In the area of argumentation, one of the most challenging foes you can face is prejudice. The dictionary defines prejudice as “preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.” It is a belief, usually negative, that people hold against someone else. There are many different types of prejudices.
It can be racial, such as when a group of people believe that they are more superior than others. It can also be gender-based, such as when a woman receives less pay than a man who is doing the same work. It may also be age-based, such as when senior citizens aren’t given chances to work anymore because of their age. Homophobia and religious prejudice are also other forms of prejudice that people hold today.
Psychologists have studied the phenomenon of prejudice and have suggested ways by which it can be eliminated or at least minimized. They realize that empathy for others can help reduce it. Another is to encourage lawmakers to pass legislation that would compel everyone to provide equal treatment to all kinds of people, regardless of gender, belief, religion, race or political affiliation.
Meeting different people and other groups more often also reduce prejudice because it makes individuals aware that there are other groups who also hold their own beliefs.
Unfortunately, not all these interventions work. Our world is still marked by prejudice and in the world of argumentation this is a locked door that can be very impenetrable. The next section will explain why.
Prejudice in Arguments
Prejudice will prevent you from winning your case against an opponent. No matter what techniques you use and how brilliant your speech is, it is very difficult to convince someone who already holds preconceived notions about something to change his or her mind.
Prejudice puts the other party in an impenetrable place where not even the most persuasive action can make him or her see otherwise.
It’s important to understand that we all have our own prejudices. We all have preconceived biases against a group or an idea even if we haven’t tested the reality of our opinions yet. We’ve probably inherited these prejudices from our parents or from other people around us.
Some studies done on the matter state that individuals who have developed authoritarian personalities were more likely to become prejudiced or have difficulty dispelling their preconceived notions than others. Conflicts between groups are more likely to trigger prejudice against the other group, with the members of one group thinking that they are better than the members of the other.
Getting Rid of Your Own Prejudices
Before we understand the connection between prejudice and argumentation on a much deeper level, it’s important to rid ourselves of our own prejudices. Doing so is important because it is only when we see the real situation that we are able to truly make powerful arguments to convince others that they should side with us.
When we don’t allow our own unproven judgments against a person or group cloud how we see things, we can then attack the root cause of the problem and come to a more lasting solution.
The first step in getting rid of your own prejudices is to acknowledge that they exist in the first place. Identify what your biases are. Realizing that you hold them will go a long way towards helping you understand that you may be harboring feelings about a case or the other party that aren’t entirely based on reality but on your own perception of it.
The next step involves arming yourself with information about the thing, person or group that you are prejudicial about. Get to understand them and why they act the way they do.
While prejudices may simply be based on stereotypes or even rumor, there may be times when how people or groups are seen can be traced to something. Know the facts and only after you have fully understood should you form an opinion about them. In many cases, you’ll realize that your prejudices were uncalled for and this will help you make a more effective and convincing argument.
Handling the Prejudices of Others
While you can do something about your own preconceived biases and even get rid of them completely with the right information, the same doesn’t hold true for the prejudices held by your opponent.
You cannot tell them to shake themselves off these their biases unless they do so out of their own accord. However, this rarely happens.
When caught in an argument where the other person’s prejudice is obviously making it difficult for him to see reason, it would be useless to go against that prejudice directly. He has already formed his own opinion on the matter and as such, you cannot win any argument with him. Because his own prejudice has already led him to make up his mind, it is not anymore possible to open it.
Thus, you need to approach the argument from a different direction: You go to the person’s interest in his continued survival. You do something that would guarantee that. Now what this is will differ depending on the needs of the individual and what his interests are. But once you have identified what that is, then you can work towards convincing the other party by targeting this interest.
Let’s look at one hypothetical example: A particular group of workers want to advance their rights to their employer because they feel that they have been unjustly treated in terms of the overall compensation they are receiving. The employer has already made promises in the past that it has failed to keep and the workers are already seeing the employer in a bad light. They feel that the owners are not trustworthy and are intent on suing—a move that has a large chance of damaging the company’s reputation and emptying its coffers as well.
If you represent the management in this case and understand where the employees are coming from, you can work towards a solution where the employees will have a representative in the committee that will decide on the wages they are slated to receive and a contract that will compel management to honor its promises. This will help assure the workers because the arrangement will look after their own self-interests.
When Prejudices Can’t Be Changed
Sometimes, the prejudices have become so ingrained in the other party that even appealing to their self- interest won’t anymore work. In situations when preconceived notions have already been set in stone, the only way for you to win is to listen and just back away.
You may ask: Won’t backing away be an admission of defeat? Not when it comes to prejudice. When you simply listen to the arguments of an adversary that is rife with biases and decide to retreat, you have realized how important it is to conserve your energy and resources for future battles. There is no way that you would ever win in the face of a prejudice that is too embedded in a person’s system.
At this point, you simply need to use your power to choose which battles you are going to fight to the end. It is next to impossible to convince someone of your argument when biases glue him to his beliefs. A prolonged fight is going to cost you time, energy and resources but will only defeat you in the end. If you still decide to proceed, you have already lost. However, if you acknowledge that a retreat is necessary so you can continue to win in future battles, you have already won this argument even if your victory may seem like defeat at first.
You have what it takes to convince people who are willing to listen and understand your point of view to hear you out. You have this innate authority to make people believe that what you are saying has merit. However, prejudice has a way of closing people’s doors to reason.
If someone already has a preconceived idea about something, then it becomes difficult to tell that person otherwise. You would be foolish to continue campaigning on your end. No amount of argumentation will convince that person to listen and you would be wasting your time on someone who has already decided on the matter.
In this case, there is no shame in a retreat. The most graceful way to back down would be to listen to the other party and agree to disagree on the matter. You aren’t conceding your position and as such you haven’t lost technically in the argument. Through this, however, you are doing something far more beneficial: You are conserving your energy for more important battles ahead.
You cannot win all arguments with all people. There are times when you have to acknowledge that it’s time to move on. One of those times is when you are faced with prejudice so strong that it clouds reason and good judgment.
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