Straw men and other ways to make people feel bad
So here's the dilemma. If I have an opinion and you have an opinion and they aren't the same, how do I write about it without making you feel bad?
I was mildly miffed today when I read a blog post about New Year's resolutions. The author was arguing that he didn't make resolutions because he knew that he wouldn't keep them. His solution was to grow new habits instead.
What he said was fine. In fact, I probably agree with him. The way in which he presented the argument, with a slight tone of arrogance, was what annoyed me. The subtext was this: "everyone makes resolutions, but they're pretty dumb to do it because it never works. I, on the other hand, do a much better job at changing my life and sticking to it by creating habits." Perhaps I'm over sensitive, but I read the sub-sub-text as: "I'm cool, you're not. Nyah, nyah, nyah."
When I read it I felt small, unworthy and like a bit of an idiot because obviously, I had made resolutions like all the other dumb people out there. And then I wanted to say, "Keep your habits. I prefer resolutions. And I'm gonna make them work, darn it. You'll see!"
After I got over my initial irritation, I started to think, "Do I write or speak like this? Do I present my opinions as the only right one, with the implication that everyone else is stupid?" I felt worried enough that I scrolled back more than a few pages on my blog to check and breathed a tentative sigh of relief. I think I haven't done it - at least recently! I can't vouch for further back though. (Please, send me an email if you think I have, or if you've been irritated by what I've written! I would love to apologise.)
It's dangerous to write in reaction to other people's words and actions. Which is ironic, really, given that that's exactly what I'm doing here. When I speak or write reactively, I will often set up a 'straw man' argument and then try to demolish it completely. The trouble is, that if your opinions or actions are part of the straw man argument, you're effectively demolished.
Over the day, I've been thinking about how the blog author could have expressed his opinion without demolishing mine at the same time. Perhaps the simplest thing would be to take other people out of it. So he could have written a version of this: I'm not making resolutions because I've found that personally, I can't stick to them. I'm going to create habits instead. I think I'll be more successful that way.
Here's a new resolution for me! I'm going to make sure I listen to myself so that when I express my opinion, I don't do it as a reaction to someone else, in a destructive way.