The Art of Political Arguing
مساحة حرة MAY 03, 2017

Most of us come from families and environments with different beliefs and views on many things, including human rights or preserving nature and the environment. Lately, however, the trend in conflict of points of view has been politics. Especially with the recent card shuffling that has taken place in Lebanon, everyone felt the urge to project their ideologies on Twitter, Facebook or, WhatsApp and in face-to-face conversations.

 

I personally come from a family with very diverse political biasing. One of my uncles is pro-Lebanese Forces, the other cheers for FPM and then my aunt’s family is all about Kataeb. So you could imagine how chaotic a Sunday lunch could turn out, especially after a bottle or two of Arak.

 

The good thing is that we always leave the table still loving one another. The bad news, however, is the fact it only happens after hours of yelling and arguing. But you see, this isn’t arguing. And quite personally I understand how the older generation resorts to yelling when arguing, thinking the louder someone is, the more righteous they become. I understand that because they were born and bred during the era of war. Their mother gave birth to them under heavy artillery, they would go to school if they could, that is, trying to dodge sniper bullets, and when they got married, they didn’t need any firework to light up their sky. We had Syria’s missiles doing them the favor for free.


What saddens me, however, is how we inherited this trait from them. How we, young and aspiring engineers, doctors, lawyers, businessmen, psychologists, political scientists, how we, high-school students, technical school graduates, tutors, how we, the young educated generation, have been using the same old way to try and convey our ideology to one another.

 

To our parents and grandparents, this might be a way of arguing. To us, this shouldn’t even be considered as arguing. So allow me to use my 6 years of experience in the Model United Nations program, during which I’ve taught high-school students about diplomacy, public speaking, conflict resolution and debate, and let me try to answer the question that is, how are we supposed to argue?

 

First Things First:

To start things off, let me tell you why I chose this title. Think of it this way: Anyone can pick up a pencil, lay it on a piece of paper, trace a few lines and call it a drawing. But it takes an artist, with patience, a vision, to hold that pencil in a way not everyone could, to visualize what his drawing is going to look like and anticipate how to guide his pencil to give it that beautiful shape that we call art.


Arguing is the same thing. Your tongue is the pencil, your topic is that drawing and your words are what you draw. Anyone can shout a few words that may or may not make sense, but the way you say your words, they way you handle that piece of paper that is the person you’re arguing with, that’s what makes all the difference between an artistic and a barbaric argument.

 

Labne w Zaytoun:

You just can’t simply eat labne without zaytoun, unless you’re on a diet, in which case forget this metaphor. The same thing happens when arguing. There are two components that you need to refine this piece of art: What you say, being your labne, and how you say it, being your zaytoun.

 

What you say:

Without going far into the technical details of this, I’m only going to show you the tip of the iceberg. You need to pay extreme attention to what you say to the person you are arguing with. As they say, the best lesson is learned from your mistakes, which is why I’m also going to tell you what to say by telling you what not to say, based on my research and experience in the field.

 

The first and most important thing you need to keep in mind is: the person you’re arguing with is ALWAYS right. Yes, you read that right. In their state of mind, they’re right and you’re wrong. After all, the party that you’re supporting has been your bread and butter just like their party has been theirs. Once you understand this, you’ve already won your argument. As such, you are required to choose your words in a way that relaxes your arguer. Get them to feel safe around you in the sense that they can express what they say without having to go into defense mode and lose their mind.

 

Secondly, never ever attack or remotely insult your arguer’s point of view. There’s no scientific benefit behind it other than the fact that once someone is offended, they will stop listening to you. Even if they know you’re right, the mere feeling of disrespect is enough for them to deny every word you say even if Google calls them and tells them you’re right and they’re wrong.

 

Third, don’t base your argument on the past and historical facts. Lebanon probably has one of the richest and most complicated set of historical events in the world and we have no official data to support or refute any argument. The book you’ve been reading about the Lebanese war is different from the book they’ve been reading. Yours might be right but then again, theirs might be right as well. Which is why your arguments have to be based on the recent past, present and near future. After all, your argument is mainly about why your political party is better than theirs, right? What your party has done in the past won’t matter if they’re not planning to do any good in the future. And their party’s mistakes won’t matter if they’re aiming at reform in the future. So always make sure your arguments contain your party’s plans and goals for the near future.

 

Fourth, use numbers, facts, statistics, names, dates, numbers, areas, projects… This is what makes people believe you. Instead of saying “We’re going to do some reform” say something like “While other parties have been busy talking and making statements, a member of the Parliament from the Lebanese Forces, Elie Keyrouz, was able to abolish the law that forces a rape victim to marry her rapist. Did you also hear about how Melhem Riachy has been applying changes and reforms in TeleLiban by offering new positions to those who are competent enough to take on the station and improve it? Not to mention the very detailed plan Samir Geagea and his advisers have come up with in order to help privatize the electricity sector in order to provide cheaper, cleaner and more reliable electricity to every Lebanese citizen.” The more names, facts and numbers you use, the more likely you are to put your opponent in a tight situation. You can go all day arguing about who is better but once you have proof, you hit them where it hurts.

 

Fifth, admit that you’re wrong. Our Lebanese culture and stubbornness have taught us that we are never wrong and even if we are, we’re not.  This is completely inaccurate. When you’re wrong, you ought to admit that you’re wrong. It doesn’t mean you’re weak. It means you’re strong enough, mature enough and confident enough to tell your opponent that yes, you’re right and I’m wrong.

 

How to say it:

The words that you choose are going to be flushed down the toilet if you don’t know how to say them. Your numbers and facts will mean nothing if you’re yelling them out. So the other component that would make your argument a piece of art would be how you speak.

 

First and foremost, no matter what happens, DO NOT YELL. I can never stress this enough. Your opponent might try to get on your bad side to irritate and upset you. Don’t let them do that, and even if they do upset you, don’t show it. Always keep your cards covered and your feelings to yourself. Once you show your cards, you’ve lost your game! The less they’re able to read you and figure out your emotions, the more they’re going to feel vulnerable and out of control. So always keep calm.

 

Second, change your tone. When I said don’t yell, I never said you should keep your voice down and barely audible. Raise it – to an extent – whenever you should, lower it whenever you should, make a firm stance whenever you should as long as it is under control.

 

Third, maintain a good pace. In other words, don’t go too fast while talking. This might make you seem nervous, and here we go back to showing your cards and costing you the game. Even if it doesn’t make you look nervous, if you talk fast you’re going to sound annoying and you’re going to lose your audience. They won’t be able to keep track. The human brain is programmed in such a way that can process a certain number of words at a certain pace, don’t overload your opponent’s brain way too fast. And on the other hand, don’t go too slow. You don’t want your arguer to sit there waiting for you to finish.

 

Fourth, maintain constant eye contact. This is the key sign of confidence. As humanly intelligent as we may be, our main program is the same as that of any other creature in the animal kingdom. Whenever you see an animal trying to dominate their territory you see them starting things off with constant eye contact to project dominance and plant fear in the eyes of their counterpart. Well, we’re not going to use our fists and horns here, we’re only going to let our eyes do most of the talking. You will be looking at your arguer and they’re going to start questioning their own credibility just by realizing how confident you are of what you’re saying.

 

Finally, end it respectfully with no clear winner. We, Lebanese people, have a lot of pride and even when we know that we’ve been defeated we hate to admit defeat. In the very rare case where your opponent is convinced with your point of view, don’t point it out to them and rub it in their face. Always end your argument with “you could be right and I could be wrong, but this is my point of view and though I disagree with yours, I fully respect it”. That way you tell your opponent that no matter who ended up winning, you don’t see them as someone who is beneath you, making them more comfortable when arguing with you in the future and more prone to being convinced by what you’re saying.


All in all, ladies and gentlemen, it doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong. What matters is how you project your ideas. After all, each and every single one of us represents the political party that we believe in. We might lose an argument once in a while, but the way we argue shows a better image about those we represent than a bad-quality argument would.

مساحة حرة MAY 03, 2017
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