Communication · Raising children

Point of divergence

I feel like for my birthday, God gave me two babies that went to bed like a dream!! and here I am, with time on my hands to fill with whatever I want to do.  I wanna clean up my freak-nasty house, do the laundry, go to bed early, write in my journal, write my book, and blog my eyes out because I have 100 posts floating around in my head.

So obviously, after wasting an extremely too long amount of time on Facebook (gah!), Imma blog, yo, Imma blog.

So what do you want to read about? My birth experience #2? How I finally mastered sleep training? What I found out about common core, public schools, and the complex of high school English classes during my student teaching experience? My million tips for good teaching? The next five chapters of my Feminist Chronicles? More love stories? My search for identity? Some of my classic missionary stories? More thoughts on communication? Ah, yes.  I remember what I wanted to write about.  But I seriously need to blog these ideas out before my brain explodes.  I need someone to hold me accountable with some due dates or something.  Carl.

(But seriously, if you care to chip in on what stream of my thoughts you’d care to hear about soon, feel free to post it in the comments).

Ok, I wanted to talk politics, without really talking about politics.  Let’s be real, political posts on my own Facebook feed are just about to make my eyes bleed.  I get so sick and tired sometimes of post after post after post of information that either makes me angry or annoyed or lose hope for humanity.  And because I get so sick of it, I really don’t post very much about politics.  I’ll like the occasional post or sometimes I will say something, but for the most part, I keep my political thoughts to my dinner table.

One of the big reasons I don’t talk about politics in the social media world is because I don’t want to be attacked.  It seems like any political post is just bait dropped in a tank of pirañas.  The other big reason is because most of the time, I’m not entirely confident in my knowledge of the issue being tossed back and forth.  I may have an opinion, but anything I read seems either so biased or so lacking in hard facts or just so incomplete that I feel like I couldn’t even talk intelligently about the issue, let alone defend my stance.

And this week, I realized one big thing: all my pent up emotions about politics need some kind of outlet, or I just get more angry and more annoyed and more hopeless.  So I did.  I entered the political debate this week and it was actually a really rewarding experience.  I did it in a way that opened it up for discussion because of one thing: I wasn’t seeking to be right.  Instead, I was seeking understanding as well as points of divergence.

If you’ve never heard of the point of divergence, it’s a term i came across when I took a rhetorical theory class in college (loved it!). It’s a concept that has helped me really to be an all around better communicator and conflict resolver.

My professor was an ornery old cuss that would do more talking than teaching, but he usually had interesting things to say, so we listened.  One day, early in the semester, he asked, “What is argument?” In a class based on the meaning and use of language, you don’t assume the answer to such a question to be as easy as it may seem.

Someone answered that an argument was usually two people defending their differing opinions.

“What you describe is called a fight,” He said.  “The argument you describe is called I win, you lose.  That’s a fight.”

He referred to a teaching of Aristotle (or was it Socrates? or Plato? Honestly, those three are the same person in my brain…) that went something like this “An argument is a discussion that leads to understanding or solution.”

He then went on to describe the point of divergence and why finding this point was crucial to an effective argument.  Here’s what he meant:

Let’s say a mom and her son are discussing curfew.  Mom says be home at 10:30.  Son says to move it to 11:00.  Let’s use a diagram to represent the argument:


Where the arrow is just one strand represents where the mom and son agree.  The two diverging strands of the arrow represent their differing opinions.  The point of divergence is the exact point in which they stop agreeing and begin to disagree.  If they can discover through their discussion what they agree on and what they disagree on, they can find the point of divergence.  Once they find the point of divergence, that is where the real argument takes place; that is where they must begin if they are ever to reach a solution they can both understand instead of Mom just using parental authority to squash further debate.  Most fights that take place in the debating realm will always be fights because people are far out on those diverging strands, yelling at each other, just trying to make the other strand look unreasonable and foolish, but they aren’t talking about the real argument.  Using curfew as an example, let me demonstrate what I mean.

Mom says curfew is 10:30 because it is a school night and you’re too young to be out till 11:00.  Son says move it to 11:00 because all my other friends are allowed to stay out that late.  Mom says no.  Son says everyone is going to make fun of me.  Mom says no they wont.  Son says why do you always treat me like a baby.  So where do they agree?  They both agree that there should be some kind of a curfew.  But what is the son really saying here?  His reason for extending his curfew is rooted in what his peers are doing and what they will say about him if he doesn’t do as they do.  The point of divergence has to do with whether or not peer acceptance is an valid reason to extend the curfew.  That’s the discussion they need to have.  It’s not so much about is an 11:00 curfew better than a 10:30 curfew.  If the conversation stays at this is better than that, Mom and son are going to be stuck in disagreement or Mom is going to just win anyway.  But by realizing that the point of divergence is more about her son’s concern with his image among his peers, they can have a meaningful conversation about what is really at the heart of this discussion in the first place.  They thus work toward understanding and solution, not I win and you lose.

The point of divergence is in every argument and it really changes the focus of what needs to be discussed.  You and I are arguing about who the greatest music artist of our day is.  I say Tim McGraw.  You say the Fray.  I say his music always has meaningful lyrics and paints a picture of good country living.  You say the Fray has a good beat that quiets the busy mind down and has poetic imagery.   The point of divergence is really more about what criteria should be used for measuring music artists.  What is more important, a good beat or honest meaning?  The argument isn’t really about McGraw or the Fray at all.

Let’s look at gun rights.  You say we need to get rid of guns.  I say keep them.  You say too many shootings are happening.  I say if we lose our guns, we can’t protect ourselves.  Where do we agree? There are dangers we need protection from.  The point of divergence is what is the greater danger: shootings or not being able to protect ourselves.  It really isn’t about getting rid of guns.

Is this making sense? Are you picking up what I am putting down? Simply put, if we can find the point of divergence in arguments, we avoid fighting about things that really aren’t the core of the problem.  We aren’t stuck trying to prove that my reasons are more important than your reasons.  I’m not focused on making you lose.  We go right to the place where we cease to agree and try to see what is initially causing the polarization between us.  It’s like train tracks, looking at the problem from where it first begins to diverge allows you to work with a smaller space than if you try to fix the problem 10 miles down the tracks when the two railways are so far apart from each other.  It’s easier to understand each other when we first begin to disagree than when we are clear out in blatant disagreement.

And really, when it comes to politics, I think most of us aren’t far left or far right.  I think most of us are situated somewhere in the middle.  I think that by trying to find points of divergence, we will realize that we actually are more similar than we are different.  And if nothing else, I think we’ll realize that our friends and family aren’t as crazy as we thought.  When we find the point of divergence, we allow for meaningful discussion that really can open the way for understanding and/or solution.

Cool, huh?



2 thoughts on “Point of divergence

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