Dr. Tannen is a professor of linguistics at Georgetown University. Her study of language and how it is utilized has led her to have many books on the “Best-Selling” List. In her book, “The Argument Culture”, Deborah Tannen takes a closer look at how we as a society have come to view arguing/debating as a normal form of communication. Our inability to look at more than two views at a time, has led us to limit the potential conversations that could easily take place. In this essay, Professor Tannen takes a shot at making us believe that being in an “Argument-culture” is not the best thing for us as a whole. She wants us to see that it is truly a problem but that it can be fixed by following her advice. Tannen feels that everything would be different if we just changed how we spoke. By asking more questions, rephrasing points, and remembering that not everyone wants a heated debate, we will begin to change the way our society speaks.
Tannen states “Our determination to pursue truth by setting up a fight between two sides leads us to assume that every issue has two sides-no more, no less.” (Reid 2014). In her quest to convince us of her stance, she herself has fallen victim to the argument culture by trying to push one side and not the other. She argues that we need to be veering away from automatically setting up a debate and instead be open to all angles of an issue. By looking at all of the different sides, we are able to make a more informed and educated decision on our own. By being educated and making our own decisions, we would be less susceptible to the use of language in arguments that tend to sway us one way or another in a debate. While I feel that we need to learn to look at things from all different aspects, I also feel that this world I live in was founded on an argument. Tannen said “Conflict can’t be avoided in our public lives any more than we can avoid conflict with people we love”. (Reid, 2014) This is such a powerful statement that rings oh so true.
We as humans are instilled with an every pressing need for “Fight or Flight”. According to the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center fight or flight is “a mechanism in the body that enables humans and animals to mobilize a lot of energy rapidly in order to cope with threats to survival.” (Fight or Flight 2014) This very thing, I feel, is the reason why we are more prone to argue and to take sides. When we feel our values, morals, ideas, etc. are being threatened we are prone to jump to their defense in order to protect them. While it is true that many things have gone terribly wrong over people’s inability to separate themselves from an ongoing argument, there have been some things that have been instrumental in the formation of the world we know today. Tannen said “Balance. Debate. Listening to both sides. Who could question these noble American traditions?” (Reid, 2014) The following example support how she would come up with that “reasoning” we feel as to why we argue. A few examples to help clarify what I mean by things being instrumental are as follows.
My first example is of that our founding fathers argued about the Declaration of Independence for over a month before the final draft was written and signed. Second would be how Lincoln and Douglas argued over slavery and whether or not slaves should have the same freedoms as the white man. One example that never seems to dissipate would be that of the argument of how the world was made (religion vs. science) has been going on for years. Without these many arguments that have taken place over the years, the world in which we live would be extremely different. Tanner points out that being in this argument culture helps to mold us in to who we will be and who we are. She stated that “the argument culture shapes who we are”. (Reid, 2014) Who knows what type of world we would be living in had those arguments not taken place. Arguments can be a double edged sword. While some people are never able to admit defeat and will continue an argument for years and years, others are able to compromise and come up with some of the best collaborations known to man kid.
Being able to argue your point but then collaborate with others from the opposite side, show that it is possible to look at things from other aspects than your original view point. Many people will go to great lengths to argue their point. Tanner writes that the following things are bound to happen now that we are in the argument culture “It makes us distort facts. It makes us waste valuable time. It limits our thinking. It encourages us to lie.” (Reid, 2014) These things have hindered us as a society. We should not feel the need to bend the truth just to make our point seem more viable. She gives some examples of how time was wasted because we decided to argue about non important items instead of running with what had been achieved. One of her examples dealt with the AIDS virus. She spoke of how there was an argument that delayed research because one scientist was accused of stealing another’s research.
While stealing is wrong, who knows how many hours were wasted in coming up with further research regarding this virus. Maybe that scientist, had he been given the chance, could have come up with a cure. You never really know. As you can see, even when writing about the need to stop arguing, arguing is still very present. There is no way of making your point, unless you are surrounded by people who feel and think the exact same way that you do, without an argument. Arguing doesn’t always have to mean yelling, screaming, and fighting. Many arguments are non-violent, but through the use of words, very rough. I feel that the only way to get rid of the “argument culture” is to rid the world of the word “argument” and name it something else. It will never go away because it is an always present force. As a society we need to let down our guards in order to open up and be more of a stronger and more educated people.
Tannen, Deborah. “The Argument Culture”. The Prentice Hall Guide for College Writers (pg 305-308).Reid, S. (2014). Upper Sadle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc. Fight or Flight. (n.d.). Stress Recess: Retrieved June 16, 2014, from http://cmhc.utexas.edu/stressrecess/Level_One/fof.html