Latin terms name the two basic choices we have when discussing, debating or arguing with someone.
We can use “ad hominem” arguments. Ad hominem literally means “to the man” (we would say “to the person”).
Someone using an ad hominem argument attacks the other person rather than discuss the issue.
Our other option is to use “ad rem” arguments. Ad rem literally means “to the point.”
Someone using an ad rem argument focuses on discussing the issue at hand rather than on attacking the other person.
It seems to me that people too often use ad hominem arguments rather than ad rem ones.
We are quick to attack each other rather than talk about the issues. We see this tendency especially when people discuss political, social or religious issues.
I suspect it’s always been that way, but social media seems to bring this tendency out in extreme ways.
I’ve seen many of my Facebook friends and fellow tweeters use derogatory terms to attack those with whom they disagree.
They sometimes direct their insults at individuals, but they usually target groups, particularly in generalized, stereotyped or caricatured forms.
Such attacks aren’t helpful for many reasons, but I’ll name just two.
First, they reflect false and careless thinking.
All Democrats are not the same in their attitudes, perspectives and positions. Neither are all Republicans, conservatives or liberals. Every group has its subgroups, and every group is made up of individuals.
Second, attacking people rather than addressing issues is unhelpful because it makes it very difficult to come together to solve problems.
Some of us like to engage in a form of ad hominem argumentation that I’ll call “name and blame.”
Political leaders often use this approach. They’ll say something like, “It started under the last administration” or “It’s the other party’s fault.”
The rest of us often say similar kinds of things: “Why didn’t you complain about this when your party was in control?” or “Well, after all, Warren G. Harding did it first.”
Such statements aren’t helpful even when they’re true. Rehashing who did what way back when doesn’t get us anywhere here and now, and here is where we are and now is when we are.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t look back at all. We should because understanding how we got here can help us figure out what we need to do now that we’ve arrived.
For example, we can’t arrive at valid solutions to our immigration situation if we don’t recall how countries like El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras got into the state they’re in, come to grips with the role we played in it and make a strong commitment to work with them to help them become places where their citizens can be safe and secure.
But it does no good to blame those who came before. And it certainly does no good to blame those who voted for and supported those who came before.
We will be much better off if we stick to ad rem arguments. We need to deal with the issues at hand in positive and constructive ways.
This is difficult because different people have such different starting points, but it is not impossible if we make a conscious commitment to do so.
As for me, I make no apology for wanting always to begin with love, grace, compassion and mercy.
I realize this will never be a perfect world and we who live in it will always have mixed motives and limited perspectives.
But we need to come together to work on identifying the root causes of our problems, developing real solutions and working to make things better.
I cling to the hope that we will.
Michael Ruffin is curriculum editor with Smyth & Helwys Publishing in Macon, Georgia.