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What is Fair and Reasonable?

How to frame a discussion.

In political debate or discussion, it is generally useless to resort to the use of such terms as “reasonable,” “fair” or “right” in an attempt to sway the opinion of people with views opposed to our own. Here is why.

There are always a few people, often in positions of significant influence, who know perfectly well that the positions they advocate are neither fair nor reasonable, neither just nor right. They do not care about that; they are driven by their lust for more power or money, and right or wrong plays no part in their agenda. Indeed, “wrong” is generally more productive. An appeal to reason or fairness is lost on a person who cares nothing for either. We can be thankful that such people have never been more than a small, albeit dangerous, minority.

Most people sincerely want to be fair and reasonable, and they believe that they are. They would not want to hold to a position they did not believe to be fair and reasonable, and they consider themselves to be fair and reasonable. The problem with that is that we tend to mold the definition of fair and reasonable so that it encompasses what we believe. Therefore, an appeal to someone to be fair and reasonable, to see the correct side of an issue, is only an appeal to be more firmly grounded in what he or she already believes.

For us to say, “If they only understood our position!” is likewise pointless. They understand it, they disagree with it, and they wish that those with other views could find some way to be “fair and reasonable.” As Homer Simpson once told his daughter when she said he didn't understand, "Just because I don't care doesn't mean I don't understand."

Any change of thinking on either side of an issue requires more than simply understanding the opposing view. It requires that one side come to an understanding of why the other side is correct, or more correct, or why one's own view is in error. That cannot be accomplished by shrill appeals to be fair and reasonable, which almost everyone thinks himself or herself to be. It can, at times, be accomplished with resort to facts and logic, accompanied by a clear presentation of why the facts and logic compel the conclusion. That, of course, does not work when the facts are unclear or disputed, or where personal feelings and emotions, rather than rational analysis, drive the views.

And, there will always be people who will cling to their positions even after being shown clearly that they have no basis in fact or logic. It is best to avoid discussing anything significant with such people; it is as pointless as trying to explain quantum mechanics to a fencepost, and leads only to ill feelings while accomplishing nothing.

When the opportunity arises to have a civil discussion based on fact and logic with a well-intentioned person who is capable of understanding those things, however, it can be productive to debate significant issues. Such a discussion can help us understand one another’s positions, and may even bring about a change in views. Indeed, we may even find the changes coming within ourselves.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Sheila Sanchez January 25, 2013 at 05:35 PM
The older I get, the more I realize there's zero value in arguing a point with someone. If going into a conversation knowing in your gut that your point of view is not supported, best not to even try to convince the other party to understand, or bring up the subject. IMHO. Thanks for the wise words, Steve.
Brian Hickman January 25, 2013 at 10:31 PM
I agree. When I debate with someone online, I don't do it with any expectation that I will sway to person with whom I'm contending. Instead, I debate in the hope that others who read the thread, who are not so entrenched in any particular position, will see the light. My favorite misuse of "fair" in politics --> "the rich must pay their fair share".
Jay Remley January 26, 2013 at 07:55 AM
Brian, couldn't agree more. The Top 10% of "Makers" in this country pay 70% of the tax bill to support the "Takers" in this country. If 10% of Americans paying for 70% of our tax dollars is not 'fair', what would the current Obama Administration deem as 'fair'? Should the top 10% pay 90% of the Nation's Gov't spending addiction? Fair would be if everyone paid a 10% flat tax.
Irene Aida Garza-Ortiz January 27, 2013 at 08:07 PM
I'm about done discussing subjects such as these....
Steve Pogue January 27, 2013 at 10:08 PM
Brian and Jay, you hit on a topic on which virtually 100% of the country agrees. It would be hard to find anyone who does not believe that everyone should pay his or her fair share. Who could oppose that? It is when you get into the definition of each taxpayer's fair share that the disagreement arises.

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