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Contradiction and Talking for Victory

I am going to continue with the subject of civilizing conversation because this is the only time of year when a backwoods camper snowbird desert rat actually talks to other human beings.

As Swift pointed out in his essay, all human beings are capable of making big improvements in their conversational habits, and with only moderate effort. Consider how easy it is easy to break some of these bad habits compared to giving up smoking. And yet millions of people have succeeded at giving up smoking. When you consider the advantages of improving conversational habits, relative to the effort involved, and look at it from a rational economic cost-benefit perspective, it is hard to think of any project more worthwhile.

Referring back to the list in the previous post, today's sins are:

#5. The Chronic Contradictor.

#3. Talking for Victory.

These have been paired up because they overlap. You could even think of #5 as the short term or tactical version of a more persistent #3.

Years ago I read good ol' Ben's Autobiography and learned that he learned the policy of non-contradiction from a Quaker friend, during his early years in Philadelphia. Although it seemed like a good idea, it had no effect on my behavior. Thus I continued both bad habits for years. A long-suffering friend told me once that I "always had to get the last word in..."

But that has changed over the last year. I actually think it was Addison & Steele's essays, The Tatler and The Spectator, that converted me to a gentler and more civilized approach. What's this?, a that book has something to do with living a better life?

Perhaps some of the credit goes to getting older. At some point, the Shortness of Life transitions from being a platitude and cliché, to impart some sobriety and urgency to a fellow's conduct.

Ben observed something in a good friend of his once:
He had some reason for loving to dispute, being eloquent, an acute sophister, and, therefore, generally successful in argumentative conversation. He had been brought up to it from a boy, his father, as I have heard, accustoming his children to dispute with one another for his diversion, while sitting at table after dinner; but I think the practice was not wise; for, in the course of my observation, these disputing, contradicting, and confuting people are generally unfortunate in their affairs. They get victory sometimes, but they never get good will, which would be of more use to them.
A contemporary of his, in England, could have learned a thing or two from Franklin. Samuel Johnson was prone to 'talking for victory', even by the admission of his obsequious biographer, James Boswell. But this wasn't always Johnson's tendency. Perhaps he changed as he aged. On their trip back from the Hebrides, Boswell witnessed this anecdote:
Speaking of this gentleman, at Rasay, he told us, that he one day called on him, and they talked of Tull's Husbandry. Dr Campbell said something. Dr Johnson began to dispute it. 'Come,' said Dr Campbell, 'we do not want to get the better of one another: we want to encrease each other's ideas.' Dr Johnson took it in good part, and the conversation then went on coolly and instructively. His candour in relating this anecdote does him much credit, and his conduct on that occasion proves how easily he could be persuaded to talk from a better motive than 'for victory.'
I just love that phrase, 'to increase each other's ideas.'  Perhaps we should stop thinking of conversation as a rapid ping pong match between opponents, and think of it as team volleyball, in which the first person bumps the ball up to the front row, and the second player sets it up to the third player, who then spikes it hard over the net. There is still an opponent, of course. But it is the other team, not an individual.

We can eliminate a team of humans as the opponents by making an inanimate idea (or situation) into the opponent. Let's visualize conversation as the famous barn-raising scene in Amish Pennsylvania, in the movie "Witness." And consider what Maurice Jarre added to the conversation with his music that so perfectly translated 'uplifting' into sound. 

But don't think I've gone nambie pambie. I consider it 'improvement' on the other guy's idea to mention an example where his point is most-true, as well as least-true. Or translate it into better words. Or ask for a clarifying example from the other person. I am not talking about passive, unqualified, obsequious echoing of their opinion.