CONVERSATIONAL TERRORISM is best defined by offering examples of how people pretend to want to have meaningful conversation while secretly planting land mines for the person with whom they are talking to step on. We witness these acts of conversational terrorism all the time but in this day of overhyped everything we tend to be hoodwinked into thinking a conversation has actually occurred.
Dean and Laura VanDruff have divided this kind of anti-conversation into five categories, each of which should serve as warning signs:
Ad Hominem Variants - Attacking the person instead of the subject at hand
Sleight of Mind Fallacies – Mental “magic” to cheat logic and fair dialog
Delay Tactics – When the brain freezes, the lips flap on…
Questions of Opportunity – A favorite of politicians
- General Irritants – Verbal grenades, irritants, and ploys
You’ve seen all of these and, if you are honest, have been guilty at times of strapping on a conversational suicide vest before engaging a group of unaware bystanders. Here are some examples of typical comebacks and comments that hint a conversation is about to suffer a sneak attack:
- “You support capital punishment because of a deep-rooted death wish common among those who have suffered emotional traumas during childhood.”
- “You oppose capital punishment because of an irrational suppressed death taboo common among those who have suffered emotional trauma during childhood.”
- “You weren’t breast fed as a child, were you?”
These are all Ad Hominem code for, “What you have to say doesn’t matter because you can’t possibly speak objectively about this subject and I can.” Other variants of this include the classic, “You can’t possible understand because you’re a man” or “you’ve never had children” or “are you are at that time of the month?”
Trust me; any of my fellow men who utter that last one are not only conversational terrorists but delusional and suicidal as well.
Before you feign innocence in the Ad Hominem category, be aware there is also the Reverse Ad Hominem remark. Just make it sound as though the other person is attacking you rather than making a simple point or correction. Rather than staying on topic, act like a victim. This subtle form of conversational terrorism occurs when the person in question suspects they are wrong or about to lose the case for his or her line of thinking.
The reverse Ad Hominem goes something like this:
- Wife – “Honey I think the reason the guy in that truck is honking at you and waving his hand like that is because that sign back there said STOP not GO FASTER.”
- Husband – “So you think I don’t know how to drive?”
The issue is not whether the husband knows how to drive but whether he observed that street sign, noticed the guy in the truck giving him the one finger salute, or heard his little girl praying in the back sit while her brother whispered “Cool.”
Winston Churchill is remembered as a statesman capable of astounding oratory. The man was a wizard with the English language. However, one of my favorite quotes from Churchill concerns the art of saying nothing.
“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
At this point someone is saying to themselves, “I notice you said ‘you’ a lot and not ‘I’. The reason you go on about how other people talk and not yourself is because you have a deep-rooted need to point out the wrong in others common to those who have suffered emotional traumas during childhood.”
To which I respond with my much more clever and insightful …