The Art of the Dive

_igp4773Any fan of sports  will no doubt be familiar with the concept of “the dive.” In basketball, it’s referred to as “flopping.” In hockey, they call it “embellishment.” No matter what you call it, “feigning injury to appear as if a foul has been committed” is overacting to try to gain an advantage.

The dive isn’t just the norm in professional sports, it’s common in politics (remember all the theater that surrounded last summer’s government shutdown?), media sound-bites, and, of course, the culture war.

It’s not a new tactic. Your opponent in a debate makes a somewhat valid point. Rather than concede this point, you proceed by taking his logic, tone, or argument to absurd extremes. “You think men should open the door for women? I suppose you also advocate for mandatory luggage-handling as well? What next? Cut up their food into bite-sized pieces?”

The dialog starts with simple statements, escalates to accusations, and then races to hyperbole. In online discussion where anonymity and lack of accountability are the norm, conversational flopping follows “Godwin’s Law:”

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.

I must admit, I often feel the temptation to dive.

If I make my opponent sound stupid or crazy, I may not have to consider his perspective. If I critique his grammar, I might be able to avoid the substance of his argument. If I ridicule his style, I may possibly win favor with my audience without addressing the opposing view. Flopping is childish, rude, and counter-productive, but it’s a cheap way to win “amens” from those who already agree with you.

I’ve recognized this tendency in myself, but I’m repenting from deliberately taking a dive. Here are some signs I’ve come to recognize that I’ve given in to the temptation to “embellish:”

  • I deliberately overstate the other side’s argument. “Egalitarians want nothing less than to revise the historical Jesus into a woman!”
  • I jump to extreme conclusions. “If the reformed camp had their way, we’d never send a single missionary!”
  • I allow my feelings to be hurt. “This just makes me very sad for you.”
  • I compare my opponent to Hitler. “You are worse than Hitler!”

Deliberately misconstruing someone else’s opinion in an attempt to make my case is the conversational equivalent to taking a dive. I’m sorry I’ve done it in the past, and I’ll take care not to do it in the future.