When challenging the beliefs of someone you disagree with, the conversation can sometimes be more productive if you frame it in relatable terms.
For example, if you wanted to discuss whether someone should have the right to refuse business for personal reasons, start by knowing your audience. You might use very different examples if you are speaking with a rock-ribbed conservative, than you would with a University student, the mainstream media, or a “gaystapo” lobbyist.
However airtight your arguments may seem to someone in your own camp, they could be viewed with distrust or hostility by someone who’s not. If you want your points to actually persuade the person you’re talking to, be smart about it. Get rid of unimportant obstacles.
Suppose you believed that the New Mexico Supreme Court should never have ruled against Elane Photography’s refusal to photograph a “commitment ceremony”. In a forum like Clashdaily, you can just speak plainly. No problem.
But if you made the exact same statement in a less friendly environment, you might be eaten alive — and don’t expect them to wait for an explanation before they shout you down or worse. (Words — and what people assume you mean by them — can hurt you. Isn’t that right Paula Dean?)
In order to make your same point with someone who’s entrenched and hostile, you might have to develop your idea strategically. And if you can ask questions so they anticipate your conclusions on their own, they will actually understand your point, and (possibly) even agree.
So what steps would we take with this case?
First, recognize unproductive dead ends. Does the person you are speaking to get emotionally involved with any topic that touches on homosexuality? Do they take criticisms of it personally, or assume that anyone who objects to it is a bigot motivated by irrational hatred? Then you probably won’t get very far defending someone’s right to refuse service. They will assume they are hearing something morally equivalent to a defense of the KKK, and your conversation is doomed.
Next, look for a larger principle that the specific case represents. In this example, you have a few different choices. The “Freedom of Conscience” angle won’t get you very far, but that’s not your only option. Other general principles like artistic expression, and freedom of association are also in play.
Since people give their friends a certain benefit of the doubt that they don’t give their rivals; think of how to express your idea in terms they would applaud. You take your general principle, and then think of a real or hypothetical example where they might approve of its application.
If the person assumes you are an anti-homosexual bigot, how surprised do you think they might be if you speak positively of someone from their side? It’s a bonus if it’s someone who is hostile to your side. Is anyone on their side more prominent right now than “Born This Way” Lady Gaga? Suppose you spoke well of her right to use the principle you plan to defend?
By crossing over, and defending someone on their side, you suddenly find yourselves on the same side of the real (larger) issue. If they will agree that the principle is legitimate for one of their heroes to make use of (remember: they give their side the benefit of the doubt), it becomes harder to give reasons why the same principles won’t apply on your side.
You might want to start the topic with a probing question like, “do you remember when Lady Gaga turned down the gig working for the GOP convention? How do you feel about that?”
Since we are speaking about a real conversation, don’t just ignore the answer and pounce with a “gotcha” response. The answer the other person gives actually matters. Don’t be so quick to be right that you act like a jerk.
Let’s suppose the person says she was right to refuse the gig. Ask more questions. Find out what the other person actually thinks are legitimate reasons for refusing a gig. Is it because she has the right to choose who she does business with? Or because she has a right not to be associated with causes she does not support? Does it compromise her art or message? Is it some other reason?
Each reason you are given is one step closer to them making the case themselves. They are providing the top reasons they personally find compelling for your argument. Once they’ve made their case, generalize the points they’ve made into general principles.
For example, if they said Lady Gaga should not have to work for someone against her will, you might restate that as a broader principle. Maybe: Real Freedom says “no-means-no” even in the workplace.
If the angle is “she shouldn’t have her art connected to causes she does not support” — the broader principle would be the artist’s right to a final say on how artistic expression is used.
Whichever point or points they concede, that can be your starting point for bridging them back to your side, maybe something like this: Lady Gaga was free to decline a gig for personal reasons. Should ordinary people like the Huguenins have that right, or should Lady Gaga have been forced to take the gig?
You see, we CAN disagree without being disagreeable. It just takes more effort.
Image: Persuasion, Elane Photography, Lady Gaga, Frredom of Association, Artistic Freedom