Don’t Stand So Close To Me

When some of your ideas and opinions are out of the mainstream one of the biggest impediments to presenting them can be people who are on your side.

For instance, you’re Smartenizing someone on the issue of Second Hand Smoke. You’re talking to an otherwise intelligent person who has succumbed to the endless hype and believes that a whiff of SHS can be deadly. You explain the limits of epidemiology. You talk about the principles of toxicology. You point out a few of the carefully engineered frauds that have been used to “prove” the dangers. You highlight some of the nasty characters promoting the fraud and explain the role of pharmaceutical companies in funding and perpetuating it. And just as he’s considering adjusting his bullshit meter on the subject someone joins the conversation and spews, “Yes, it’s pure junk science, just like the theory of evolution!”

double face palm

Damn. Now what? Should you get sidetracked on this completely different subject? Should you ignore Mr. Helpful? Should you do something, anything, to distance yourself from him? There are no good options. The effort you’ve spent making your points and laying out your decision has been derailed by a well-meaning moron.

Or you’re having a friendly debate about liberty v. Government. You point out how most government services could be done better, faster and cheaper in a free enterprise system. You seem to be making some headway in getting your opponent to admit that all taxes are taken at the point of a gun, and as that rarest of things happens – he starts to make a concession – someone who has been agreeing with you chirps something about Obama being a commie Kenyan with a phony birth certificate.

Interrupters fall into two camps – strangers you’d rather not have anything to do with, and friends who happen to cling to a stupid idea or two. The strangers can usually be brushed away, dismissed as idiots. They’ll still do some damage simply by associating their ideas with yours, but not much (usually). Friends, though, are a different problem. Your friend may be a super-genius (i.e. agrees with you) on most other subjects. You don’t want to make him look stupid even if he’s making a silly argument at the moment. The best you can do is ask to stay on the subject at hand.

It’s not an easy situation, but ultimately it’s not all that important. Maintaining a friendship is more important that winning an argument with someone else (usually a stranger or a slight acquaintance). But remember this when you’re tempted to jump in and help someone making an argument. Stay on point and don’t get sidetracked on your pet issue, or you may be doing more damage than you realize.

1 Comment(s)

  1. An excellent article. On any side of a conversation we would do well to listen before we speak. Though that doesn’t help when a friend tries to help and… doesn’t. The face-palm may be a bit harsh response, but appropriate.

    Sam | Oct 17, 2012 | Reply

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