In Part 1 of How to Be a Man of Conviction like Phil Robertson I wrote about what conviction is and why it is important to solidify your beliefs through logic and reason rather than relying on emotions or the security of a group of like-minded peers. The goal is to develop a sense of certainty when it comes to your beliefs, or to come to the conclusion that your convictions were not that well thought out and to correct your course and conduct.
Understand Logical Fallacies
Most of what was covered in Part 1 should be common sense but it isn’t something we typically take the time to put into practice. That is why a link to Snopes.com is referenced in a Facebook post only after 5 or 10 comments on how true or how horrible the fictitious story was. We want to believe what our peers say and what our emotions tell us.
What is a Logical Fallacy?
Wikipedia does a good job of describing this for us here as well as providing a list of common fallacies. Rather than memorizing all of the types of fallacies and applying them to your argument or against an opposing argument, you should be able to detect fallacious reasoning more easily by asking the following questions:
- What answer am I looking for?
- Does the logic provide an answer?
If the reasoning takes multiple steps to reach a conclusion then this same logic has to apply at each point.
To make this a bit clearer let’s use the following example. Suppose I am writing a computer program for a dentist office that will send an email to any patient that has missed an appointment. At some point the program needs to answer the following question: Did this patient miss their appointment (Yes\No)? If I tell the program that 12 patients missed their appointments that does not provide an answer the program needs. It certainly provides information that will be useful to the program, after all we need to send emails to all of those people, but it will not allow the logic of the program to continue.
Often when people start throwing numbers around, or other facts, it can tend to unsettle or strengthen our convictions when they really have nothing to do with the argument. This is referred to as a Red Herring.
Appeals to a moral right or wrong are often argued from the standpoint of what is natural. This is referred to as an Appeal to Nature but results in a Naturalistic Fallacy. If something occurs in nature that does not make it right, and conversely, if it does not appear in nature that does not make it wrong. But hey, how bad can that really be? I mean, nature is cool right?
Under the reign of Hitler the Nazis performed forced sterilization on those deemed mentally and physically inferior in order to purify the German race. Simply being “feebleminded” was enough to qualify. Prior to this the United States did the same thing though to a lesser degree. Using a simple appeal to nature we could provide support for these programs. After all, many species will kill their offspring if they deem them to be weak, and animals regularly fight for dominance, often killing each other, to ensure the strongest are the ones that will mate the most.
In fact, this very appeal worked. Using Charles Darwin’s principle of natural selection, sociobiologist applied it to society. What we have now are the horrors of history rather than generations of families. It is important to understand that as monstrous as we want to think of these events, they were often carried out by people who thought they were doing something right.
Challenge Your Views
“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” – Thomas Jefferson
We need friends that challenge our way of thinking. Unchallenged views will never be firm convictions. Each time we step into the line of fire we become a little more bold.
Step into the line of fire
The Fireside Discussion Topics are geared to help with this. The more taboo or politically incorrect the topic the more heated the discussion may become. Standing up for your views on Facebook or forums is also a good way to hone your skills and build your confidence. It provides time for you to think about how to respond and even allows you to do some research before you do so if it is necessary. While this may feel like cheating, until recently most correspondence was done through the post. Care was taken to think about what you wrote before you committed it to paper. Now people often shoot off whatever comes to mind or regurgitate information because correspondence has become so easy.
Play Devil’s Advocate
One of the reasons C.S. Lewis was such a great thinker on the topic of Christianity is because he was an atheist until his thirties. He understood the counter points to Christianity in such a way that he was able to play devil’s advocate at every turn. While we may not always have experience being on the other end of the argument, we can learn to approach an issue from that perspective. This allows us to poke holes in our own thinking and strengthen or find issues that may not have otherwise come to light.
Speak and Write With Conviction
Thomas Jefferson was not much for speaking early in his career as a Congressman, yet he was the primary author of our Declaration of Independence. He later came into his own as an orator and became the 3rd President of the United States. It is important to both speak and write with conviction but only one (or neither) may come more naturally.
Speaking with conviction
The ability to speak with conviction begins with the ability to address others on serious matters. The Fireside Discussion Topics are great for this. However, there is a difference between debating and simply stating your beliefs such as giving a speech. In most cases we witness, when Phil Robertson is asked what he believes there is no room for argument. He simply says what he thinks. Having your thoughts collected beforehand is key here. Here are a few things that can help you present your thoughts in a logical and personal manner.
- Talk out loud to yourself – Knowing how to move from point to supporting point is vital.
- Listen to and imitate other speakers – You want to ultimately come into your own here, but there is no shame in learning from others that you seem to connect with.
- Get used to your own voice – Record yourself speaking. Yes that is what you sound like. Work on pronunciation and inflection.
Writing with conviction
Writing with conviction is really about the ability to translate your thoughts and feelings into written form as succinctly as possible. Because our convictions often revolve around politics, social, or religions views these subjects can be a pretty deep well. Here are some tips that can help but ultimately being a good writer takes practice just like being a good speaker.
- Avoid easing in with phrases like, “In my opinion” or “The way I see it is” and easing out with “Just my two cents” and “Just sayin’” – Say what you mean. Everything else is implied and is not necessary. These phrases lessen the value of your opinion and it should carry just as much weight as anyone’s.
- Write song lyrics or poetry – The nature of writing in poetic style provides boundaries which challenge you to write succinctly while still sharing a thought or feeling in a somewhat profound way.
- Don’t use impressive words – The goal isn’t to amaze people with your mastery of the English (or what have you) language, it is to share a point of view in a manner that encourages the reader to enter into your thought process, not to alienate them or focus their thoughts on the words you have chosen rather than their intended meaning.
Take a moment to think about this question. What subject in life are you certain of? Would you be willing to defend it even if it meant losing your job? What if it meant not being able to see your family again or going to jail? How does this area change your conduct?
Now ask yourself if you regularly challenge your beliefs on the subject by reading or listening to opposing views? Are you challenged by others? If so, how do you respond?
As we gain confidence in our own stance on issues we will find we are living life more deliberately and feel more confident in ourselves. Even if our views are not popular we can have the confidence to stand by them. And if we end up being wrong, we can show that we are no lazy thinker and take any matter of conviction seriously.