Arguments Gone Wrong

Are there any good arguments anymore or is it just about winning?

Arguments Gone Wrong

This Weekend's Firestorm

Over this last weekend, the networking community's social media channels began to burn over the opinion of a blogger concerning vendor certifications. The blogger's position is that vendor certifications require very little effort to achieve when compared to a Computer Science degree. This is understandable and completely correct. A vendor certification is a significant achievement, but should not be compared with the years of full time study necessary to earn a degree.

This, however, is not what caused the flurry of activity that followed. One responder pointed out that vendor certifications aren't trivial achievements. The amount of personal time and effort taken, and the social and monetary costs of pursuing them shouldn't be dismissed. This earned its own post from the original blogger. This was where we first saw smoke.

The post that started the fire began its address of  the comment with "Whiny, whiny princess..." and went downhill from there. It went from suggestions that the commenter wasn't "adulting" and continued with an assertion that most managers are lazy and incompetent. Lastly, it was suggested that the commenter has no basis of complaint because IT is a relatively comfortable job. Essentially, it was a "check your privilege" statement.

The Application of Brutal Honesty

There is something about raw, unadulterated truth. It is stark, unyielding and undeniable. It is powerful and, like most powerful things, it can be damaging when engaged without consideration.

I  have no issue with the blogger's original statement. Comparing vendor certifications to university degrees is an apples and oranges discussion. They are two completely different things with vastly different requirements. Stating that certifications are relatively easy in comparison is just a simple truth, but that's not the same as dismissing the effort that goes into certifications.

When people don't accept truth, we really only have two options. We can accept the opportunity to address their doubts, or we can walk away. If we take the first approach, we need to address their doubts and not their person. Name-calling and demeaning behaviour, followed up with what amounts to a dismissal of their concerns due to what we perceive as privilege, is at best counterproductive. Nobody's going to listen to that and nobody wants to witness it either.  

The Problem With Privilege

Everyone has privilege. We might have different amounts of it and it might take different forms. But, no matter who we are, when we think we're on the lowest rung of life's ladder, we can always look down and see someone below us.

Yes, we absolutely need to recognize privilege within ourselves. That's a self-reflection exercise that we all need to engage in far more often than we do.

The problem comes in when we tell someone else to check theirs as part of an argument. At that point, we've already discounted their concerns based on what we've assumed their privilege to be. We no longer need to address the argument because the person making it no longer has standing by our thinking.

Using privilege as an excuse to invalidate an argument is an old-fashioned logical fallacy known as an ad hominem. It short-circuits the entire argument and dismisses the person in order to give our opinions false credibility.

In truth, we've lost credibility at that point and just don't have the humility to concede that we should have kept our mouths shut in the first place.

The Whisper in the Wires

Somewhere along the way, we got the idea in our heads that the point of having an argument is to win. It's not a recent development. Back in 1936, Dale Carnegie wrote in "How to Win Friends and Influence People" that "The only way to win an argument is not to have one." We're all a competitive lot, but perhaps it's time to soften that a bit.

When we take disagreements as an opportunity to learn, keep our minds open enough to have an honest discourse when we have an argument, and avoid making things personal, we strengthen our community and might even learn something along the way.

All we need to do is focus on the argument and its points... and try to avoid making it about the people having it.


John Herbert (@mrtugs on Twitter) wrote a good piece that went into far more depth on the post itself and had some good observations. It can be found on his site.

Greg Ferro (@etherealmind on Twitter), the blogger who started it all, has deleted the original post and has replaced it with an apology on his site.