Life & Logic: Part 2 – Avoiding the Question

It just bugs me when officials in an interview on something important dodge the question with their answer.* In a time when facts and the truth are not always completely obvious, what do we do to stay sane and alert? Who has time to research everything to find accurate information? That may be why more and more voters vanish on election days from pure exhaustion. So let’s stay in it, and take steps to fight for logic in our political discourse!

*Note: I do understand when leaders are unable to comment due to ethical, legal, or sensitivity limitations. Sometimes we are legitimately not entitled to all the information in the moment. I accept that.

As we continue the series on strengthening our logic skills to recognize and respond to faulty logic, we equip ourselves to better understand facts, truth, and how they relate in reasonable ways. Today’s post looks at ways people avoid a question. These may not be new to you, but I find them interesting. It encourages me to be a careful and savvy listener when it comes to debate on important issues in our society.

Red Herring Fallacy

Saying things that sound like they answer the question, but they don’t. Saying things that are true, at least partially, but they do not answer the actual question. We’ve heard this happen in conversations and interviews. At times it is masterful how some people introduce something unrelated in a way that is hard to detect. Anytime this happens, that is one way of avoiding the question. This is called a red herring.

I recently read that a red herring is called that because it starts to smell like a dead fish. In the book, The Fallacy Detective, the authors tell how dog trainers would create a scent trail of whatever they wanted a dog to follow, say a racoon. Then the trail would become old. That is when the trainers would drag a smelly, old red herring across the trail and off in another direction to throw the dog off the original trail. They work with the dog to stay on the original trail and not get distracted. As defined in the book, here’s how this goes:

  1. A red herring, or irrelevant point, is introduced into an argument or in answer to a question.
  2. The speaker thinks or hopes that listeners will think this proves the point being made, and answers the question.
  3. But it does not.
  4. However, if someone responds simply with saying they do not know the answer, that is not a red herring. It is not irrelevant and is still on topic.

How to Recognize Red Herrings

Responses are often true, yet irrelevant. They can be good arguments, but just do not address the point of the question being asked.

So, to recognize a red herring, follow these steps:

  1. What is the question being asked or argued about?
  2. Did the person address that issue or question and stay on topic?
  3. Is the response true, but off topic?

These critical thinking tools help us determine a red herring and know how to respectfully listen, but not get sidetracked.

Special Pleading Fallacy

Special pleading is a variation of the red herring approach that uses a double standard or an exception that is not justified. These techniques sidestep the issue.

Example: I know I shouldn’t overeat, but I am very hungry.

Special pleading often brings in something that gives an unfair advantage. There are times when an exception to a standard or rule or law is unfair. When we hear those comments that seem unfair, it may be a red herring, distracting from the bigger issue or question.

How to Recognize Special Pleading

To call out a special pleading comment, step back and ask yourself or the person speaking, if you are in the conversation:

  1. Why is this exception relevant?
  2. Is this distracting us from the issue?

Ad Hominem Attack

I think these are easy to recognize because I get a pit in my stomach when listening. If you’ve ever watched a political debate in recent years, you’ve seen this in action. Ad hominem attacks are when one participant attacks the character and/or motives of the other to get us to doubt them and see them as bad or as the enemy. This is done effectively, yet unfairly, at times, if it gets us off the topic at hand. We listen to the participants drag each other through the mud instead of defending their position on an issue being debated.

Ad hominem is Latin for “to the man.”

We must go on alert when someone’s character or motives are attacked, instead of disproving an argument.  In that situation, someone is side stepping the question.

Next time, in the Life & Logic Series: Genetic fallacy, tu quoque, and faulty appeal to authority. What? Exactly why I’m reviewing these techniques that miscommunicate. I hope this is helpful.

Stay charming and logical, my friends!

Note: This is part of a blog series on a logical thinking to strengthen skills as we filter information in coming elections. Being an involved, informed voter is strategic and becoming more vital. Plus, logic exercises the brain. That is a great benefit. I am studying faulty logic, using a book, The Fallacy Detective, by Nathaniel and Hans Bluedorn. You can learn more at Let’s work toward more wisdom as citizens and voters together. Our democracy is strong. Let’s keep it that way together.

In My Opinion: Reunite Families

We are in a moral storm. Time for me to rant.

A Prologue

This is a political post. I am defining politics, in this context, as the system a society uses to set governing principles and policies that help our nation of many people get along, use resources, and live our corporate values. For those of you who don’t like political posts, this will continue as a lifestyle blog on another day. However, I need to make some clear statements in this difficult and troubling time.

I want to first acknowledge that I am not confident in the statistics that we have been given. That is troubling. News reports had shared that slightly over 2,000 children are separated from families. Then, later this week, that count was updated to 3,000. That is upsetting for several reasons: 1) another 1,000 children are separated, 2) we cannot get accurate information, and 3) we are limited in knowing who and what we can trust.

Secondly, I have written (emailed) and called The White House, the Department of Justice, my two state senators, and my congresswoman. I have donated to World Relief, an organization I trust to care for immigrants, offer law-abiding compassionate immigration services, and to advocate for these marginalized brothers and sister. I still feel frustrated with my inability to impact change and to help.

No news in this next statement. We have a big problem here. Over 3,000 children are separated from family members. We have been told some parents have already been deported without their children. We have been told some children have been deported without parents. This is crazy and painful and wrong on so many horrific layers.

From the Lens of My Profession

I am a retired educator, still credentialed in California and a mandated reporter. A mandated reporter is legally required to report any suspicion of child abuse or neglect to the relevant authorities for children encountered in my professional duties and care.

I suspect that separating children from parents qualifies as neglect. We know children are not getting the level of care and nurturing that children need developmentally. Is that not neglect? This would be unacceptable in the world of education, and I’d have to report it. It definitely has been reported. Action to investigate and correct the situation is happening. Is it? Accountability seems to be in place. Is it? One deadline expires today. We will watch and see what happens.

Some of the little ones don’t even know the name of their parent, beyond their chosen term for mother or father. Some infants do not have language to speak the identity of their parents. Even with the best-intentions, even if the child detention facility was highly-equipped, I find this tragically unfortunate and damaging to children. Not to mention the parents unable to even contact their children. It is an overwhelming mess.

From the Lens of a Manager

Even in the best case scenario where workers assigned to these children are compassionate, emotionally intelligent care givers, they must be overwhelmed by the number of children assigned to them and the level of need. If I was an employer or manager in these facilities, I would be so upset for my staff. There is often a language barrier. Resources and support are severely limited. Training has to be minimal. At any typical recess setting on the playground, there is rarely enough staff to do more than supervise for physical safety. This must even be worse.

Holding children in groups in a system not set up for this makes me so sad for these workers, the conscientious ones who need their jobs. This is not a summer camp set up to house and care for children in established, child-center, age appropriate programming until parents pick them up on Saturday. My heart breaks for the good workers trying to obey orders, yet sickened by the situation. Where is the leadership to support them in a healthy work environment that does not ask them to compromise what they know to be right? I pray they can feel compassion and see they make a difference in the lives of children each day.

I’ve heard the authorities are struggling to match parents and kids to reunite them. I cannot begin to fathom the daunting task this is, and it is taking too long. I cannot imagine how my heart would ache if I had a job at one of these facilities and could not get this situation resolved. Thousands of lives of employees and families as well as immigrant families will never be the same, and we will be picking up the pieces for decades. This is a colossal mess, creating a level of chaos that is inexcusable. Yet leadership has not been called to account yet, at least from what I have seen and heard. I feel helpless and annoyed.

From the Lens of Problem Solving

Who was in the room when it was decided to separate children from parents? Even with that being such a bad decision, who let that roll out without the administrative structure to set it up, implement it well, support the workers, and remedy when time to reunite? In other organizations, debacles like this would lead to firing of key organization leaders. Speedy resolution would be visible. Who was in the room when the decision was made to move children to other states? Or move the parents to other states? This is our government. I am in shock.

I can’t even begin to get into the costs involved. Some businesses are even profiting from this situation. I understand the lawful rights to ask for asylum that are being denied and violated. I have some insight into how our foreign policy has negatively impacted certain countries, creating the need to migrate. I resent our drug culture that continues to provide a market for drug cartels. That all feels complicated, and makes me sick to my stomach. It just feels harsh and evil.

Did we not learn from Japanese internment camps? Is it unclear that this kind of behavior makes other countries despise our policies and laugh at our leaders? There are ways to protect and defend the border, create a compassionate, reasonable, lawful pathway to citizenship, and keep families together. Stop blaming political parties. Stop misleading and misinformed information, like immigrants will flood the country. That is not accurate. Or “they” just want open borders. Very few people want open borders.

There are experts on these immigration issues in our country. Get those people in the room. Return kids to families. And let’s continue to work sensibly to address the complicated issues of legal immigration with dignity, reflecting our values as a nation. Let’s consider the Golden Rule I was taught and recited in elementary school, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Be kind.

Will there be a rainbow after this storm? I continue to lament the situation, and pray for hope and healthy, speedy resolution.

Rainbow - Cropped



Life & Logic: Part 1 – An Introduction

As another election approaches with summer primaries around the corner, we are reminded again that smart, engaged voters are our key to a strong, healthy democracy. We often can’t agree on candidates, issues, or results. We may even be surprised by the choices good friends make. Yet we probably agree we need to do more to protect our great democracy from the campaign and issue chicanery that has clouded the process over the years.

We’ve all noticed how decorum, mutual respect, and getting along are in short supply when it comes to our nation’s politics. Yet many of us think about positions and claims, and practice courteous conversation and diplomacy along the way, in spite of the behavior of some politicians no matter the party.

One way to have more impact is to strengthen our good reasoning skills. As we filter through political speeches and promises, we can all head to the voting booth clear headed and strong. We must stay engaged in the process and vote intelligently. Let’s continue to be thoughtful, calm, and sensible citizens to bring a better future, and learn to better identify faulty reasoning used to manipulate votes.

Authors Nathaniel and Hans Bluedorn, in their book Fallacy Detective, write about the importance of having an inquiring mind. I’ve been reading their book and will summarize the lessons in this blog from time to time. I know I need to sharpen my critical thinking skills to be bolder in identifying faulty communication, especially in politics.

Image result for fallacy detective


An Inquiring Mind

The authors suggest the value of having an inquiring mind. The most fascinating older people I’ve known have kept their inquiring minds open to new ideas. They stay interested in new ideas. I aspire to keeping an inquiring mind as I age. The book highlights these steps to activate and maintain just that:

  1. Exercise your mind. We need to continue exercising our thinking skills. Like with any exercise, thinking deeply can be tiring and hard at times. Have you ever experienced a situation you had to think through so rigorously that it seemed like your mind was stretching and felt like it even hurt? I have. That is exercising your mind muscle, important to staying flexible and strong as a thinker, though we get in the habit of staying comfortable in what we already know.
  2. Listen well. Take an interest in what others have to say. Ask questions and be respectful. Accept that others may have better ideas or know things you may not know. Be brave enough to even question your own position on an issue.
  3. Learn other points of view: The caution here is “Any side may seem logical if we only see things from that point of view,” according to the authors. I’ve experienced that for sure. Benefits of understanding other points of view include 1) the opportunity to grow either in developing our point of view with more solid thinking and awareness, or 2) the opportunity to change our perspective if we discover we are wrong, and 3) being able to better help others as we build our ability to explain our answers and improve our communication. Even with limited time to dig into different perspectives, we can do some digging.

To be good citizens, we need to recognize faulty reasoning in others and ourselves. As we dust of our logical thinking tools, I think that better prepares us all for the coming election seasons, and encourages us to model good thinking to those younger than we are.

Stay charming, friends! And logical.

For more on critical thinking, watch this video:

Note: This is part of a blog series on a logical thinking to strengthen skills as we filter information in coming elections. Being an involved, informed voter is strategic and becoming more important. Plus, logic exercises the brain. That is a great benefit. I am doing some reading on faulty logic, using a book, The Fallacy Detective, by Nathaniel and Hans Bluedorn. You can learn more at Let’s work toward more wisdom as citizens and voters together. Our democracy is strong. Let’s keep it that way together.