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Old 11-25-2019, 05:00 PM
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The Example Trap - how to prevent a discussion from being derailed?


In many discussions, one will be met with a very reasonable request - "Can you give an example (of what you're saying)?" Problem is, this often immediately derails the talk from that point on, because the moment the example is given - whatever the example may be - it immediately becomes about the trees and no longer the forest - indeed, about one specific tree. And then it turns into nitpickery in which the specific details of that one cited example are dissected, but the overall broad theme of the conversation is completely lost and buried.

(Ironically - or perhaps befittingly - I can't think of an example for this thread.)

I have a family member who is like this - that she will demand examples whenever you bring up Issue X or Topic Y, but the moment you do bring up an example, the conversation goes fully off the rails and can't be brought back.

At the same time, if you say, "No, I can't or won't give an example," that is hardly conducive to the discussion either.

And another trap is - "Can you give another example? And another? And another?" Which then is not only exhausting, but can be impossible to do on short notice.


So how should someone confront the dreaded "Can you give an example?" question while also still keeping a debate on track so that the focus remains on the forest and not the trees?
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Old 11-25-2019, 05:11 PM
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ARRRG! I have relatives like this. What I do is, I give the example, and without pausing for breath, continue with "...which illustrates the point I was making, which is________."
This keeps them from taking the wheel and steering the conversation off in another direction. If they keep asking for more examples, then they're sealioning, and at that point, the only thing you can do is excuse yourself and GTFO.
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Old 11-25-2019, 06:15 PM
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It might be worth it (after they’ve made their "reasonable" request, but before you endeavor to fulfill it in earnest) to ask if an example would change their mind, or failing that, what it would take to change their mind. Because if they acknowledge that an example, even a good one, is unlikely to convince them to reconsider their position, then that ought to,spare you the trouble of having to provide it. Where to go from there is up to you. It might devolve into something like a discussion epistemology and how they arrive at conclusions (particularly if they are aware of the same facts as you, or stipulate that whatever your facts may be, they have come to a different conclusion and are set in it).
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Old 11-25-2019, 06:28 PM
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Originally Posted by Velocity View Post
In many discussions, one will be met with a very reasonable request - "Can you give an example (of what you're saying)?" Problem is, this often immediately derails the talk from that point on, because the moment the example is given - whatever the example may be - it immediately becomes about the trees and no longer the forest - indeed, about one specific tree. And then it turns into nitpickery in which the specific details of that one cited example are dissected, but the overall broad theme of the conversation is completely lost and buried.

(Ironically - or perhaps befittingly - I can't think of an example for this thread.)

I have a family member who is like this - that she will demand examples whenever you bring up Issue X or Topic Y, but the moment you do bring up an example, the conversation goes fully off the rails and can't be brought back.

At the same time, if you say, "No, I can't or won't give an example," that is hardly conducive to the discussion either.

And another trap is - "Can you give another example? And another? And another?" Which then is not only exhausting, but can be impossible to do on short notice.


So how should someone confront the dreaded "Can you give an example?" question while also still keeping a debate on track so that the focus remains on the forest and not the trees?
In many threads like that, especially if I know the requesting poster is going to do that, I'll simply decline. A quick statement along the lines of "Sorry, no, I'm not going to give you an example so I can spend the next few hours/days defending it as you pick it apart". If they're going to act like that, I find it easier to simply continue the conversation with the rest of the posters as if that one wasn't even present in the thread. Being part of a/this message board shouldn't be exhausting.


Now, IRL, I've found that if you're having a long term problem (like, over the course of months or years) with someone it helps if you jot down little notes here and there for just that reason. This way, someday when you confront them about their behavior and they come back with 'what? What are you talking about? What I have ever done....?), you can think back to what you wrote and come up with one or two examples instead of the classic 'well, I can't think of anything right now'.
The problem with that is that even if you have a rock solid argument with plenty of great examples, you might 'win' the argument, but you still come off looking like a first class asshole when they say 'did you make a list or something? Did you write down all the times I ....". It's tough to walk away from that with your head held high.
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Old 11-25-2019, 09:31 PM
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No. If you need to be spoon-fed then you're not up to the task of participating in the discussion.
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Old 11-26-2019, 12:55 AM
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I don’t know if I follow . . . if you can’t make a point in the concrete, but only in the abstract, then I question whether the point is made at all.

Realizing the humor in this request, can you give an example of what you’re talking about?
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Old 11-26-2019, 08:35 AM
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If you can't cite a really clear example of a phenomenon that you are arguing exists, maybe it doesn't exist.

I can see how extended discussion of a singular example could derail the debate into unproductive No True-Scotsman-arguments, or the opposite, but you can't defend an argument about generalities - it's too woolly, vague and unfalsifiable.

I would say that the solution is to have your examples ready before they are requested, and make sure they are concrete and genuine examples that support your case. If you're scrabbling around trying to find them during the debate, you shouldn't have started the debate. if they can't even be found at all, you don't have an argument.
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Old 11-26-2019, 08:46 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Eonwe View Post
I don’t know if I follow . . . if you can’t make a point in the concrete, but only in the abstract, then I question whether the point is made at all.
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Originally Posted by Mangetout View Post
If you can't cite a really clear example of a phenomenon that you are arguing exists, maybe it doesn't exist.
I don't think this is the issue. The problem isn't that you can't provide an example; the problem is that if you provide a specific example, the debate will stop being about the overall issue and become a debate about that one specific example.

The best suggestion I can offer is that if you should overfill the request. If somebody asks for an example of what you're discussing, give them five different examples. That way, they can't derail the debate by just focusing on one of them. If they do, they're effectively conceding that the other examples you gave are accurate. And those unchallenged examples will serve to support your position.

Last edited by Little Nemo; 11-26-2019 at 08:47 AM.
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Old 11-26-2019, 10:58 AM
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Yeah, but if you have examples prepared in advance (and you really should for a factual debate anyway) it's the same thing; Here's my point, demonstrated by these x examples, which all demonstrate the phenomenon in these ways; now that we have established the facts, what do we think of the general case? - that is: the 'example trap' can be defeated by pre-empting it.

Which is similar to what you're saying about overfilling it, really.

As Eonwe said - I would be interested to see a real-world case of the example trap. I wonder if it's always what has been described here, or if it's sometimes just bad or wrong examples.


Another way to deal with it (which sometimes works, and other times, explodes) is to set aside the topic and pinpoint behaviours; if debater X always asks for examples, then always ignores them, or, having been given a valid example, always just asks for another, then "Why do you keep doing that? Why should I provide an example when you ignored the last 3? What would an example need to prove in order to convince you?" is a valid challenge.
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Old 11-26-2019, 04:55 PM
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Love the term: "Example trap."

Been suckered into that too many times here.

Now that I have a name for it, I hope I can avoid it more.
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Old 11-26-2019, 05:19 PM
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Originally Posted by Eonwe View Post
Realizing the humor in this request, can you give an example of what you’re talking about?
For instance - say you are confronting a family member about his tendency to lose his temper. You bring up his bad temper, and he says, "Can you give an example?", and then you cite an instance where he recently threw a tantrum, but then he immediately latches on to that specific example and goes into a long detailed spiel about how his anger was fully justified in that particular situation's circumstances because This and This and That. This goes on for minutes and minutes.

Now, if you want, you can bring up another example, but then that turns into another 5-10 minute long surgical dissection of that example and why his anger was justified in that situation's circumstances. The bigger issue - "you have a bad temper, overall speaking" - is completely missed and lost by then.
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Old 11-26-2019, 05:28 PM
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Edit: Another problem is that, sometimes, some things can't be adequately explained by examples. For instance, you may find someone's behavior suspicious. But you can't specifically point to any one example, in and of itself, that would adequately suffice as proof. Giving examples doesn't work unless you cite, say, 10 or 15 examples to show a string-event pattern, and no one has the energy or time to do that.
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Old 11-26-2019, 06:39 PM
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I'm not sure it can be dealt with, for one very important reason: Such arguments are legitimate rebuttals of your argument. You have, presumably, brought forth the best example you can of what you are talking about. If that example can be picked apart to show it isn't what you think, it suggests that your argument isn't as strong as you think.

The rebuttal is to find another example without those deficiencies.

I will do this all the time with the SJW argument. The argument there is always that there is some sort of rash of SJWs taking over. So, by pointing out that what you see as SJW logic really isn't, I am rebutting your argument.
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Old 11-26-2019, 07:01 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Velocity View Post
For instance - say you are confronting a family member about his tendency to lose his temper. You bring up his bad temper, and he says, "Can you give an example?", and then you cite an instance where he recently threw a tantrum, but then he immediately latches on to that specific example and goes into a long detailed spiel about how his anger was fully justified in that particular situation's circumstances because This and This and That. This goes on for minutes and minutes.

Now, if you want, you can bring up another example, but then that turns into another 5-10 minute long surgical dissection of that example and why his anger was justified in that situation's circumstances. The bigger issue - "you have a bad temper, overall speaking" - is completely missed and lost by then.
It might not work, but in that kind of instance I might try to offer up the "identification" of several examples all at once then immediately transition into … and the point of all these is that X, Y, Z... not giving a chance to dissect the examples but steering the conversation back to the overall topic.

"Well sure family member A, there was the time 2 weeks ago when tantrum 1 happened, then 3 days later tantrum 2 happened, tantrum 3 was the very next day and then last week tantrum 4 happened...the point being that family members B and C didn't throw any tantrums at all for years but you had 4 in two weeks. Doesn't that seem like a big difference?
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Old 11-26-2019, 07:11 PM
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Originally Posted by Velocity View Post
For instance - say you are confronting a family member about his tendency to lose his temper. You bring up his bad temper, and he says, "Can you give an example?", and then you cite an instance where he recently threw a tantrum, but then he immediately latches on to that specific example and goes into a long detailed spiel about how his anger was fully justified in that particular situation's circumstances because This and This and That. This goes on for minutes and minutes.

Now, if you want, you can bring up another example, but then that turns into another 5-10 minute long surgical dissection of that example and why his anger was justified in that situation's circumstances. The bigger issue - "you have a bad temper, overall speaking" - is completely missed and lost by then.
But if you don't give an example, wouldn't they then just deny your accusation because you have no evidence for it?

If I can't provide evidence, in the form of specific examples, that a person has a bad temper, I don't think I'm entitled to claim that they do have a bad temper.

(And I think that's true in general (i.e. see? I'm not just doing what this thread is complaining about!): how is anybody supposed to know or accept that you have a valid point if you don't provide any evidence, in the form of examples, of that point?
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Old 11-26-2019, 07:16 PM
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Yup - in the case of someone who, in your view, has a tendency to lose their temper, you have to demonstrate the tendency - you have to show the pattern - which you can't do with a single example - so you provide a list of examples, and you describe how they are all similar - e.g. 'in every example, you were the first person in the discussion to start calling names' or whatever.

That's actually a really good case of 'example trap' - if the person says 'OK, give me one single example where I did that', you have to push back, explain that it isn't just one example, it's a pattern, and here's the pattern.
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Old 11-26-2019, 07:21 PM
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Originally Posted by Velocity View Post
Edit: Another problem is that, sometimes, some things can't be adequately explained by examples. For instance, you may find someone's behavior suspicious. But you can't specifically point to any one example, in and of itself, that would adequately suffice as proof. Giving examples doesn't work unless you cite, say, 10 or 15 examples to show a string-event pattern, and no one has the energy or time to do that.
This seems like a less strong scenario. If you have unfounded suspicions about someone, you probably ought to question your own motives. If your suspicions have some evidence, then we're back to the 'show the pattern' response.

I think the key point is that, you are not necessarily beholden to your opponent's demands in any debate or argument, because not everyone debates honestly, and even when people do debate in earnest, they still don't necessarily make coherent demands.

If 'one single example' is demanded, but you believe that is a trap, you should feel able to refuse the demand, explain why the demand is a trap, and set out your own case.
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Old 11-27-2019, 09:25 AM
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Yup - in the case of someone who, in your view, has a tendency to lose their temper, you have to demonstrate the tendency - you have to show the pattern - which you can't do with a single example - so you provide a list of examples, and you describe how they are all similar - e.g. 'in every example, you were the first person in the discussion to start calling names' or whatever.

That's actually a really good case of 'example trap' - if the person says 'OK, give me one single example where I did that', you have to push back, explain that it isn't just one example, it's a pattern, and here's the pattern.
But that's not how humans work. This is why it's so important to have written documentation of things like harassment--it's not that no one will believe you if it's not written down, it's that your own memory of exactly what happened tends to degrade over time.

So when kids say to their dad "It feels like at major family events, Christmas and holidays, are often ruined by you having temper tantrums and generally demanding everyone put your ideas about what the event should be like first" and dad says "Yeah? Give me an example", they likely can't give more than one or two clear ones, because it all blurs together. And since no one remembers exactly what happened, every example can be challenged. Same pattern for "you are drinking in a way that hurts the family" and "your approach to conflict resolution is ruining our relationship".

What's frustrating is when the person will ONLY accept a full set of unassailable examples as evidence, when the reality is that the feelings/impressions of the other party in the conversation are also a type of evidence. Not proof, perhaps, but not something to bee dismissed as baseless or useless if they can't provide concrete examples. If it's my impression that you yell at me until I cry whenever you don't get your way, there's a problem--even if I only have a handful of examples, and you think you have counterexamples.
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Old 11-27-2019, 11:54 AM
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Dunno. All I can say (and I am repeating myself) is: you are not necessarily beholden to the demands of your debating opponent.

People may demand something that You know full well will derail the argument; or they they may demand that you defend some caricature of your actual position, in an attempt to push you into an indefensible extreme - you do not have to comply.

You may not necessarily win by non-compliance, but you don't have to be forced to lose by foolish compliance either.

Last edited by Mangetout; 11-27-2019 at 11:58 AM.
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Old 11-27-2019, 12:08 PM
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Originally Posted by Velocity View Post
For instance - say you are confronting a family member about his tendency to lose his temper. You bring up his bad temper, and he says, "Can you give an example?", and then you cite an instance where he recently threw a tantrum, but then he immediately latches on to that specific example and goes into a long detailed spiel about how his anger was fully justified in that particular situation's circumstances because This and This and That. This goes on for minutes and minutes.

Now, if you want, you can bring up another example, but then that turns into another 5-10 minute long surgical dissection of that example and why his anger was justified in that situation's circumstances. The bigger issue - "you have a bad temper, overall speaking" - is completely missed and lost by then.
I run into that a lot with certain people. I believe they know they're cooked, and that they're attempting to gaslight their way off the hook.

Funny too, it always seems to involve a discussion about one's demeanor or temper.
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