A reporter gives one side of the story and then, to be 'fair', finds an advocate for the opposite side. But what if the truth lies somewhere in the middle? Why do we see everything as either / or? In the media, in politics (particularly in the House of Commons), in our classrooms and courtrooms, issues are taken up in adversarial debate between opposite extremes rather than discussed and explored. This pervasive warlike atmosphere encourages us to believe that opposition is the best way to get anything done: the best way to explore an idea is to set up a debate; the best way to settle disputes is litigation; the best way to show you're really thinking is to criticise and attack. Tannen once again brilliantly identifies a mode of communication - the argument culture - that is getting in the way of understanding and needlessly polarising us.
Best-selling author Deborah Tannen is University Professor and Professor of Linguistics at Georgetown University. She has also been McGraw Distinguished Lecturer at Princetown University. She and her husband live in Virginia.