Social Question

CyanoticWasp's avatar

How do you (or do you) attempt to tone down someone's obviously hyperbolic comments and opinions?

Asked by CyanoticWasp (20063points) April 7th, 2010

I’ve been having a running discussion with my uncle lately (he’s in his 80s, and let’s just say “somewhat set in his ways” ... but entirely competent mentally). The discussion revolves around a horrific murder in central Connecticut two years ago where the police seem to have captured the two offenders red-handed as they were leaving the home that they had invaded. Before leaving, they had murdered a man’s wife and two daughters and left him for dead.

My uncle wonders aloud (and loudly) “What good are the f***king public defenders who are trying to keep this guy (1) off Death Row (2)? All they’re doing is getting their names in the paper and posturing and running up the bill! They should take this guy out and hang him now—in fact, the police should have shot them both the night they captured them leaving the house.”

(1) [the first defendant to be up for trial]
(2) [Connecticut has a death penalty, and the prosecutor is aiming for that here]

Okay. My uncle is sane, and on most topics pretty rational—and there’s a certain (small) bit of rationality to what he’s saying, since the first of the defendants has tried to commit suicide while awaiting trial, and has expressed a willingness to plead guilty if the death penalty were off the table and came close to saying “the hell with it, I’m guilty, put me down now” ... but his lawyers were effective in getting that quashed.

My point is that if his attorneys don’t advocate for his life (at least!) and make the prosecution prove its case… then they aren’t lawyers at all. And of course we need ethical and competent attorneys. (Even he agrees with that statement.)

So how do you crack someone’s intransigence to reason, when you know that it’s possible, because they are generally reasonable people? (Keep in mind that this may have application on Fluther, too.)

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32 Answers

tinyfaery's avatar

Why do feel the need to make him see your point?

Trillian's avatar

Honestly, I’d just come out and say; “Look, you’ve said all there is to say about this. I get how you feel and frankly I’m tired of hearing it. I’ll do you the courtesy of not trying to change your mind and you please do me the courtesy of not going on about it any more. Please, let’s talk about something, anything else.

marinelife's avatar

You can’t “make someone else believe or do something.” All you can do is put forward your rational arguments:

1. That it is a bout setting up a fair system, not one case.
2. That our system is based on the fact that everyone is entitled to a defense, no matter what the circumstances are.

Then, if you have not moved your uncle from his position, you just simply say that you do not want to discuss it anymore, because you are both convinced on your positions, and there is no point to it.

netgrrl's avatar

I’ve given up attempting to make older generations see a different viewpoint. At some point, people take a look at their world view, slap a couple of coats of shellac on it, and call it good. Because they are older, they will almost always feel that you are the one that doesn’t understand. Not worth it. :)

syzygy2600's avatar

Your uncle isn’t really saying anything incorrect, and neither are you. Yes we have to have people who will defend even the lowest shitbags, because otherwise justice wouldn’t work. But at the same time, do you really believe that the public defenders don’t like having their names attached to a high-profile case? Come on.

cazzie's avatar

Walk away…. let it go.

Thammuz's avatar

Actually, i don’t think there’s any way to do this.

My experience with my father, as well as AiROW and Fluther, made me realize that debate never changes the mind of the debaters, only that of the audience.

Snarp's avatar

@syzygy2600 I don’t know about that. I don’t think public defenders get much publicity at all. Certainly not the kind that private attorneys would get on the same case. And if they do, they probably don’t want it. It’s really not good for a political career, for example, to be the guy who got the brutal murderer off of death row. Besides which, they will more than likely fail, and failing to get the brutal murderer off of death row after trying is probably the only thing worse for you career than getting the brutal murderer off of death row.

But to the question at hand, in a case like this, I change the subject as quickly as possible.

cazzie's avatar

and, when I say… walk away… let it go.. I mean.. let it go until his funeral, then you can tell the story about how wrong he was at his wake….

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Can you simply ask your uncle if there’s another subject he’d like to discuss, because you’re tired of that one since it happened 2 years ago?

In the end, you asked about cracking intransigence. I’ve personally given up on that. Instead, I simply state my experience, strength, and hope on the matter, and then I let it go. Yes, this does have application here on Fluther. The threads here can be overwhelming and times, and the hyperbole can get deep.

I lead my life in such a way that my actions show what I stand for. I try to write answers on Fluther the same way. It’s really all I can do.

free_fallin's avatar

Let me first state I do not believe in the death penalty under any circumstance and believe everyone to be innocent until proven, in a court of law, guilty with no reasonable doubt. While our justice system has its flaws, I believe in it completely and support it 110% to the best of my ability and convictions.

You’re probably not going to change his mind and have him see the logic. There are times when no one really wants logic, sometimes we just want to believe our opinions even if they are not rational. People do change, but it’s typically not because of something someone else says or does; it’s often of our own free will. I’ll toss in my opinion that it is best to walk away from this topic and tell him you no longer wish to hear or discuss it. Just keep hope that one day everyone will see the error of their judgmental ways.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

Thanks for all of your input. I guess walking away from a discussion like this (or any one where the other party just gets somewhat strident and won’t even acknowledge that there is a middle ground) is probably the best course.

I should remember Mark Twain’s advice to “never argue with a fool; people might not know the difference.” And we’re all fools for some topics at some times.

tragiclikebowie's avatar

Like you said, they need a trial. The prosecutor and the defense attorney need to each do their job and present evidence and testimony. A trial is guaranteed in the Constitution as part of their rights as citizens. Plus, many innocent people are convicted and sent to jail wrongfully. As horrendous as a crime that they committed, it doesn’t simply circumvent the process of the law.

wundayatta's avatar

I’m going to assume that the particular issue is just an example, and what you are really interested in is dealing with “hyperbolic” comments. Your solution above, of walking away when you realize your discussant is intransigent, is certainly one approach that makes sense. But where does that leave you? Frustrated, I think. No one understands the other.

My belief is that you can’t argue beliefs. If an opinion is not based on evidence, there are no grounds to impeach the idea. A belief is essentially fact-proofed.

What can you do, instead? I have come to the view, after years of attempting such arguments, that the argument is not what it is about, for me. It is for some people. They just love banging heads. It isn’t for me.

I have come to see beliefs as a stand-in for experiences. Once a belief is associated with an experience, you can’t argue with it. You can’t tell someone they didn’t have an experience they experienced. It’s just idiocy (although people do try it—“you did not put that dollar on the table…” “Oh yes I did…”).

If a belief is a symbol for an experience in your discussant’s mind, then what you need to know is what that experience is. In your uncle’s case, perhaps he was the victim of a similar crime sometime in his life. Who knows. The point is that you probably don’t know how he came to have this point of view. As long as you don’t know that, you are left with banging each other on the head, or walking away.

I have, at times, tried to employ that tactic here, especially on religion threads. There’s an example out there, but it was from maybe a year ago and I can’t think of a way of finding it. In any case, it became clear that someone had a very strong belief, and I asked him what his religious experiences were that lead him to conclude whatever it was he concluded.

For a little while there was a civilized, useful discussion happening, but it soon reverted to head bashing. No matter. I got what I wanted out of that: greater understanding of how someone could come to a view that I find so inimical.

Anyway, there’s another approach to try if you want. I really would be interested to know if he had been a victim of a crime or someone close to him was a victim of a crime, particularly murder, sometime in the distant past.

I believe that beliefs arise from experience. At least, that’s been my experience, lol.

escapedone7's avatar

I like to believe in “truth, justice and the American way.” In fact I just said those words to a lawyer just this afternoon. Everyone deserves their day in court. No they don’t deserve to lie on the stand (that is a crime.) But we have certain rights in this country. The right to face our accusers. The right to “tell the truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth” as we know it. The right to an attorney. This is serious. I want to believe this system usually works. When people are falsely accused of a crime, they get their day in court. When someone is correctly accused of a crime, they get their day in court. I believe in the competence and common sense of the judge and jury, in most instances, and that evidence speaks for itself.

I think every single one of us has been falsely accused of something in our life, even if it wasn’t a “legal” thing. Have you ever had someone accuse you of lying when you were telling the truth? Ever have a friend accuse you of backstabbing when you did no such thing? Think back to a time when you were falsely accused of anything. Don’t you deserve to defend yourself? Please keep in mind even though many cases are clear cut, many are not. The system was designed because not everyone is guilty. Thus, they are innocent until proven guilty.

What he thinks doesn’t matter. I am so thankful to live in a country with a sensible justice system. I doubt you will ever change his mind. I just don’t want people like him changing the system as we know it, and I don’t think they can. Hallelujah for the constitution.

If he is just going to sit by himself and grump what he thinks, he’s not doing much harm. Many people are sitting around grumping things nobody will ever believe. Please though, make sure your father does not ever serve on a jury. He is not capable of understanding the concept behind the system.

As far as responding, I would keep it simple. He’s just grumping. I’d say, I believe everyone should have their day in court. I’d leave it at that.

CMaz's avatar

You’ve got to accentuate the positive Eliminate the negative Latch on to the affirmative Don’t mess with Mister In-Between.
You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum Bring gloom down to the minimum Have faith or pandemonium Liable to walk upon the scene.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

What a great and thoughtful answer, @wundayatta (as usual).

No, he hasn’t been such a victim, nor has anyone close to him. He’s just old (older than I am is the epitome of old) and exasperated because he does identify with the surviving victim of the crime, and because it’s in the news more frequently now as the trial date approaches.

But maybe that’s the hook—since it’s a topic he wants to expound upon, maybe the next time he does I could ask him point blank, “What’s it to you? Assume the defendant and the attorneys and even the prosecutor are all playing games… and leaving the victim waiting for ‘justice’ ... what does it matter to you that gets you so riled up?”

Maybe we can still “talk about this” without arguing about an entire legal system.

escapedone7's avatar

@CyanoticWasp that’s good. Or perhaps you could turn to his more patriotic side, and ask him if he believes the constitution should be upheld? Ask him if he believes in the sanctity of the constitution, or if he gets upset when it is changed or violated.

Then read him the 6th amendment.
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Then ask him if we should scrap the entire constitution altogether.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

May I make a recommendation that works for me?

Well, when faced with these situations, finding someone to be completely entrenched upon a particular position, I do my best to realize as quickly as possible the difference between an open discussion, and a rant. If they are ranting, then I immediately stop debating, and pursue a line of dialectic questioning.

By questioning the person, I neither support or deny their position. It gives them the opportunity to go into further detail about their position. And here is where you see their argument quickly break down. They usually haven’t thought it out beyond a superficial need to pass judgment upon someone else.

Still, asking more questions of them, they soon realize how ill conceived their position is. And after being allowed to blow off the initial ranting angst about “the system”, they often find they are talking in circles. The subject usually changes, or an open dialogue is made possible. I try to let them blow off all the steam first, get it out of their system. Validate their opinions, and let them cool down, knowing that someone has heard them. They just want to be heard. And after that desire of being heard is fulfilled, they often become the best listeners.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

@wundayatta “I asked him what his religious experiences were that lead him to conclude whatever it was he concluded.”

Yes, Terrence McKenna is quoted as saying, “The question is not so much, What you believe…, but the question should be, Why do you believe, what you believe.

Jeruba's avatar

I don’t see why you’d want to keep this debate going, but if you must, what drives you to feel that you have to defeat an old man? When I’m old I expect to be unreasonable about a thing or two. In fact, I am right now.

Trillian's avatar

@Jeruba Funny. Years ago when I used to watch sit-coms a big black lady named Nell Carter starred in one. Some old woman had done something obnoxious and without batting and eye or missing a beat Nell said; “That’s ok, I plan on being a pain in the butt too when I get old.” I’ve remembered that and later in life adhered to it. My plans seem to be working out just fine!

dpworkin's avatar

When you say your “uncle”, that’s just a euphemism for me, isn’t it. I knew it. I knew you thought I had hyperbolic opinions.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

That’s funny @dpworkin. When people say “Jay-sus Christ!”, I think they’re talking about me.

janbb's avatar

“What drives you to feel that you have to defeat an old man?” (Jeruba) ((sigh))

I wonder about that myself sometimes.

davidbetterman's avatar

I agree with the very first response @tinyfaery

CyanoticWasp's avatar

Thanks again, all.

@Jeruba it’s not so much a matter of “defeating” him, but getting him back to a more rational point of view, because he is a rational guy. But this one topic makes him seem like a lunatic.

(So it couldn’t be @dpworkin, because he’s a confirmed lunatic about so many topics.)

dpworkin's avatar

I plead guilty with an explanation

Thammuz's avatar

@dpworkin GA for the Bananas reference

JeffVader's avatar

I think you’ve already made your point in an eloquent & reasoned manner. If your uncle is not persuaded then it’s just something you’ll have to accept. Not everyone has the intellect or sophistication to understand the importance of abstract ideals & reasoning. They will pretty much always settle for what their base instincts tell them, & you cant argue with something that has no basis in logic.

Jeruba's avatar

@CyanoticWasp, if this old guy were mine, then, I would just steer clear of the topic, and when he brings it up I would fall quiet and wait for it to be over. Making sure he isn’t wrong about anything is not your (anyone’s) responsibility.

Inspired_2write's avatar

When someone continues to argue….it means that they are unsure of there stance and want more imput to pursuade him otherwise?
Underneath it all is a doubt.
You could ask him several questions like: What if they were wrong to accuse these people and the justice system executed them anyways?
If they did do the crime: Ask , Would you think otherwise If the guitly parties were your Grandchildren?
Would you think differently if you found out the reason for the murder…like defending themselves? Or in an old movie that I remember seeing…Where a black man was being tried in court where everyone in the town wanted him dead…..and in the end it turned out that the blackman was the Grandfather of the child that got raped and murdered by the person he just killed.
In short thats why we have the court system…to check all angles and reasons as to the Why of things?
Anger sometimes springs from unjust causes but st times it can be justified. Although no one can take the lasw into there own hands..as the judicial system upholds, for good reason.

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