Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner

Reading a NYTimes review of Vicente Fox’s memoir, and saw a quote that shows a little step in bridging the divide between people with opposing views.

It’s simple: don’t slam the person, critique the idea.

Fox, the former president of Mexico, calls George Bush “a loving Christian.” He writes, “I am absolutely certain that George W. Bush did what he believed he had to do (after 9/11), in order to protect his country and the world from evil…. The sad thing is that he was so deeply, deeply wrong.”

Fox doesn’t call Bush a bad person. But he says very clearly that his decisions have been bad. That’s a big difference. And in communication between people, acknowledging common motives makes the criticism easier to hear.

Fox doesn’t pull punches. In the review he’s quoted as calling Bush a “windshield cowboy” who speaks “grade-school-level Spanish” and is the cockiest man Fox has met. These are fair-game observations and assessments. But they don’t slam Bush’s character, or his heart.

It’s a small but significant step.


6 thoughts on “Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner

  1. jloveland says:

    It’s a good observation Bruce. However, it’s hard to come up with a kind enough preamble that can completely offset “the cockiest man I ever met” accusation. But then again, maybe that’s sweet talk to the ears of a Texan.

  2. GH says:

    “Fox doesn’t call Bush a bad person. But he says very clearly that his decisions have been bad. That’s a big difference.”

    And a lot harder to do.

    I’m a soccer fan. One of the ongoing soccer debates concerns “diving” — hitting the ground, writhing in staged agony to draw an undeserved foul. Everyone knows it’s dishonorable, but it’s not dishonorable enough to end it. Sometimes it even works.

    Character slamming is the equivalent of diving. It’s the cheap and easy way to argue — it doesn’t require the difficult stuff of reason or intellect. Sometimes it works, but more often it just fans flames and dishonors the whole process.

    I saw this during the Democratic hopefuls’ speeches at Saturday’s big speech-off in Iowa. Every so often, most of them would toss in a vague, whole-cloth Republican bash to elicit boos and hisses from the party faithful. It was wearisome and diminished the better points many of them made. Even the candidates didn’t seem to have their hearts in it, but they just can’t seem to break the habit.

    Must say, though, that this campaign seems the least slammy (so far) of any I can remember. It’s early, yes, but perhaps slamming is becoming uncool.

  3. Brilliant PR move by Fox to sell a few more copies of his book. A little titillation about his opinions about GW and pundits will have things to talk about on Sunday morning. Cute.

    The only other thought I have to say regarding Fox and his assessment of the President is that holding that esteemed role today must mean never having to say, “I’m sorry, I was wrong” to constituents. We’re never going to get an apology from Bush about Iraq. Never.

  4. Becky says:

    Totally different take on this. Thought Bruce’s post was great. Before I go further, here’s my disclaimer: I’m a UST graduate and a big supporter of the J-school. That said…

    What Bruce describes–deconstructing the argument without deconstructing or destroying the person–was one of the best lessons I learned at UST. It was obviously hammered home in the philosophy (logic and ethics) classes. But also in J-school classes.

    Each spring, UST senior J-school students are required to particpate in Ethics Bowl wherein they are given multiple cases from real-life media situations and have to defend or deconstruct the decision made in each case. I’ve served as an ethics bowl judge (the standards are clearly pretty low) two of the last three years. What has impressed me most is that the students are forced to–and adhere to–deconstructing the argument without personal attacks. It’s a reaffirming reminder that this is truly what we ought to be teaching in our liberal arts schools. Heck, in all our schools. People can disagree. But they can learn something from the other side if only they’re willing to listen and put down the personal, vicious, strawman arguments for position arguments grounded in logic and thought.

  5. C'mon says:

    At least W’s proficiency in Spanish dwarfs Clinton’s. Fox is a fraud. He did nothing, zero to advance his country’s Third World economy, other than to encourage his citzens should flee Mexico. Fox has at least as much audacity and arrogance as Bush.

  6. I learned almost nothing in high school (or college, for that matter) but I did pay attention in Mr. Ario’s class 12th grade Philosophy class at Washburn High. The class started with “logic” – something that seems to be missing from political discourse these days.

    Argumentum ad hominem they call it – attacking the character of the one posing the argument, instead of the argument itself. Most of Mr. Bush’s points can be countered well enough with logic – there really is no need to point out that he’s a doofus.

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