By Natural Philosopher Mike Prestwood

Tact is the knack of making a point without making an enemy.


The following #debate quote is by Howard W. Newton in 1946 and not from Isaac Newton (source). I realize Isaac Newton is a bit more famous, but let’s give credit where credit is due.

“Tact is the knack of making a point without making an enemy.” –Howard W. Newton

Public Debating

If you’re in a public forum, like on Facebook, keep these helpful rules in mind:

  • Focus on positive language.
  • Verify your facts. Although you can hold onto your opinions, facts are facts.
  • Intro:
    • Start with something casual or nice to say. This lets the person know you respect them and see them.
    • Repeat their argument so they know you heard them and understand their argument.
    • If any part of their argument is valid, acknowledge it.
      • Identify agreement, make that the focus of a rebuttal.
    • [Optional] If any part of their argument is invalid, it is okay to state why.
  • State your argument:
    • You are not trying to convince any one person. Instead, you are trying to convince the open-minded.
    • Avoid Logical Fallacies, especially name-calling (ad hominem attacks).
    • Acknowledge parts of their reply you are not replying to.
      • “I’m only going to reply to your xxx and yyy points. If you want my comment on the rest, let me know.”
  • Acknowledge differences. Be quick to agree to disagree.
  • Avoid conflict. It is better to hide a bad reply on social media then to get-into-it.
  • Remember, it is perfectly okay to pivot. Stay focused on your message.

The Viewpoint Tact

It’s clear that similar viewpoints have an easier time talking about an issue. Let’s explore.

Left: Recycling

Although nearly everybody is concerned about the health of our Earth and the environment, recycling is generally considered an issue supported by the left. Let’s define the following viewpoints:

  • Recycle Nazi: let’s define this person as someone who demands everybody recycle.
  • Power Recycler: let’s define this person as someone who knows quite a bit about recycling, recycles vigorously, and encourages others to recycle.
  • Want-to-be Recycler: let’s define this person as someone who believes in recycling, wants to recycle, sometimes recycles, and sometimes encourages others to recycle.
  • Agnostic Recycler: let’s define this person as someone who does not recycle, but then again, has never really thought about it. When this person approaches two bins, one marked plastic, the other garbage, they will make an effort to throw a plastic bottle in the plastic bin.
  • Anti-recycler: Someone that thinks society is overreacting to pollution for one reason or another. When this person approaches two bins, one marked plastic, the other garbage, they sometimes purposely throw a plastic bottle in the garbage bin in protest. An anti-recycler likely might be a partisan republican who sees this issue as an overreach issue of the left and oppose it, even if deep-down they agree.

I’m sure all these viewpoints are represented on all points of the political spectrum. However, although I don’t know, it must be true that there are way more Recycle Nazis on the left, then on the right.

With the given viewpoints above, one can imagine that any two viewpoints next to each other can discuss this issue. For example, when an anti-recycler says to an agnostic recycler,

“The left is banning straws! What’s next, air?”

The agnostic recycler is likely to simply laugh along or even agree even if deep-down, they don’t.

Apathetic agnosticism is the indifference to unknowable mysteries. Explorative agnosticism is maintaining disbelief while exploring the details of unknowable mysteries.

Likewise, because both a want-to-be recycler and agnostic recycler don’t have too strong of feelings on the issue, the agnostic recycler is likely to agree with a want-to-be recycler when they say,

“We should find a way to replace straws with something biodegradable.”

However, that same statement said to an anti-recycler would likely bring a negative response.

Dissimilar Viewpoints Cannot Talk

With the given viewpoints above, one can imagine that any two viewpoints not next to each other have trouble discussing this issue. For example, when an anti-recycler says to a power recycler,

“The left is banning straws! What’s next, air?”

The power recycler is likley to argue with or dismiss the statement. They definitely will not laugh along. If they are not armed at the moment with a good argument, they’ll result to an adhominem logical fallacy. Perhaps something like:

“If you had it your way, our rivers, oceans, and air would be toxic!”

When discussing any one issue with someone, try to identify the major viewpoints. If the person you wish to discuss something with has a viewpoint “next to yours”, then proceed with tact and have a fulfilling conversation. If they are not, but you want to try, do so tactfully with facts and valid arguments. If they counter with an invalid argument or propaganda, and you are not in public, simply agree to disagree and move on because they have a 100% right to their freedom of conscience. And, life’s too short.

However, if you’re in public, say, on a public forum, you have another choice. You still don’t need to respond to their invalid argument, you could, but it might be better to pivot and focus on others reading the post. You can acknowledge the other’s viewpoint, and put your best argument out in the world for those willing to consider it.

Something like:

…as for banning straws, I understand and accept that you believe that is an unneeded overreach so on that point we’ll have to agree to disagree which is perfectly fine. Afterall, great minds can agree to disagree.

For anyone else reading this thread, the problem is that approximately 500 million straws are used EVERY DAY! That’s alot of straws. And, too many of them are ending up in the wild and too many of those are ending up hurting life on earth. Plus, plastic is not biodegradable. It simply breaks down into very small pieces. Those pieces float on water, and runoff takes it to the ocean where it is ingested by wildlife. Those pieces end up in the food we eat. The average person eats thousands of particles of plastic every year. We don’t know if it’s a health risk or not yet, but most believe it will be a problem when it becomes thousands of pieces of plastic per day. We should take steps now to curb this potential problem. There are better solutions out there: reusing plastic straws, adding biodegradable materials to straws, thinner straws, paper straws, permanent straws, and not using them at all.

Right: Gun Ownership

The same Viewpoint Tact approach could be used for gun ownership, an issue generally considered on the right.

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