George Hasara – Columnist
Would you rather win an argument, even if you’re wrong? There’s a gut reaction to wanting to appear right, even when wrong. This impulse for self-imposed ignorance in order to pump up the ego is reaching a fever pitch in our society and there is only one antidote that can save us from our sanctimonious self. The cure is the devil’s advocate (DA).
Originally, devil’s advocate or advocatus diaboli was a position in the Catholic Church and the purpose was to argue against the canonization of a candidate for sainthood. Talk about being politically incorrect. I’m sure it was a beatification buzz-killer to rhetorically dissect a would-be saint. However, the idea was that the truth should be able to stand up to vigorous debate.
Ironically, it seems that those who are most sure of their opinions are often the most resistant to having those beliefs scrutinized. Frequently, it is considered a personal insult for someone to simply hold a differing opinion. From climate change, to change in the White House, an ever-increasing array of topics are being transformed from the realm of casual conversation into the ring of “fightin’ words.”
Why not avoid hard feelings by being the first to rip holes in your own cherished ideas? After all, who knows what’s in your noggin better than you do? Being the DA helps to flesh out your premises without losing any skin. It gets you used to the idea that not all of your opinions are airtight. Some float, some won’t.
More importantly, playing the DA is a gateway activity to a broader enrichment of life known as humility. I’m not talking about the self-effacing “I’m not worthy” brand of humility or the faux mea culpas, such as “My biggest fault is that I work too hard.” The humility I speak of is the type life shows us on a daily basis as we take our lumps. “I simply don’t know it all. I can’t know it all. I don’t even know what all the questions are, let alone the answers.”
My friend who has the mind-bending moniker of “Bob with one o” is a prime example of someone who knows how to play the devil’s advocate. At times it’s hard to tell which side of an issue he actually favors as he can effortlessly argue contrary positions. Perhaps, because he is an engineer by trade, his work has helped him hone his DA skills. Concerning his profession, he says, “I always tried to anticipate the other side of the coin.”
I consider that I have “won” the argument if my point-of-view is at least understood and that I have a proper understanding of what the other person is trying to say. If I find out I am wrong in whole or in part, I’ll snivel a bit, but hopefully, I’ll have my big boy pants on so I can take it like a man. It’s right to admit you’re wrong.
Contact George at firstname.lastname@example.org.