Darren and I had a chat about my article on arrogance. He said he didn’t like my “anti-pragmatic” stance.
I was confused. “But… I wasn’t anti-pragmatic. Was I? I said that idealists need to listen more to pragmatists. I parodied our idealistic attitudes and countered them with pragmatism. Why did my post seem anti-pragmatic to you?”
“Well,” he said, “you started talking about us (idealists) and them (pragmatists).” And that kind of talk led Darren (and others, we theorize) to an assumption that the us position is going to be defended against the them in the subsequent argument.
People see what they expect. I remember a television program in which two people carrying a door walked between a man who had stopped to ask a student for directions. While the door passed between them, the direction-seeker behind the door was switched to another man – not necessarily physically similar. I don’t remember exactly how many people didn’t notice the switch, but I remember it being surprising (like 50%).
So my post led Darren to expect a confrontational argument in which I backed my position as an idealist, and initially at least, that’s what he saw. (It wasn’t his only criticism, but it was the only one that I thought was brutally unfair. 🙂 )
Maybe this kind of use of language is part of the “perception of arrogance” problem. Nobody expects self-deprecation. Who builds up a position for themselves and then attacks it? I did, uncharacteristically, and at least one person didn’t notice.
We also talked about negative and polarising language; the use of terms such as right which implies wrong, and the battleground formed by us and them. There’s no logic to it. Arguments aren’t won or lost on logic alone, nor can people be persuaded by it, but it always surprises me when very logically-minded people misunderstand communication – and makes me wonder how often I misunderstand, too.