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A deal with the devil

| Wednesday, April 22, 2020

A few years back, I made a deal with the devil to be his advocate, his right-hand woman in all of his affairs. This is an arrangement that, to this day, I stand by and uphold unapologetically.

I think it is safe to say most sane people try to avoid both arguments and the devil. It’s fairly instinctual to steer clear of verbal conflict because, well, nobody wants to be pelted with the words of an angry opponent. And obviously, the devil is inherently bad, so what business do I, a presumably good and well-behaved Notre Dame student, have making these devilish deals? 

Before taking on this lifelong role as the devil’s advocate, I made sure to iron out all the details. The single most important clause in my contract is that any and all advocating I do will be done with good intentions and an open mind. When the opportunity presents itself, I will argue for the opposing stance not “just because,” but rather to deepen my understanding of the topic at hand, better my own argumentative skills and enhance my worldly views. 

The dictionary definition of the term is “a person who expresses a contentious opinion in order to provoke debate or test the strength of the opposing arguments.” As we often hear, there are two sides to every story, and the job of the devil’s advocate is to investigate those two sides in depth. Then, they must take the road less traveled by and defend the unpopular opinion. This can be a daunting task, but, I mean, the devil’s work usually is. Each time I find myself playing devil’s advocate, I am intellectually challenged. I learn something new, whether it be recognizing a fault in my own judgement or discovering new ways to approach a future disagreement. For these reasons, I genuinely enjoy a good argument. 

When I say I like to argue, I don’t mean I like to obstinately yell expletives at an equally stubborn  fellow arguer. No, I like to dispute my claims to an audience who actually cares about what I have to say. In return, I will listen with the same care and consideration to their many reasons why they think I am wrong. I will always jump at the opportunity to articulate my thoughts to a potentially opposing, yet willing, listener. 

I believe arguing makes us more educated and well-rounded individuals. Perhaps this affinity for arguing depends on the way you choose to define an “argument.” My friends and I have long debated the difference between the terms “fight” and “argument,” and to which category the quarrel we are having at any given time belongs. During a heated conversation, an innocent bystander might interject, “Stop fighting!” It is at this point we will clarify that we are not fighting, but rather engaging in a healthy, civil argument.

The two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but this is when you will run into trouble. After our fair share of both productive and unproductive disagreements — like any dynamic, energetic group of friends has — we have come to the general consensus that a fight is certainly more of a personal attack which lacks the mutual respect a healthy argument requires. An argument, while still an intense exchange, is characterized less by aggression and more so by an eagerness to be heard, understood and hopefully in the end, validated. 

That’s where the fun of being the devil’s advocate really starts to kick in. Just when you and your verbal opponent are on the brink of agreement, take a deep breath, look them in the eye and give them the “But …” they thought they had escaped. The contempt they have for the un-dodged bullet that is your counterargument will, ultimately, turn into appreciation, as they are forced to assert their claims even further, thus strengthening their argument. It will make them think more about why exactly they believe what they believe and how to make you believe it too. They will thank you for playing your little game of devil’s advocacy and your presence will be highly desired at friendly debates far and wide. 

Perhaps putting this role on my resume is not the best idea for practical reasons, but it is one that has nonetheless helped me grow as a student, thinker, writer and person. We’re often taught that in college we should expand our horizons and participate in diversified discussions, and most people would agree with that advice. What is more frequently disagreed upon is how exactly to do that. I propose everyone makes a deal to be the devil’s advocate. The workload is relatively light, while the rewards are quite high. 

Construct an argument, or just think of an opinion. With careful consideration, make it the strongest of convictions. Then, completely undermine and dismantle it. Find its flaws. Take the road less traveled by, of course, the devil’s advocate. You might just learn something along the way. 

Meghan Cappitelli is a freshman studying Economics and English at the University of Notre Dame. A native of Long Island, New York, she enjoys running, procrastinating and eating ice cream for dinner. She can be reached at [email protected] or @meghancapp on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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