Today’s society can be tough to exist in; sometimes it can be downright cruel. People seem to have forgotten their manners and seldom debate or discuss issues to the point of enlightenment any longer. Though this is an observation based on my own experiences and not a scientific study, I have a feeling I’m not alone in thinking this way. The purpose of this article is to suggest ways we can be more courteous and effective when debating or discussing an issue and, perhaps, better serve humanity in doing so.
Respect an opposing view. – How many times have your heard someone say, “I respect your opinion, but…“, and then proceed to maliciously insult and abuse the person with whom they disagree? If you truly respect someone’s opinion, you will not verbally attack that person. If you respect a person’s opinion, you will take the time to learn about their opinions as well as how they came to be made. The next time you use the phrase, “I respect your opinion, but…” be sure you follow it with intelligent and courteous reasons for why you disagree. To do otherwise, shows a shallowness that will not reflect kindly on you
Avoid emotionally charged words. – When one resorts to emotionally charged words such as racial, ethnic, political and religious slurs or generalizations, one loses credibility and the debate. Emotionally charged words twist debates and discussions into chaotic, emotional arguments. Avoid using titles in a derogatory manner, such as calling someone a liberal, neocon, baby killer, zealot, etc. Ask yourself if a title serves any purpose other than to insult a person (or a group of people), if it does, then feel free to use it, but without sarcasm. Avoid sweeping statements that attribute, usually despicable, behaviors to a group of people that have no foundation in fact.
Avoid personal attacks. – When discussing or debating an issue, avoid any and all personal attacks against the other person. This courtesy seems to be completely forgotten in this day and age. It seems that anyone who disagrees with another person is fair game for personal attacks. Resorting to personal attacks belittles your opinion and shows that you cannot debate an issue on your own merit, so veer away from personal attacks, remain courteous and stick to the subject.
Treat others as you would have them treat you. – This is something most people are taught from the time they are born. To treat someone else as you would have them treat you is to offer respect and courtesy without requiring the other person to first prove, to you, that they are worthy of such efforts. Respect may be something that has to be earned, but it will not be returned if not offered in the first place. Think about this for a moment. If everyone treated everyone else badly, because respect had not been earned, then there would never be a chance for that person to earn respect, thusly, nobody would be treated well. It’s a catch 22, but it’s true.
Avoid innuendo. – Innuendo is usually an indirect or subtle derogatory insinuation or implication. Using innuendo allows you to insult someone without specifically stating your insult. Not only is this rude, it is also a poor way to debate or discuss an issue because, once again, it turns the debate from fact to emotion, which derails the debate or discussion. Refrain from innuendo when debating or discussing any issue. If you have a specific accusation that is pertinent to the issue, then present it in an intelligent and civil manner.
Do not attribute untruthful, distasteful or criminal beliefs or actions to others as if they were true. How many times have you listened to a debate on the television news and heard one side or the other attribute derogatory and untrue actions or beliefs to the other person as if they were fact? An example would be stating something like, “conservatives support the war in Iraq is because they want to steal the oil” or “liberals oppose the war in Iraq because they want America to lose“. These statements are not only ridiculous and rude, but they also serve to derail the debate or discussion and twist it into a heated, emotional argument. Emotion may lead you to jump to conclusions about another person or group, but that does not make those conclusions true. Present only factual data in debates and discussions if you want them to be beneficial to you and others in any way.
Remain in the present not in the past. Accusing others of being racists or other derogatory things based on the past actions of their race, religion or political party is tedious and rude. One of the most wonderful things about humans is their capacity to learn from failure and past mistakes. Though there are some people who never learn, the majority do. To continue to attach bad, historic behavior to modern representatives of a specific race, religion or political party is not only gratuitous but also iniquitous. This tip also applies to friends and family. Unless a person actually continues to make the same mistakes and bad decisions repeatedly, do not act as if they do. This kind of behavior does not serve anyone and can actually cause harm instead of supporting your point of view.
Know your point and be prepared to support your point of view with some type of evidence. When debating or discussing an issue, it is important to have a point of view that you believe in and can support with evidence of some sort. Not only does this benefit you, but it also benefits others who are participating in or listening to the debate or discussion. If you try to argue a point that you know nothing about, you will not be able to convince anyone to agree with that point of view and will most likely succeed in making yourself look very ignorant. Take some time to research your point of view so you can truly embrace it and support it with some degree of accuracy. Not understanding your own point of view is a disservice to yourself and the person you are debating.
Know when to cede a point. Intelligent people learn from debate and discussions with other people. Many times, a debate or discussion will convince you that your point of view is no longer valid. If this happens, it is very important that you cede the point with grace and courtesy. To do otherwise will make you appear to be petty and ignorant. Try to remember that the point of a debate or discussion is to create solutions for problems or to convince someone of a different way of thinking. If you forget the purpose of a debate or discussion then you will not accomplish anything but angering or hurting someone.
Agree to disagree. – I know you’ve heard this saying before, but do you understand what it means? To “agree to disagree” means that, though your opinion opposes someone else’s opinion, you will not tear out their jugular to “win” the debate. It’s a wonderful concept, but one all too often misunderstood or forgotten. The next time you are having an argument with someone, why not “agree to disagree” rather than continuing an argument that will only hurt you and the other person in the end? If you are debating an issue for a particular reason, such as writing an article or trying to come up with a solution to a problem, then this will, most likely, not apply unless you reach a stalemate. However, “agreeing to disagree” is very important to healthy relationships with friends and family.
Lively debate can be courteous and should be enlightening, if we make the effort. All too often, we do not make the effort to be courteous or effectual in our debates and discussions and this failing is beginning to show in our schools, in our government and in our society. If we hope to have a worthwhile society, then we must find a way to debate and discuss ideas with courtesy, intelligence and grace. Remember, debate should not be a means to hurt someone or silence someone; it should be a means to better understand an alternate point of view and to, hopefully, shed some light on a situation so that better solutions can be discovered. I hope these ten tips will help your debates and discussions become more fruitful and beneficial to all involved.