Chapter 4 - Diversion Tactics

Questioning - Before You Ask

Revised Sept. 21, 2003

Before You Ask - Chapter 4

Diversion Tactics

A diversion is anything that diverts or distracts the attention. Countless, ingenuous ploys have been used down through the ages to direct attention away from the subject at hand. Frequently, diversions are used when one is backed into a corner, losing ground or face, in the hot seat, or feels uncomfortable with the present. Diversions may be useful, welcome, obvious, amusing, devious or creative. Everyone has at times deliberately created a diversion. When we offer candy to a crying child with a skinned knee, we are making an attempt to divert the child's attention away from his pain. Shoplifters often use an accomplice to create a diversion and distract attention from the shoplifter. In a conversation, changing the subject or focus usually diverts attention away from the subject.

If your goal is to get your Question answered, you need to be a good judge of replies. Some replies to sincere Questions are merely Diversions -- NOT answers. If they know the answer -- why don't they just tell it to you, instead of trying to get out of the Question? That's all you want -- a straight answer! Now, why on earth would someone deliberately try to divert your attention when you have asked a sincere Question? To get out of answering the Question is obvious.

I've come up with only three possible reasons why someone would try to get out of answering a Question.

  1. He doesn't want to answer it, or
  2. He doesn't know the answer.
  3. He knows the answer, and wants to answer, but the fear of loss or of a consequence from someone having power over him are so great that he will not tell the truth. He's afraid to answer.

When the workers can't provide scriptural evidence and reason for accepting their practices and beliefs, they usually try to get off the hook. They cast around for a diversion because they don't want to say "I don't know," or admit that many of the required behaviors are not based on scriptural truth, but rather on their traditions. When reasons are scarce or lacking...many look for a diversion since it provides a way out without losing face.

A totally irrelevant wisecrack has broken up many good discussions! A tip of the slung (slip of the tongue), can be quite diverting; i.e. such spoonerisms as: "For now we see through a dark, glassly..." (1 Cor 13:12). "Our Lord is a shoving leopard." "May Sod rest his goal." So it should not come as a surprise that humor or ridicule are occasionally intentionally introduced into a conversation in an effort to divert your attention away from your Question. While the humorous remark may be vastly amusing and very much diverting, nevertheless, it is usually irrelevant to your Question, which is sincere and deserves consideration. Press on until you get a satisfactory answer!

Saved by the Bell!
When the going gets tough -- the tough get going!

Suppose you have asked a Question that is important to you. The other person takes control of the conversation and talks non-stop at great length about some irrelevant side issue. You don't interrupt because you assume there will be plenty of time to adequately cover your Question. (Bad practice -- assuming!) You automatically defer to their authority and remain respectfully quiet while they lead the conversation completely astray. Surely, down the line somewhere, they will tie their rambling narrative into your Question. However, suddenly they stand up and say, "Sorry, our time's up, we've got to go now!" Then, they take their leave, appearing quite pleased with themselves.

Afterwards recalling the conversation, you realize, "I STILL don't have the answer to my Question!" What happened? You were taken! That's how far your deference and respect took you! They talked all around your Question, without ever actually answering it. They managed a successful diversion. They distracted your attention until their time ran out, and they were off the hook -- saved by the bell! The explanation was like parallel parking on a busy street. It started, proceeded, stopped, edged forward, backed up, as time zoomed past you. To keep this from happening, it's a good idea to find out at the beginning of the visit exactly how long they will be able to visit with you.

Beware! No matter what age you are, it is not uncommon to fall under the spell of those you consider to be your superiors or those in authority, and this respect holds you back from interrupting or taking control of a conversation. If you are intent on getting an answer to your Question, you may have to steel yourself to interrupt, and steer the conversation back to the subject you wish to discuss. Doing so may make you seem rather impatient or childish, but it's practically the only way to get your Question answered -- be tenacious.

Books about salesmanship point out that the longer a person interacts with you, especially one who wants to convince you of something, the more indebted to him you feel. The more time you allow to elapse in irrelevant conversation, the more inclined you are to agree with him, the less inclined you are to challenge him, and the more guilty you feel rejecting his explanation. To avoid this pitfall, just don't let the discussion stray for long. Interrupt, take control and bring the discussion back to the subject.

The Red Herring
When the going gets tough -- change the subject!

In hunting fox, sometimes a herring (a fish) would be dragged across the hound's path to divert the hound from pursuing the scent of the fox. Distracted, the hounds would follow the scent of the herring and forget all about their original goal -- the fox. From this underhanded practice, the expression Red Herring was coined, and it has come to signify the act of deliberately changing the subject and diverting the course of a conversation.

If a Red Herring is successful, the initial topic will be dropped, and instead, the Red Herring topic will be picked up and discussed. We all resort to using a Red Herring occasionally. When we're in hot water, we change the subject! When our position is proving weak, we change the subject. When something makes us uncomfortable, we change the subject. The object of a Red Herring is to persuade you to voluntarily drop your concern, investigation or Question, and focus on something else. There are many variations of Red Herrings, but they all have in common that they take one away from the original goal, which, in this case, is the Question you would like to have answered.

Examples of Red Herrings:

Q: When did this fellowship actually start?
A: (Red Herring:) "I can't tell you that, but I CAN tell you about the time when the gospel came to my family in 19..."

Q: You say long hair for women is doctrine and not tradition. Yet, Dale X told me that long hair for women was not doctrine. Don't the workers agree on what is and is not doctrine??
A: (Red Herring:) "Ah, yes, Dale and I were companions for X years back in 19XX in the state of X; and then again in 19XX for another year. I remember one time when Dale blah--blah--blah (off with a diversion).

Q: Where did this doctrine start?
A: (Red Herring:) "It first came to us over 60 years ago. I thought it started in Canada, because the one that brought the gospel to us was from Canada. We had never heard of it before, and we inquired of him, 'Where did you hear this?' He said, 'We heard it from someone that came from Ireland or Scotland.' We listened to that Gospel. 'Where did it start?' It started in Heaven, and we are thankful that this Truth came from Heaven that we have accepted today."

Q: (to sister worker) "Have you ever heard of a man called William Irvine?"
A: (Red Herring:) "Jerry, what have you been reading?!!"

Q: "It really doesn't matter; what I want to know is did 'the truth' start with William Irvine?"
A: (Red Herring:) "Who told you that?!!"

Q: "I'm not at liberty to say. I just want to know if it is true?"
A: (Diversion attempt:) "Absolutely not! I heard Linda isn't going to meetings now. How do her folks feel about that?"

Q: (Stunned at her lie, but determined to keep the conversation on track:) "Aunt Frances, I didn't call to talk about Linda. I called because I have some Questions I wanted to ask you which have really been troubling me. I want to know who William Irvine was? And why do some people say he started the truth?"

Q: "I read a book called The Secret Sect. Is what it says true?"
A: (Red Herring) "I know someone who read that book, and they said it made their faith grow even stronger."

Q: If that's the case, why aren't the workers handing it out to all the friends to read then? (Turns the tables)

Replies to Red Herring Fallacies

It's far better to give everyone the benefit of a doubt, rather than to assume that an irrelevant reply to your Question is a deliberate Diversion attempt. You're far more likely to reach your goal and get your question answered when you treat people with respect. Make certain of your facts before you accuse anyone. They may have truly misunderstood your Question. If this is so, when you point out the reply didn't answer your Question, they will verify the Question, and reply with a straight answer. And you save yourself the embarrassment of making the false accusation.

Technique: Don't become diverted or distracted from your purpose, which is to get your Question answered. Come back to your Question, like a boomerang. GET BACK ON TRACK. If their reply addressed a point other than the one you asked about:

  1. Point out the subject they addressed
  2. Point out the subject of your Question
  3. Point out (1) and (2) are not the same topic
  4. Therefore, their reply doesn't answer your Question.
  5. Ask your Question again and ask for a simple/direct answer to it.

Replies: The Burden of Proof

When it is pointed out that a reply is irrelevant, beside the point, off the subject, doesn't answer the Question, etc, some may look amazed and ask: "How so?" or "Why Not?" They may challenge you, saying something like: "I don't see how you can say my answer is irrelevant. Why do you say that?" OR: "I didn't answer your Question? I sure thought I did. It's perfectly clear to me. I don't know how I can make it any clearer."

The reason their reply is irrelevant is because it did not answer your Question. Remember, the Burden of Proof is on THEM -- not you. It is THEIR responsibility to show you how their reply answers your Question. Some possible replies pointing out irrelevance are:

Red Herring: Reminders

TIP: Many times a Red Herring will begin with: That reminds me of X... Some Red Herrings are simply repetitions of statements made by a highly, revered worker. For example: Well I remember one time Willie Jamieson told us..; OR: George Walker used to say... Talking about something that is a reminder of the subject under discussion, can only lead the conversation FURTHER away from your Question. Stick to your guns and stay on the track. You may use this excellent line of reasoning to gently lead them back to the standard you want to be used, the Bible, God's Word, rather than the word of the workers.

Q. "Can workers fail? Or are they infallible?"
A. "No, they're not infallible"

Q. "Then, since workers are fallible, and it is possible they could fail, for the purpose of this discussion, let's stick to the Bible, God's Word alone, so we can be sure to keep any possibility of human error out of this. Let's go to Willie Jamieson's foundation. What Scripture supports his statement?"
Red Herring: Advice

Some reply to a Question by giving advice. "What YOU need to do is..." They always know better than you do! They talk down to you. They minimize what you think or have been doing; and maximize their knowledge and methods as being superior to yours. According to them, all you need to do is turn from doing what is wrong (what you're doing) and do what is right (what they recommend), and you'll have your answer! Advice is thinly veiled criticism.

Frequently, the advice given is: go to meetings regularly; come back to meetings; just keep coming to meeting and the Spirit will reveal it to you; get right with God; read and pray more; submit more; burn those books and read your Bible; try harder; stop questioning; drop the subject. For example: Some things you have to accept in faith. You don't have enough faith! You haven't been reading the Scriptures and praying enough.

Technique: Just ignore the advice. Don't let it get your back up, and don't get sidetracked into discussing it. If you can agree with it, do so. (Agree with thine adversary quickly.) Boomerang back to your Question. What about it? You don't want to wait for the answer. You would like the answer NOW. If it could be spoken and heard in meeting -- then it can be said and heard here and now. Why must you hear the answer within the limited framework of a meeting? Jesus and Paul answered Questions when they were asked. Further, Paul even answered Questions in writing.
Red Herring: Counter-Questions

Instead of answering your specific Question, some will pose a counter-Question, sometimes playing for time or information. The counter-Question shifts the Burden of Proof back to the Questioner. DON'T accept it! It's not your responsibility to prove their position -- it's theirs! A conclusion stands or falls on its OWN merits, not because it cannot be/has not been proven false. For example:

Q: Can you give me one good reason I should believe X?
A: Can you give me one good reason NOT to believe X?

When your Question asks for their supporting reasons for a belief or practice, it's up to them to prove their position. You don't have to disprove it, or show how it is lacking or wrong at all, if you don't choose to. As God's servants, they are the teachers. You're asking for the reason they believe or do something; reasons to support their position, conclusion or practice. Either they have good reason, or they do not. If you are to hold this same position or belief, you must know their reason behind it and evaluate it for yourself.
Examples of Red Herrings Using Counter-Questions:

Replies to Red Herrings Using Counter-Questions

Technique: Don't get taken up with their counter-Question. You don't have to answer a question just because you were asked. Ignore it. Refuse to play their game. Don't let them put the monkey on your back. Would they reply to an outsider with a counter-Question? You deserve no less consideration. Put the Burden of Proof back on them. They claim they follow the Bible only. Unless there is Scriptural support for a belief/practice, it is merely an assertion, preference or opinion.

Red Herring: Minimizing Significance
It doesn't's really not important

Sometimes Questions are brushed off as unimportant, irrelevant and not worthy of an answer. A mountain-size Question may be reduced to a mole hill. Some replies cut a pine tree down to a pine needle. Some replies major in the minors. The Red Herring diversion minimizes your present concern (X), and reinterprets it as insignificant. At the same time, you are encouraged to appreciate or maximize another subject (Z). Don't look there -- instead, look over here! The goal is not only to redirect your attention, but also to change your focus and perspective. Don't you see? What you are distressed about (X) doesn't matter at all -- THIS other thing (Z) is what really matters. What you need to do is decrease your concern for (X) and increase your concern for (Z). Your perspective is off, you see. You are making way too much of too little, and far too little of much. It's not (X) that is important, but rather (Z)! Your priorities are out of order; your perspective is out of kilter; you're making a big deal out of nothing; X is not worthy of the attention you're giving it. You're out of sync! Ideally, they hope you will buy their outlook, drop yours, and go away quite happy with the exchange.

Those who admit that William Irvine was the founder usually use some variation of the fallacious reasoning tactic Red Herring to talk down the significance of William Irvine's role in the fellowship. Does anything really change if you decide to call a skunk a rose? Minimizing a lie (skunk) doesn't really change the fact that a lie was and is still being told. Regardless of whether it's called a rose or a skunk, a lie still stinks! When you thought you were buying into the authentic, original way Jesus started, you were willing to pay dearly for this pearl of great price. Later, you found out you were intentionally sold a mess of pottage -- in exchange for your very LIFE! You can't replace those lost years, can't relive your childhood, can't erase your needless suffering and pain you endured or make up those missed experiences -- nor those you put your children through. You endured misery for happiness that should have been yours, except for the lie. Your joy was taken from you. None of that is important? Their intentions were good? They meant well? Doesn't change a thing. You were robbed! You endured pain and suffering. You have a right to righteous indignation that this fraud and farce is being carried out in the name of the truth of God! Don't feel one bit guilty if you are angry. You won't go wrong fighting against what God hates -- and God hates a lying tongue and a false witness.

Importance, significance, value and priority are matters of opinion -- not fact. They are individually ascertained and cannot be proven. You have a right to beg to differ with anyone's opinion as to what is and is not important. How can evidence be considered unimportant that proves you were intentionally deceived? Would a court find the evidence unimportant that proved a car dealership had deceived you regarding the mileage of one of their cars you purchased? Irvine's role IS of maximum importance because it proves the lie, the deception. When confronted with evidence proving he has lied, a liar has three choices: admit it, deny it or evade the Question. This article uncovers several common evasions used to avoid the Question. If they know the answer -- why don't they just tell it to you, instead of trying to get out of the Question? That's all you want -- a straight answer!

Examples of Red Herring: Minimizing Significance

Question: "Who started this fellowship and when?"
Replies to this Question often minimize William Irvine's role, and emphasize something else.

Some examples are:

Replies to Red Herring: Minimizing Significance

How do you rate, rank or judge importance? Importance is individually ascertained, and is a matter of opinion. Someone baiting you with a Red Herring shrinks the importance of your concerns and blows something else all out of proportion. Since your goal is to get your question will be spinning your wheels if you get taken up discussing the value or importance they are boosting or demoting. It's not something that can be proven beyond all doubt -- importance is a judgment call, a value and not fact. You could argue all day about the importance something deserves -- and never prove it. However, no one can argue against or deny your feelings. They are yours. You are entitled to them. You feel exactly how you feel, no matter what anyone else says. No contest. Period. You do not have to accept the value others place on something -- it is their opinion.

Technique: For most topics, you can let it be known that you consider the values they expressed a matter of opinion. You're after facts -- not opinions, experiences, preferences, etc. What you consider important IS important to you, but you don't have to prove why. It's your choice -- values are choices. It's up to you. You may or may not choose to point out why William Irvine is important. You do not have to accept the value others place on Irvine's founding role. Nor are you obligated to argue how you feel or think concerning it. But, if you want to, go ahead and let it be known that you (emphatically/unequivocally) do not agree with their opinion regarding what is or is not important. Be aware, however, that in doing so, you are taking their bait (Red Herring), which can lead you away from your Question on a wild goose chase, especially if the other takes issue with your view.

The evidence that proves William Irvine was the founder is (no doubt about it!) EXTREMELY important/significant since it proves you were intentionally deceived. Drawing an analogy usually proves this point very well. Try illustrating how important it would be to them to find out something they believe is valuable or important is not true.

For example: Would they like to know it if the bank where they had their life savings had for its president a man who had a criminal record for embezzling? Would it be important for them to know this? If they had their preference, when would they like to know this fact? The sooner the better? Before they began to put their money in that bank? WHY? What difference would that have made? The answer is that they would have evaluated the situation differently. Well, feeling much the same way, you wish you had known much sooner that the belief system/church you had been investing your whole life in had for its founder a man who made false prophecies, was mentally unbalanced and also a womanizer. Just like them, you would have evaluated the situation in a different light, had you known. Would it comfort them to be told not to worry; that people aren't always perfect -- but just trust us -- the bank is solid! Here you've been investing your time, money and very life in this 2x2 belief system for years, believing it had a solid foundation, and now you find out the founder has a sordid, questionable past. This is why this matter is important to you. You've been trusting something that isn't trustworthy, etc. If you'd known earlier, it would have saved you much unnecessary loss, pain and suffering. If any of you readers come up with some other analogies, please send them to Telling The Truth.

Red Herring: Clichés & Slogans
Canned Statements

Lousy logic is a more palatable when it is sloganized. Adages, slogans, platitudes and maxims are sometimes given in reply to a Question. However, a general saying of unknown origins is far from being an unquestionable authority and should not be accepted as a good reason. Many accept familiar axioms, sayings and proverbs as valid proof, but they aren't. Acceptance proves nothing.

Just because someone coined a cliché doesn't mean they were correct in their observations. Every adage cannot be true. In fact, for many adages offered to support an argument, there is another cliché saying the reverse is true! For example:

Examples of Red Herring: Clichés & Slogans

Q: Do you believe in the doctrine of the trinity? A: Yes, and I would explain this teaching by John 15 and 17.
A: Yes, we sing a song (Cease Not) that mentions the Father, Son and Spirit -- these three are one. (NOTE: This hymn was omitted from the 1987 hymnbook!)

Replies to Red Herring: Clichés & Slogans

Technique: Ask for clarification or for the speaker to rephrase the statement. Ask for scripture to support the saying they are giving as a reason. Many times they are merely parroting phrases they've heard over the years, and they haven't ever really examined what the phrase is saying or means. In other words, they don't even know what they are really saying, or realize that their statement is full of holes or does not apply. "How does that saying tie into what we are discussing?"

In Closing...

Whether or not a Diversion attempt will be successful is up to you, as the hearer! When your goal is to get your Question(s) answered, you need to be a good judge of replies. Does the reply you received actually answer your Question? If you can stand off and objectively look at a reply, carefully scrutinizing it from all angles, the possibility of your getting hurt or losing face in the questioning process is far less. When you stand off and look at something -- you're not engaging your emotions. You cannot be objective and emotional at the same time. Try it on something and prove it for yourself.

Further Recommended Reading:

Vigilant Listening - The Importance of Developing Critical Listening Skills
By Kevin N. Daniel

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