Unless we learn to argue better, we will become a nation of grudge holders

In this politically polarized time, arguments are becoming as common as talking about the weather. In this installment of Reporter's Notebook, "CBS This Morning" co-host John Dickerson takes a look at how we seem to have lost the ability to have an honest debate and stay respectful.


I would like to have an argument – by which I mean I would like to enjoy having an argument. A brisk exchange where participants are enlivened and learn something. It is possible! There are pockets of small tribes that still engage in this behavior, though it does feel rare. What passes for argument today are the sheared off exchanges on social media and the vinegar spooned back and forth on cable news.

The Supreme Court depends on good arguments, though the hearing to pick its next member opened this week with what felt like a group drowning. Motives were questioned and serious issues were responded to with loud talking. When questions were asked, the key to any good argument, the nominee offered the usual peek-a-boo responses. We pick judges who are to rule on the quality of arguments through a process where quality arguments are smothered.

Bad arguments endanger a polarized nation. You can't understand why a person kneels at a NFL game or understand why that offends someone unless you know how to argue. Without understanding you have conflict. "The Coddling of the American Mind," a new book by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, identifies the stakes. Unless we learn to argue better, we will grow dumber, be less happy and become a nation of grudge holders.

So how do you have an argument? Treat others like human beings. Have a generous interpretation of their views. Allow them to clarify before shaming them. Don't judge their motives or judge them by the group they're in.

If you are religious, follow the first tenant of every major religion: treat others the way you would like to be treated. This leads to understanding, and if that doesn't happen, no one gets sore and reaches for the fireplace poker to settle things. Above all, practice humility. Follow the maxim: "When arguing with a fool, make sure they're not doing the same thing."

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