Discussion is an exchange of knowledge, argument is an exchange of ignorance.

Discussion is an exchange of knowledge, argument is an exchange of ignorance. – Robert Quillen

I'm not sure what he is angry about, but that's not a discussion he's having, is it?

I’m not sure what he is angry about, but that’s not a discussion he’s having, is it? It has the look of an argument that’s just getting started.

What does that mean?
I have always had a soft spot for witticisms, and this is certainly one of my favorites. Sadly, this is also a very true saying, as you have probably experienced yourself. While you can’t always persuade someone with a well reasoned discussion, you will stand a better chance than you will with an argument.

Discussions take time, and tend to have a pace that is much slower than an argument. The listener often takes time to consider what the other person has said before they offer a response, and the responses tend to be questions often seeking knowledge. Even in disagreement, there tend to be certain levels of civility and cordiality, and they tend to be fairly well maintained throughout the discussion.

Arguments tend to have a much more rapid pace than a discussion. Sometimes the people talk over each other, showing how little they value their opponent, or how much they value the sound of their own voice. The responses tend to be attacks, and those that aren’t are usually attempts to change the subject. In short, they are little more than talking while under the influence of emotion.

Which brings us back to the quote. How well do the descriptions I provided in the paragraphs above match your experience of discussions as compared to arguments?

Why is listening important?  
Allow me, once again, to answer a question with a question. In any conversation, how can you possibly learn something without listening? That is the problem with an argument. People in arguments tend to use the time they aren’t talking to come up with their next point. They rarely, if ever, actually listen, much less try to understand.

However, if you listen, you can both better understand where they are coming from, and better rebut their points. Consider the Socratic Method, where you have to listen to their answer to better lead them into contradicting themselves. This is not easily done in an argument, but it is a perfect method for a discussion.

Listening also provides you with a chance to learn something. Even if you disagree with their premise, there may be some interesting things brought up as the discussion unfolds. I can’t count the number of discussions I have had where something shiny first distracted me, and then educated me.

Where can I apply this in my life?
This is an interesting question, as the obvious answer is to back down the pace and intensity when you are in an argument. However, most arguments are actions of emotion, and logic is usually not the most reliable tool in these situations.

What can you do once you notice that you are either beginning to escalate into an argument, or notice that you are in one? Can you call a time-out? Can you step away for a moment? Perhaps go for a potty break? What can you do to slow down the pace? Can you take a breath, or will they fill it with more arguing?

If you can slow the pace or lower the emotion, you stand a chance of backing the argument down and turning it into something actually useful. After all, winning an argument isn’t the same as convincing someone that you are right or that they are wrong, right? 8)

Take a moment and think of a recent argument you had with someone. Did they ask any questions (questioning your lineage doesn’t count)? Did you ask any questions? Did you listen and try to understand, or were you so certain that you were right and they were wrong that you didn’t need to, or didn’t bother to do so?

In other words, that argument was pretty much an example of the second half of the quote, right? Arguments tend to be two people yelling their pre-conceived notions at each other. They tend to be immune to facts, logic, or reason. That is pretty much the picture next to the word ignorance in the dictionary, right? And you don’t want that picture to be of you, do you?

If someone starts an argument, you probably have half a minute at most to defuse the situation. After that, they’ve got up a head of steam, and you’ll be talking to a brick wall. A very loud and animated brick wall. Time to find an exit and save your dignity. Staying would be foolish, right?

I like to learn. I find discussions with those I disagree with to be some of the most enlightening kind to have. I rarely come to believe what they believe, but I learn a lot about them and why they think or believe what they do, and how they come to their conclusions.

Discussions are the spice of life, if you can keep them from getting too hot. I hope you have a discussion sometime soon, and think about this post as you listen to their point of view. Even if they don’t listen to yours, you will still learn something. And that is a good thing.

From: Twitter, @iheartquotes
confirmed at : http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/r/robertquil132520.html
Photo by Jonny Hunter

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  1. “Discussion is an exchange of knowledge; argument is an exchange of ignorance” | Outrun Change - 27 June 2013

    […] That comment is pondered by Philosiblog on a post of the same name. […]

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