When I started law school, I expected to get into all kinds of contentious debates. I do hold, after all, pretty extreme views. I agree with Catholicism’s teachings on… well… everything – abortion, birth control, marriage, etc., etc., etc. I always suspected that I would become a source of controversy. I never suspected I would become a zoo animal.
The dominant voices of law school, and of higher education in general, can be surprisingly homogenous. They are the voices of the educated liberal/progressive upper-middle class. They tend to share a pervasive orthodoxy: support of same-sex marriage; a commitment to reproductive rights (i.e. the right to birth control); an avoidance of the philosophical issues surrounding legal abortion; a suspicion of, and sometimes resentment towards, the wealthy class; and a relegation of religious practice to private worship and personal opinion. This is the world that this pro-“traditional” marriage, anti-birth control, prolife, Catholic chose to enter into for three years.
I love this world. And I’ve even been able to present my crazy views in a productive way, by accepting a simple fact: for the most part, my views are just weird and unreasonable. Now, I don’t think that they are actually unreasonable. I believe that my views are the most reasonable views, and this is why I hold them. However, I can’t assume that others share the underlying principles that my views require. Thus, I’ve found it helpful to present my views in ways that show I recognize how unreasonable they sound.
One key way to do this is to separate my views from myself. I frequently volunteer to play the devil’s advocate in my courses, and I sometimes start my arguments with statements like, “Well, I guess I’ll play the devil’s advocate.” I do this with an eye roll and a bit of sarcasm that gets a laugh out of my peers.
When you hold unreasonable and weird views (and views that are considered offensive), it can be extremely helpful to carry a bit of wit. Getting a laugh eases the tension and helps people to feel more comfortable. You don’t only win an argument by getting your opponents to cower in terror. You can also win by getting them to open up to you.
And this is the key to being the funny guy with unreasonable and weird views – you get to be a zoo animal. You rhetorically put your weird views in a safe cage, where people feel comfortable coming up to them, poking them a bit, maybe taking a few pictures. And if they’re really interested, they might throw some food into the cage and see what happens.
Ultimately, you do need to have good arguments. And you need to have answers. But don’t just throw arguments onto others, like a lion devouring his prey. Wait until the onlookers poke you a bit, and then show your arguments like you’re a monkey doing a funny trick for them. If you’re a lion, they’ll either flee from you or try to kill you. If you’re a monkey, they’ll feed you to get you to do tricks.
Then, one of your peers might say to you, like one of my peers recently said to me, “Yeah, you do hold weird views. But you make them sound so reasonable.”