Advocating for the devil’s advocate

Casey Miles
Photo by Casey Gomez

The term “devil’s advocate” originated in the Roman-Catholic Church as one who took a skeptic’s view toward the canonization of a candidate for sainthood. Today, the word and position have lost much of the weight and meaning they once carried.

The world needs more devil’s advocates, people who will take the less-argued side as a means of understanding or raising points that haven’t been raised. This problem stems from the fact that people are surrounding themselves with like-minded individuals, creating a problem with diversity of opinion.

The benefits for anyone playing the Devil’s Advocate are twofold: strengthening your own arguments and giving insight into how those who disagree with you think. By arguing from the opposite side of the one you truly agree with, you open the opportunity to spot inaccuracies or inconsistencies that may hold your argument down.

Additionally, the clarity that you gain on your own points can also be gained on those of your opposition.

While both benefits are compelling, playing devil’s advocate is easier said than done. Arguing from the opposition’s point of view requires effort and careful practice. Too often, people will only exacerbate misunderstandings.

Usually, when people play the role improperly, they exaggerate the worst qualities they see in the argument instead of the most cogent points, resulting in more animosity towards the opposition and a bigger gap in understanding. That’s why everyone should work on becoming a devil’s advocate in various situations so that they can get feedback on whether they’re doing it effectively.

A solid example of this is one of the professors I currently have in a management class. His goal as stated at the beginning of the class is, “to make it so that you don’t know my leaning on any issue.” He plays the devil’s advocate perfectly by first acknowl edging that the views he expresses are not necessarily how he truly feels, and by properly representing the core views expressed by possible dissenters.

For example, proponents of globalization argue that the loss in low-paying jobs incurred in a country can be offset by high-paying jobs that would enter the country due to other countries having larger incomes to spend on higher quality goods. A dissenter of globalization would argue that low-paying jobs must be preserved so jobs are not leaving the country.

Overall, playing the devil’s advocate should lead to more educated and empathetic arguments over important issues. By educating yourself on both sides of an issue, you open yourself to viewpoints you may not have considered while possibly steeling convictions you already had, leading to more productive debates and a better understanding of both (or multiple) perspectives.