Ep. 78: Winning Arguments
Stanley Fish, best-selling author and octogenarian, clues us into the intricacies of arguments: how argument is a more natural state; destructive arguments; how to get out of one; and much more! Grateful to be able to connect with the author of Winning Arguments and The First, Dr. Fish!
Full Show Notes
Voices rise. Doors slam. Yours teen calls you a name you know you didn’t teach them. But their room’s locked, and you can’t get inside to calm them down. When they finally emerge hours later, they hardly speak, and you’re unsure of how to repair the damage done…
This is what can happen when arguments with teenagers go too far.
Teens are inherently emotional, and disputes with them quickly evolve from simple disagreements into high-stakes battlegrounds. The transition is swift and unforgiving, and many parents don’t realize they’re in a serious argument until it’s too late! As a parent, it’s vital for you to know how to navigate these situations and deescalate conflicts with your teen. If not, even a small argument can transform into a relationship-altering feud, one that irreparably jeopardizes the trust, love, and respect you and your teen have for each other.
For some veteran advice on how to strategize and understand these kinds of confrontations, I spoke with Stanley Fish, author of Winning Arguments: What Works and Doesn’t work in Politics, the Bedroom, the Courtroom, and the Classroom—along with The First: How to Think About Hate Speech, Campus Speech, Religious Speech, Fake News, Post-Truth, and Donald Trump and seventeen other books! Fish has a long, distinguished career in academia that makes him an expert in many fields, and his tips and insights are sure to help any parent dealing with especially argumentative teens.
To start, Fish makes it clear that disagreements are an unavoidable part of life. In fact, he argues that arguments are actually more common than agreements! With this in mind, you shouldn’t be too worried about the clashes between yourself and your teen. They’re inevitable. What you should be focusing on is how to make sure these tiny squabbles don’t evolve into untamable beasts. To do this, it’s key to understand how and why arguments escalate, a topic Fish knows inside and out.
When we argue with someone, we cast ourselves in a play. We’re the hero, they’re the villain. Arguing with teenagers is no different. And, when somebody takes on this symbolic role, we’re more prone to forget the loving relationship we want with them. This is what happens when parents and teenagers explode with hurtful, wounding remarks during an argument. As a parent, it’s up to you to take the initiative and find ways to climb back down the ladder of escalation. And, according to Fish, this often means losing the argument. Conceding your point can allow you and your teen to focus more on your relationship than the problem at hand. In our interview, Fish gives several strategies for how parents can make use of this approach, along with why it’s so important!
In addition to this invaluable guidance, we discuss:
- Why logic and evidence can be thwarted by emotion
- The importance of eliciting “I feel” statements in an argument
- Teaching teens the consequences of harmful speech
- The difference between “transparency” and “immediacy”
It was a privilege to talk to somebody as wise and experienced as Fish, and I know his research on arguments, their structures, and how to approach them will help many parents find common ground with their teens. It’s important for parents to approach these situations realistically, so take a listen and become an expert yourself!
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Step-by-step guides for applying the ideas from this interview
1. Hate Speech Intervention:
While it can be hard to define exactly what ‘hate speech’ is in a rhetorical sense, Dr. Stanley Fish asserts that you can define in it the home, on a basic level, as judgments or mistreatments of a person based on a characteristic or trait that is not theirs by choice: things like appearance, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, even religion. Dr. Fish suggests to halt hate speech, you can stand by one of the oldest moral principles: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
If your teen is using hate speech, or language that rings of bullying, have a conversation right then and there on how they came to that conclusion. Once they have expressed why they have used so, remind them that putting a judgment on others, is giving everyone else a free pass to treat your teen in the same way.
If you have not yet had a family discussion around what hate speech is, at your next family dinner, ask your own teens to define hate speech. Let the teens/kids try to define it first before offering any suggestions and amendments to their definition. Schedule it in your calendar to make sure it happens!
2. Deconstruct the Enemy to Stop Arguments:
About Stanley Fish
Dr. Stanley Fish, beyond being an author of 19 books, is one of America’s leading public intellectuals. After receiving a masters and Ph.D from Yale, Dr. Fish’s teaching career has led him to top institutions across the country including UC Berkeley, John Hopkins, University of Pennsylvania, Yale Law School, Duke University, and Columbia. He is renowned as a literary theorist and legal scholar, having contributed over 200 scholarly and public articles in addition to his books. He is a contributor to “The Opinionator” blog for The New York Times and is currently the Floersheimer Distinguished Visiting Professor of Law at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.
He is currently in Florida, enjoying the sun and keeping in touch with friends and family electronically!