Spirited Debate: A How-To Primer in the Days of Social Media

Posted: January 21, 2018 by The Proversation

If there’s one thing it seems you are not supposed to talk about in public, it’s POLITICS. It’s not for the dinner table. It’s not for parties. It’s not for the workplace. It’s not for social engagements. It’s not proper talk on a first date. It’s not proper talk on the 10,000th date. We are just not supposed to talk about politics anymore.

It wasn’t always the case in this great nation of ours. Before electronic media, debates were part of public discourse, and were often staged events that occurred in the Town Hall and people would attend for entertainment. Debate was encouraged.

I suppose that all started to change with the evolution of electronic media. Once we were tuned in to what someone else was saying—a broadcaster—the other voices in the room immediately played second fiddle.

Television was an even more compelling medium. It changed not only the way we listen, it changed the way we did EVERYTHING. Even our dining habits were impacted with families opting to watch during meals rather than talk like they did in the old days.

It’s no wonder then, I suppose, that when it comes to debate, we’ve lost our touch. Debate is a very perishable skill—use it or lose it. With much to do being made today over the tribal nature of our society at large, I thought it might be useful to refresh our minds about how to have spirited discussion and how to disagree with another person without it turning into a brawl.

When having a debate the first rule is that only one person can talk at a time. I know this runs contrary to everything we’ve seen on Jerry Springer, but the fact is that if two people are talking, then nobody is listening. The onus is on you. If you are choosing to discuss a topic, then it is up to you to allow the other person to speak and to make it clear that you are respecting their space in the debate. By ‘staying in your lane’ and allowing your challenger to clearly make their points, you will have a greater likelihood of the challenger doing the same. Listen to your rival. They may say something useful that will help you make your point. Or not. But by allowing them space to make their points freely and truly listening rather than simply waiting for your chance to jump in, you increase the chances of a respectful exchange of opposing ideas.

Always speak from your own personal experiences and avoid generalizations. Your experience is yours and that is what is unique that you have to offer. Avoid blanket statements. Don’t make assumptions. It is better to ask questions when you are uncertain of the factuality of your information.


I capitalize this rule because it’s that important. Don’t think of your challenger as an enemy or even an opponent. Remember that usually your challenger often shares an end goal with you (say, a better, stronger America for example), they just have a different means to an end than you do. I encourage you to listen intently to someone you disagree with. You may find common points of interest that afford you an inroad into consensus. If not, you will hone your argument so that you can clearly articulate what makes your idea more appropriate or workable than your challenger’s.

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