Debate Isn’t a Dirty Word

Business challenge

When a tragedy such as the Orlando mass shooting occurs, an inevitable rise in debate follows. The debating can get nasty, and just add to the negativity of an already overwhelmingly awful event. I wish this wasn’t so.

I love a friendly debate. Probably to a fault, I’ll carry on a debate long past the time when most people become uncomfortable. Recently I’ve found myself in some lengthy facebook-commenting debates, and while I definitely don’t think Facebook is the ideal forum for such discussions, I’ve appreciated the exchanges. What I’ve noticed however, is that it makes other people uncomfortable. In these situations and many others throughout my life, I’ve been encouraged by friends and loved ones to “just let it go”, or “just drop it”. I’ve even carried on debates to the point that the other person involved gets upset, leaving me feeling confused and ashamed because I never intended to offend anyone.

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The truth is, I have a really hard time walking away from a debate, and I admit it probably has something to do with ego, but there’s definitely more to it than that for me. I find it interesting how uncomfortable debate makes people, and I think it’s a shame. I think it contributes to lack of progress on a lot of issues.

We feel uncomfortable when our thoughts and beliefs are challenged. It feels threatening, as if people are insulting who we are as a person. It’s natural, but it shouldn’t be this way. We are not defined by our ideas so long as we’re willing to be flexible in them. Therefore, a challenge to your beliefs shouldn’t be felt as a personal attack, and yet we get so defensive. When we get defensive, we get emotional, and we stop using reason to uphold our beliefs and start using more drastic measures like abusive language or even behavior to tear down the other person.

Another possibility is that we “just drop it”. We “just drop it” because we want to avoid the discomfort of disagreeing, or being challenged, or maybe because we’re accepting/assuming that the other person will never change their mind. But maybe you’ll change your mind. Would that be so terrible? If we “just drop it” then we lose the opportunity of following any conflict through to a resolution.

The reason why I seldom “drop” a debate is because I embrace the discomfort of having my beliefs challenged. If there’s a valid reason why I should think differently, I want to hear it! If I “just drop it” I might never get to hear that reason, and then how can I be confident in my beliefs? Discomfort is a signal to me that I’m emotionally tied to my beliefs, and I should look carefully to see if my emotions are clouding my judgement. Few of us are experts on all of the relevant issues that come up for debate. I’ll be the first to admit I have opinions about issues that I haven’t researched exhaustively . So I try to be open to influence.

I never want to make someone that I’m disagreeing with feel offended, and I never mean to attack you as a person. If I’m critiquing your ideas, it’s not to make you look bad, it’s only because I’m trying your ideas on for size and seeing how they fit within my reason. I’m challenging your opinions, because I’m curious. I don’t understand or agree with your perspective, but if it stands up to challenge, maybe I will. If we want to find our common ground, we might need to explore an issue completely.

So that’s my little explanation/disclaimer to why I rarely back down from a debate, even though it probably makes me look like an a-hole. I think a debate ideally ends when one person is convinced, or both sides have exhausted their arguments and agree to disagree (or when the food is delivered to the table, cause ya know, priorities). I think it would do a world of good if we all learned to tolerate our discomfort with conflict, detach our identities from our beliefs and our emotions from our reasoning.

As I discuss in other posts about healthy communication being key to a healthy romantic relationship, so too is healthy communication key to a healthy nation. As I encourage couples;

  • Let’s address issues, while avoiding blame and criticism.
  • Let’s share about our differences and try to understand each other without vilifying the opposition.
  • If the emotional intensity of a debate gets too high, let’s take a break until cooler minds can prevail and we can get back to the issue at hand. L
  • et’s entertain the possibility that we could be wrong and be open to influence.
  • Most importantly, let’s remember to focus on where we can find common ground and work from there.

If we can shift our perspective about differences of opinions to opportunities instead of attacks, then I think we might actually get somewhere.

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6 thoughts on “Debate Isn’t a Dirty Word

  1. I think the reason why I’ve walked away from most political debates can be summed up in one sentence that I have said to myself many times as of late.

    “I want to talk you to but I can’t….because you don’t want to hear it!”

    I’m all for a friendly debate but nearly everyone I know is so dead set that they simply do not want to hear ANYTHING that they disagree with…and since I disagree with many people I know…I’m often seen as some kind of monster.

    • Thanks for the input Dan! I understand and empathize with your experience, which is partly why I wanted to write this – it’s so often the case that people get very defensive and it gets in the way of truly understanding each other! I can’t say I’ve never been guilty of it myself, but I think it’s something worth avoiding.

      • Thanks for the vote of Confidence Emma! It’s not that I don’t want to listen to the other side….but when they resort to plugging their ears and pretending not to hear me, or worse IMO, calling me names! That’s where I draw the line. So I don’t agree with everything you think? That doesn’t make me some kind of monster!

  2. I have to give you credit for not backing down from debates because I kinda did…..at least political debates. I did so because I go so sick of saying this over and over again.

    “I want to talk to you, like a civilized human being, but I can’t. And the reason I can’t is bcause you don’t want to hear it.”

    I think very VERY differently from most of my friends and I really did just get tired of felling like a misfit, our being shouted down because I don’t agree lock step with everyone else.

    What ever happened to “I may not always agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it!”

  3. I think what I said previously has sadly become worse than ever. No one wants to talk anymore. I decided to “just drop it” because I’m so sick and tired of being demonized for being who I am. I’m tired of being treated like I am less than human….and no one caring!

    Society wants me to feel like I’m worse than Satan. All I can think is “What did I ever do to deserve it?”

    • Have hope! Some people are indeed capable of productive and respectful conversation – they can just be harder to find, because they often don’t come across so loud and in-your-face as more narrow minded people. And indeed, there are people who will never be able to have this kind of discussion no matter how hard you try to meet them halfway. The challenge is knowing the difference!

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