• Reject slippery slope arguments

Artwork by Flickr user TomConger flickr.com/photos/tomconger

Give humanity, and yourself, more credit. It’s amazing how often we accept a “slippery slope” rationale when  ideas and decisions are better evaluated case-by-case.

Remember that a “slippery slope” argument is not the same as setting legal precedent. If you’re really that confused or money is involved, go ahead and consult a lawyer.

But for the most part, the slippery slope argument is a cop-out. I wish I could take credit for this idea, but I first heard it from Carolyn Hax, a Washington Post life-advice columnist.

In 2008, for example, she says, “I’m not a big fan of slippery slope arguments in general. You have control over your actions, you do have the power to say ‘yes’ up to a point and ‘no’ beyond it.”

  • Explore anger

Ask yourself, “Why am I angry? What specifically is frustrating about this situation? Why does it seem to frustrate me and not her?”

Sometimes, anger is your own drama. Your ego and personal frustrations cloud your judgment. Other times, anger is a valid emotion. And in those cases, it’s great to be able to say, “I am angry because . . .”

  • Consider incentives

Incentives are a hidden element of so many interactions, and yet, so many of us like to pretend that they don’t exist. All people are motivated by something. Sheer will to live, money, attention, influence, faith. Knowing that, and trying to figure out what those incentives are, can save you a lot of headache.

One important lesson I learned as an investigative journalist was that incentives, or motives, aren’t always good or bad — they just are. Thus, if someone tells you something and has a motive for doing so, such as being disgruntled, it doesn’t necessarily make the information invalid. Yes, people even have incentives for telling the truth.

In Michael Maren’s book, Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity, he talks about how a market sprung up in food ration cards in Somalia.

“Ration cards were traded and sold on the open market like stock options, their price rising and falling with perceived odds that the relief programs would continue,” Maren writes.

The Somalis were smart and operated with the same incentives as any trader on Wall Street – money. You can lament that fact or embrace it for its simplicity. Humans tend to act in their best interest. Let’s just get that out of the way.

  • Choose to favor nuance over broad declarations

Arguments over unions are a perfect example of how broad categorizations stifle debate. I usually hear, “unions are good” or “unions are bad” or “unions are corrupt” or “unions are pointless in today’s economy.” Wow. I don’t think the world is that simple, nor do I think that “today’s economy” is that easily defined, nor do I think that variant industries all behave in a similar manner. In the United States, people have a right to organize, a right to assemble and a right to withhold their labor. All politics aside, freedom is a good thing.

The nuance comes when an employee’s freedom encroaches upon an employer’s freedom. That’s the stuff of intelligent debate. Let’s talk about that.

There’s no simple verdict, and broad declarations are an un-analytical approach to life.

  • Consider that death is not the worst possible outcome

I feel a bit hypocritical writing this one, considering that I don’t practice this belief regularly. But, it’s true.

As an American, I am subject to no other human being. That’s a pretty powerful statement made possible by Revolutionary War visionaries who considered that death was not the worst possible outcome. They were followed by so many soldiers who came after them — what sacrifice! And only made possible because of a belief that there are worse things than death.

After 9/11/01, we went pretty far in security measures, even our library records became subject to governmental review. America can be forgiven for going into survival mode, but it shouldn’t be standard operating procedure. There are worse outcomes than death.

  • Why does it matter?

Digging deeper, seeking a better answer, challenging the status quo, at the very least better informs conflict and at best, reduces it.

Also, I just naturally think that my life would be easier if more people saw the world the way that I do. How’s that for incentives? (See point three).


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