someone’s perfect product (idea, argument) however, means being up for the challenge. It means shaping your own argument to outperform theirs. It means not backing down attempting to sculpt something even more perfect, and it means not going for easy pickings.
Motivations Are Exposed
Lastly, attacking the people behind an opinion communicates that you’re out to prove them wrong, rather than out to test your own ideas for truth. Those who simply want to label someone else as wrong are more likely to begin commenting on the person behind an opinion. Their desire to label someone wrong will go beyond simply having rebuttals to the opinions that person labels as truth. Rather than admitting wrongfulness, they’ll look past the playing field. They’ll reach out to pick the low hanging fruit, all because they’re dedicated to prove a person to be wrong, rather than an idea to be right.
If you respect truth, then you’re sensitive to when you are misaligned with it. Our motivations are exposed by what we focus on. If you aim to have your opinions backed by truth, then there would be no reason to focus on anything other than gathering evidence and crafting arguments which bring your opinions closer to it.
There would be no need to exit the playing field of intellectual discourse only to focus on the person who pulls the strings from the other end. Focus on pulling the strings of your own argument to align as close to truth as possible.
Don’t operate with the motivation to prove somebody wrong. Rather, aim to make your arguments bulletproof. Doing so entails knowing and admitting when you’re wrong. Admitting wrongfulness will ensure to communicate your motivations to be solely focused on strengthening your arguments and thoughts. If you’re wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically. If you’re right, then there is no reason to look past someone’s weaker arguments only to attack the person behind them. Ensure your motivations are understood to be noble by never commenting on the people behind opinions you disagree with.