Red Herring Logical Fallacy

What is The Red Herring Logical Fallacy?

The red herring logical fallacy is a common error in how we think and communicate with others. This is when we start with the intention of pursuing one topic, but get distracted or misled down a different path. This can easily happen as our brains are pretty good at bouncing from thought to thought and real concentration takes effort and discipline.

This is not simply changing the topic of a conversation, rather it is an evasion of the intention of the conversation itself. It means someone has diverted attention away from the topic at hand by bringing up a possibly related topic that doesn’t address the original intent.

Red Herring Logical Fallacy
Watch Out For Red Herrings

We often use red herrings ourselves or have them used on us. Most of us see it as simply how we naturally steer a conversation. But when it comes to important conversations that impact your life, you need to recognize what a red herring is and when it is being used on you to direct the outcome of the interaction.

Why Does The Red Herring Fallacy Matter?

Thinking is hard. Not the silly thinking we do around the house on a weekend when it doesn’t really matter, but the kind of clear, critical thinking that solves real problems, enhances our relationships and makes us successful in our jobs. The single most important tool you have for creating an amazing life is your ability to think clearly.

Red herrings are pernicious obstacles to your clear thinking. Problem-solving and decision-making will require the ability to stay focused on the task at hand and red herrings are the seemingly sensible distractions that derail real progress. You do it to yourself (how did you end up searching for beaches in Croatia), you will do it to others (as you try to avoid accountability) and others will relentlessly do it to you as they intentionally or unintentionally avoid commitment and accountability.

The Influence Of The Red Herring Logical Fallacy In Your Life

When it comes to pursuing tangible results in your life, you will choose and seek specific outcomes. Distractions from that objective are barriers to your success. Recognizing these distractions and not falling for them will dramatically improve your ability to achieve your selected goals. Essentially, learning to keep your eye on the prize despite what others are doing. This could be settling an argument with a girlfriend or persuading your boss to give you the maximum bonus this year.

The Red Herring Online

Where to begin? The Internet is one big red herring. If you want an example of how the mind natively works, just watch one of your own Google sessions. You started researching how to create an email campaign at work and minutes later you are on a page showing keto friendly cocktail recipes.

It is very easy to distract yourself online in what is essentially a self-inflicted red herring. You decide you want to get in better shape and you spend hour seaching workout routines and low carb diets. It feels like you’re working towards your goal, but you are doing work-like distraction I call ‘Fixin To Get Ready‘.

You can watch discussions on topics and see how people debate controversial topics by ignoring the strong points and answering different questions or changing the subject. Have you ever really read the comments on a controversial YouTube video? Not everyone’s mind works all that rationally. I would be careful with the Internet when it comes to learning about how to live a better life. Every opinion imaginable will be there with advocates willing to argue with certainty why they are right. Be selective about whom you trust and what you choose to believe.

And avoid online arguments. It’s really hard to change anyone’s mind. Yours included.

The Red Herring With Friends & Family:

These are the people that may want you to do things their way. Dad wants you to go back to graduate school or maybe lawschool (I’m not going to law school dad). You will have serious conversations with people trying to persuade you to their way of thinking. When persuasion is part of the intent, keep an eye out for red herrings. In fact, it might be you offering red herrings to avoid the grad school discussion. One possible solution might be to tackle the discussion head on as dad’s know when you’re avoiding the discussion they want to have. Something like, ‘Dad, I will not be going to graduate school or law school’. There, problem was addressed directly.

The Red Herring In Your Career

Start talking about critical thinking at work and your boss will love you. Learn about and speak of critical thinking on interviews and performance reviews. Employers recognize the importance of critical thinking with employees.

Your Boss Explaining Next Year’s Bonus Plan

Have you ever been behind on a work project and had to discuss your status in a meeting? You know how you said words that seemed to describe work and sounded like you were saying something, but you really weren’t saying all that much? You just served up a red herring salad. Some people get quite good at that. I recommend not relying on that too much. It annoys smart people.

You will want to develop the skills to recognize when others are doing that to you. It might be your boss avoiding discussing a raise or promotion or a subordinate serving you some red herring salad because they are behind on their work. You want to know when it’s happening and how you want to respond to it when it does. Don’t allow others to distract you from what you need to get done.

The Red Herring In Health & Fitness

Generally speaking, logical fallacies tend to refer to things you communicate to others or others to you. That said, I believe we can do this to ourselves as well. For example, researching workout routines and exercise regimens might feel like time committed to improving your health, but in reality you are sitting in front of the screen again, quite the opposite of any real exercise.

And going to the gym doesn’t build muscle, lifting heavy stuff does. Short workouts or long socials at a gym are distractions that don’t achieve the desired results.

And as you get older, it’s easy to evade your doctors questions or not ask about stuff you want to know. You’ll want to take a more direct approach about health issues and have candid talks about health issues. Trust me, it only gets worse as you age, so get on with it and talk plainly with health professionals.

The Red Herring In Relationships

Relationships involve some mighty complex communication. Topics are wide-ranging and of various levels of importance. I have often found myself hours into a tense conversation that started about one thing and was now about something new. In fact, sometimes I had no idea what it was about. This might be an indication that red herrings are working their way into the dialogue.

I have chased red herrings around, almost solving one issue, when another similar conversation erupts. Moving from topic to topic without resolving them as you go can be frustrating. I have learned to detect when red herrings surface and stop to finalize the prior issue before moving on to the next. This isn’t necessarily satisfying to my partner, but it stops it from coming back up again. Of course, the flaw in my thinking is that I’m trying to solve the problem and my partner may not see it as a problem to be solved and I’m not listening properly.

If a conversation starts turning tense as if conflict is building, it might be time to change tactics from regular analytical conversation. Sometimes conflicts (that look like arguments) are more about expressing than they are about winning. Consider the possibility that a point a partner may be expressing is not some point of fact to be settled, rather a thought to be shared and heard. This is often the difference between fixing a problem and listening to a partner.

On the other hand, I have raised issues of my own, and rather than concern and a sympathetic ear, I learn about three issues that have been on her mind. I have found this a frustrating form of red herring. I have been in relationships with women who have wanted to understand my concerns and others that wanted to dismiss them. It was if my unhappiness was intolerable, and they could not hear about it. Even with extensive couples therapy, I found myself unable to convey issues in pursuit of a positive outcome. Habitual use of red herrings in communicating in relationships might be reason for concern. I get frustrated just remembering these conversations.

The Red Herring Logical Fallacy In Personal Finances

Personal finance is both important and complicated in creating a great life for yourself. The world is full of people looking to separate you from your money. Combine that with the complexity of many investments and it can be overwhelming to get right.

Developing the ability to detect manipulation with confusing language and deceptive answers will help you avoid poor choices. You might be surprised to learn how compelling a timeshare (not recognized as a great investment) might sound from a real professional. When you detect you are getting ‘sold’ something, dial up the critical thinking real high.

An example might be the purchase of a house. You will hear about the ‘tax advantages’ of homeownership, but are unable to offer specifics. There is plausible deniability, of course, as real estate and loan agents can’t offer tax advice. But all the tax advantages have become less impactful over the years. The purchase of a house is massively complex on both personal and financial levels. Far too may have made horrible house purchase decisions that will cause hardship for many years.

Overcoming The Red Herring Logical Fallacy

The first step in handling red herrings is to recognize them when they happen and for the distraction they are. If you watch politicians answer direct questions, you can see how they often just answer the question they want to answer. It’s easy to detect when someone is clearly changing the subject. It can take more skill and focus to detect more subtle examples. Make it a habit to heighten your attention and focus when conversations are important, involve important people or turn to money.

When you detect a red herring, circle back to clarify the point of confusion. This also serves as notice that you are paying attention and that you will draw attention to attempts to distract from the topic at hand.

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