That Old Ad Hominem

Voice teachers love to talk about singing. It’s the bread and butter of our existence, and we can’t often help occasionally ‘crossing swords’ with other teachers in doing so.

While I am a lover of peace, I think that frank, honest discussion in our community is vital. This is especially true in weeding out the Garden of Bad Ideas. Many teachers carry assumptions and assertions into discussions with others, and when they meet someone who does not share in those opinions, the teacher will become ‘egoic’ and insulted.

They have identified with their thinking, and projected their thinking as a reflection of their core selves. Something like, “If you disagree with me, then you don’t like me and are an adversary.” Counterargument makes the teacher feel threatened, and that fear is primitive. No one likes to be ‘shown up’ or ‘found in error’ in their teaching or singing. It can be a threat to one’s sense of self, and everything one knows.

But guess what?

That’s where learning takes place. 

If I only heard opinions that supported mine at all times, that would be great, but it wouldn’t really make me think or learn a whole lot. Where would be the motivation?

I once had a friend in graduate school who gave the impression of ‘knowing everything’ about opera and classical music. So, when we would talk I would often feel ‘out-gamed’ by this person, and the discussions and arguments we had caused me to hit the library and research what I thought I knew, to come up with more knowledge and understanding for myself.

Had we both agreed the entire time, then there would have been no further exploration on my part. For that matter, I wouldn’t have studied, because there was no impetus for me to question my own (mutually agreed upon) ideas.

HOWEVER…

It’s important that as teachers we understand the concept of the ad hominem argument.

If a person has a bad idea, or a bad premise, that does not de facto make them a bad person. As voice teachers we need to be able to criticize ideas, even bad ones, without fear that we are ‘hurting someone’s feelings.’ There are bad ideas in pedagogy, and we are not all after the same ‘thing,’ much to the chagrin of the collectivist.  In this Internet age, where everyone has a voice at the table, we have to be able to question any and all ideas with regard to pedagogy. Do those beliefs stand up in the light of what we know about the function and workings of the voice?

I take a quote from Christopher Hitchens here. It serves me well when considering the idea of debate in vocal pedagogy:

Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses.

However, to attack a teacher’s CHARACTER, or cast aspersion upon them as a human being (kind, nice, generous, caring, loving) is to commit the logical fallacy of ad hominem, and that really has NO place in our teaching or interacting with others.

 

 

 

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One thought on “That Old Ad Hominem

  1. Well done! Ad hominem and other weak forms of argumentation (debate/discussion) are all too common. See Mortimer J. Adler’s book “How to Speak, How to Listen.” The title rather speaks for itself. Excellent guidance contained therein. … Differing opinions need not be feared. Doubt, uncertainty, “agnosticism” all have their place and value, in vocal pedagogy, and elsewhere. So, we keep our conversations going in an attitude of mutual respect.

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