TENDENTIOUS: Marked by a strong implicit point of view; partisan

As many times as I have heard (and used!) the word tendentious I’ve never gotten it exactly right.  For some reason, I have thought the word was related to tentative.   Consequently, my use and understanding of it lacked the strength of meaning appropriately attributed to it.

I read the word in an article in the Times the other day and something about the way the journalist used it led me to suspect that I was mistaken.  When I did some research on tendentious I discovered that I was way off base.  Like far enough off base to be similar to David Ortiz trying to steal home.  That far off base!

To make a tendentious argument for something is to demonstrate an inordinate amount of self-assurance as to attempt to overwhelm those who might be in disagreement with you.  It is that “I am right and you are wrong” type of argument.  I don’t know about you, but this type of argumentation loses me at that point.  The debate is no longer about the issue at hand; it has become a tussle for power.

When I studied elementary philosophy a hundred years ago I remember becoming fixated on the discussion of value judgments. The understanding was that a person will, by nature, develop certain values that he or she will ascribe to specific issues.  Those values may define what a person believes to be correct or incorrect.  However, when that person inflicts that value on someone else and requires them to adhere to it, it becomes a value judgment. What has been compromised is objectivity…the willingness to consider options.

I don’t handle value judgments well, wanting to have a discussion in which a variety of approaches can be explored.  That works just fine if there is time for such a discussion.  If it can remain in the realm of academic debate or philosophical exploration, it is a commendable attribute.  However, if an immediate decision is required, such a discussion gets in the way, and a subjective answer is required.  There are times when that is appropriate, but as I age and the dialogues in which I engage become more academic, it is becoming an uncomfortable form of interaction.

A tendentious argument on behalf of something can be an extension of a value judgment.  The proponent feels so strongly about something that it becomes overwhelming, and there is a need on their part to convert the thinking of the person with whom the conversation is being held.  While I recognize that I may slip into that role from time to time, I find it less and less attractive to me.  I am more inclined to slow down these days and consider the options.  When that isn’t on the agenda of the person with whom I am having the discussion, it becomes uncomfortable.  The antidote is patience and respectful tolerance.  I have to work on that.

Definition Credit:The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language

Graphic Credit:  Istockphoto.com

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