There are a lot of important conversations to be held right now.* And you, we, may find ourselves getting into a lot of them, which is great! With this question to keep in mind: Is this indeed a conversation, a discussion, or even an argument? Or, instead, is it a debate?
For there is a distinction here.
A debate is a particular and specific thing. It is something that occurs between a few people (often two), on a stage (or otherwise in front of an audience) with the intent of making a case that then persuades an audience.
And that there is the big thing about a debate: it’s a performance. It’s an act designed to play to and then convince those watching. In many ways, it could even be said that debate is theater.
Which is fine! _IF_ that’s what our intent is in engaging with someone about a topic. And if we have an audience. Because without that audience, a debate is pretty much futile and a waste of time.
A debate is all about the outside. About that outward play. There’s no engagement. No communication happening between those involved. It’s not about consideration or growth or challenging or imagination or learning or refining or exploring or deepening or anything of the sort. It’s not contemplative at all. At best, it’s only about how do you destroy the other person’s argument. At worst (and maybe common), it’s about how do you destroy the other person. So out come all the rhetorical devices. Out come fallacies by the truck load. Out come traps and gotyas and buckets of dismissiveness. Ad hominems are deployed en masse.
Debates are something that are waged.
And for those participating in the debate, there’s no change. It’s a statis. The very thing to do in a debate, the very premise, is to reject, immediately and categorically, everything but your own view. Hunker down, put up sandbags, and deploy all weapons at anything and anyone that approaches.
Which is why getting into a debate with someone when there is no audience (and when the intent isn’t to play for the audience**) is such a worthless endeavour. We can lance at each other all night and it will be all for naught.
To truly affect the other, to bring forward contemplation and possibilities, to open up empathy and humanity, to bring clarity and awareness, to move the needle forward in so many areas needs great conversation and discussion. Even heated discussion! But discussion grounded in exchange, with a willingness for examination and consideration and reflection and thinking.
And when things veer towards debate, all that goes out the window. At that point, continuing – or even starting – is folly. Either work to bring things back towards discussion, or step away.
The same applies whether in person, over the phone, online, social media, whatever. If our authentic intent is to engage, then remaining watchful for thing sliding towards a debate (whether instigated by them or by ourselves) is important.
And if there’s no willingness to remain within the realm of contemplation, then we can save everyone’s time, energy, and passion by ignoring or walking away, and giving our time, energy, and passion to those who are willing and whom we can reach.
* And a lot of important listening…
** This is important to remember on a social media platform. We may think “haha, I’m debating this person for the masses!” but are we, really? Is this really an effective debate venue? Are those watching more apt to become part of the debate (and thus bunker down) rather than contemplate and engage?