Friday, January 4, 2013
Is he really logical?
As a pastor, I have often been surprised when individuals walk out of church, talking about how much the sermon meant to them, but as they described what it meant they had a completely different point than I intended, and than what most people heard. (Although, I have also realized that sometimes God is dealing with different things for different people in the same message.) I have learned that people interpret words in funny ways, sometimes based on their background, sometimes seeing only what they want to see, and sometimes without bothering to find out what the real intention was. Of course, this creates plenty of problems in marriage, and even more in the aftermath of divorce. I have had several of these kinds of experiences recently, and, having taught some classes in logic, thought it might help in your communications if I made some suggestions from logic.
Sometimes people will take a phrase, and then perform two logical argument actions that create the illusion of being a sound argument, when it is, in reality, baseless conclusions. The first one is to take words that somebody has expressed, and then jump in on them to discuss all the things those words DON’T express that they think should be there. I have had this happen plenty of times, including some recent discussions, haven’t you? What is funny is the person may go on and on in a tirade against this terrible stuff that wasn't said and how irresponsible the words were because they didn't include this information, and therefore the writer is wrong. But the truth is, if it isn't said, then the responder really doesn't know what the write or speaker thinks about the issue of the tirade…because the only information given was what WAS said, not what was NOT said. To pursue this kind of an argument is the logical fallacy called “an argument from silence.” Any argument based on information that is missing is automatically not valid….as they say in the courtroom, “it assumes facts not in evidence.”
The other thing that I have seen is for a person to take the words, kind of twist them around as if they say something that may or may not be the intention….sometimes by drawing conclusions far beyond the scope of the comments provided…..and then attack those conclusions. This is called building an argument by setting up a straw man, and, then destroying the straw man. The trouble is, the argument is against something that doesn't exist….it is an argument against an artificially created “straw man.” When someone does this, it gives the impression that they have accomplished some great feat of sound argument, teaching or doctrine. In fact, they have avoided the real issues and dealt with fables and foolishness. I have found both of these kinds of reactions exist with people who speculate about what is contained in my book, or who aren't exactly sure what a certain blog may be explaining. Wouldn't it be better to ask somebody what they mean, than to jump to conclusions and wrongly assume the worst? I know, in my marriage and relationships, it works best to give people the benefit of the doubt. But some people are just naturally suspicious, I suppose.
Sometimes the straw man problem can happen by an individual beginning to imagine all the possible outcomes that MIGHT occur, selecting the worst of those and on that basis, making a decision to avoid a choice. Sort of the “if we go on a cruise, the ship could sink, and we could get food poisoning, there could be a hurricane, or we might lose our passports, or end up in a Caribbean jail, and everybody knows how many people fall off those cruise ships and die every year, so we just better forget going.” Nothing is mentioned of the other possibilities: we might have fun, most people DON’T fall off the ship, and we have never lost our passports before…
Bottom line, it is important to make sure our arguments and doctrine are built on solid arguments, not logically flawed discussions filled with assumptions and suppositions. It is also important that we do the same in our relationships….take the time to really find out what those loved ones INTEND by what they say and do, what their goals and desires actually are, rather than assuming you can read minds and interpret words without asking questions. More misunderstandings occur because of these kinds of errors than most of us realize, because we are all too often convinced that everybody else thinks exactly like we do. But anybody who has studied language or psychology or communication (as I have), understands that something can mean very different things to different people and in different situations. Better to make sure you understand BEFORE you jump into the fray!
TL:dr Words communicate ideas, but can easily be wrongly interpreted into ideas never intended if our reasoning is not sound. Marriage and relationships require taking time to actually hear and understand first!