I've long been interested in the process whereby people communicate. Indeed, that was a part of my college education in journalism. We studied matters like non-verbal communication and how to craft arguments to win a debate. Much of the particulars of the course work has evaporated from the synaptic cobwebs of my mind, but a few lessons remain securely in place.
I remember that the order of arguments in a speech is something like 24531, where "2" is the second most powerful, and "1" is the most powerful. You begin with a zinger, bury the weaker arguments in the middle, and end with the convincing final thrust.
We learned that the power position in a lengthy conference room is one of the end chairs, or immediately to the right of the most important person in the room. The end chair captures the attention of the whole room easily. The position next to the important person captures his power as your own. Of course a high straight-backed chair is a better position than sunk into the sofa.
This comes to mind because I frequently see Filipinos using a debate style in blog arguments that I suppose is intended to strengthen their argument. But it weakens them, at least in a westerner's eyes. It is a black and white statement of cultural convergence that often leads to a clash rather than clarity.
Take this case of two different ways of responding to someone who appears not to grasp the point you have made:
- Response A: "You don't understand what I am saying."
- Response B: " Perhaps I've explained this poorly."
Which is the most powerful response? In the Philippines you almost ALWAYS get Response A. The objective, of course, is to take a whack at the other person to suggest he is not bright enough to grasp what you are saying. This moves him down a peg, which is like moving you up a peg.
Yet, it is the weaker of the two responses.
The person who uses Response B "owns" the confusion. He takes responsibility for the misunderstanding and thereby holds onto the driver's stick. Or wheel. Or the control button. He projects authority, while the Case A respondent projects whine. At least to an educated westerner.
Most people probably don't even think about it.
Another variation of the "put down" is to pick on the nits, and from that extend that the bigger picture is too flawed for acceptance.
- Observation A: "President Aquino made a poor decision on 'X' and therefore he is a bad president.."
- Observation B: "President Aquino made a poor decision on X. Here are the reasons."
Observation A is the traditional Filipino method. All acts reflect the person, not the person's decision. Find the flaw and point it out as a flaw in character. Control the argument and you control the person.
The claim to power, or the need to claim it, is very pronounced in the Philippines.
I've argued that almost every interpersonal engagement here is a battle for dominance. Even the most trivial, the gossip, the teasings, the constant shadings that correct what a person says.
But it doesn't really succeed, this need to claim and project power. It too often creates animus. That means bitter anger. So you can connect a lot of dots and understand why politics is such a murderous business in the Philippines.
Of course, personal insult is a part of this dynamic, the posturing for power. Destroy the argument by destroying the person making it. I don't need to provide a case for that. Just go to your nearest anti-blog thread, or Rappler discussion thread, and you'll likely come across that particular "technique". The need to diminish others is so prominent that, after awhile, it becomes a joke.
How do we get past this? We are all emotional people, of course. But can't we do better?
There are many formal ways to dissect a debate as to good argument or bad, fallacious or logical. To me that academic formality it is a bit of overkill, as we are mostly casual observers reaching for understanding or trying to convince others to see things as we do.
And of course, you find the same flaws in blog arguments ANYWHERE. Not just the Philippines. But the incidence of an outright push for personal power, versus dissection of issues, is very pronounced in the Philippines.
To the latter point, I have characterized many (most?) Filipinos as 100 percenters. They enter the argument to prove they are right rather than to learn or be flexible. I'd say that in 5 years of pounding the blogs, I've seen someone change their opinion maybe once or twice.
That to me is unnatural. Think about it. With all the knowledge out there, the greatest share held by others rather than us, it is peculiar to believe that the correct conclusion rests in our brain and nowhere else.
Yet we too often insist on placing winning above being candid and sincere and precise and honest.
There is a surreal quality to a culture that engages in dialogue for reasons other than discovery. It is crazy-making sometimes. It is impossible to carry on a simple, frank discussion. Everything is wrapped in emotional competitiveness, like banana leaves defining the bibinka.
I'd argue that discovery is a higher ground than winning, and the Philippines would be a better, more productive place if people did not invest so much energy tearing others down.
Here are a few of rules I try to follow, succeeding precisely 83.6 percent of the time to employ them:
- Be a student first and then a teacher. Put learning on a higher plane than winning. It is amazing how that focuses on the issue rather than the person. It also grants others the honor of being helpful. Or do you have something against making others feel happy or satisfied?
- Recognize that ignorance is not a fault. Wiki any subject. What percent of the information is new to you? If you did not know 100%, you are in some capacity ignorant. Perhaps the other person is coming at you from the part you don't know. Like, where he has lived or worked or studied, a place that you cannot possibly know. And to pretend you DO know is a very gross ignorance indeed. So let the other person work earnestly to remove your ignorance a little. Grant him that honor.
- Have the strength to be flawed. That's very difficult in the Philippines because the culture is so absolutely unforgiving. But there is a certain disarming quality to someone who has the strength and candor to laugh at his own flaws. It takes away the critic's ammunition. That is why it is called "disarming".
Perhaps you have techniques that work for you, too. Don't hesitate to share them.
Our goals, of course:
- More knowledge.
- Walking the high road.
- Greater satisfaction.