Debate is Dead

Two men arguing politics outside Iranian Presi...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week I posted a link to this article about the breakout novel Fifty Shades of Grey. My intent was simply to comment on how astounded I was that the series was selling so well. Erotica (even the soft kind) has been around for a long time and romantic suspense is a staple in genre fiction so why did this series suddenly capture the attention of women across America? I’m always intrigued with these kind of books (The Shack is another one).

The comments quickly lit a fire and got out of hand with the final result being one person resorting to name calling and verbal bullying. It was fifth grade all over again. I had to delete the post because the conversation was going nowhere fast and one person in particular was on a rant. I was sad it had to come to that.

But it got me thinking: Have we lost the ability to debate?

As I see it, there’s a profound difference between arguing and debating. In an argument both sides seek to prove their point and quite possibly persuade the other person to see things their way. A debate is an exchange of ideas where both parties seek to state their position AND understand the position of the other person.

Arguing is the verbal equivalent of a bar brawl; debating is a chess match.

I like to debate. I like to exchange ideas and spar with positions and opinions and facts, but it’s a rare thing to be able to do it civilly and walk away agreeing to disagree but with a better understanding of why someone else believes what he or she believes.

But I find it difficult to debate in our current cultural environment. Discussions quickly spiral into shouting matches, facts go out the window, listening is . . . huh? Emotions rule the day. Try engaging your co-worker on any topic that has to do with politics or religion and you’ll see what I mean.

And why is that? Well, that’s the question I keep asking myself. I’m not certain I have the right answer but it sure seems like as a society we harbor a lot of anger, resentment, frustration, and pride. All roadblocks to a stimulating debate.

And the solution? There isn’t an easy one. This isn’t something that can be fixed with education or government funds. It’s not going to go away by legislation or hopeful thinking. It’s much bigger than that, so big in fact that it resides in the heart of mankind. And there’s only one person who can change that. I’ll give you one guess who . . .

Question: Do you find it difficult to debate without the discussion turning into an argument?

(If you liked this post, I invite you to visit my other blog, Tomorrow we’ll be discussing the benefits of being an alien).


About michaelkingbooks

I write stories of faith and family, love and loss, heartache and triumph. Here I blog about faith, relationships, and genuine living.

Posted on July 9, 2012, in Life in General and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. peterwilliam

    Mike, what you have written here is just as I find it. I am considered an opinionated person but over the past few years, I am finding it safer to not express my opinion on things because it just sparks an argument, bullying, arrogance, bad manners. I especially find this with 2 of my colleagues who work directly with me. Those two seem to share 90% of the same opinion on most things while I, being me and a Christian to boot, will always have a different opinion. Why I now do not express my opinion is that I find after I do, that I am treated negatively by them because of my opinion and am treated according to my opinion. I do not do that to them; I realise that their opinion is part of them and not who they are, but I find that the latter is how they treat me.

    What I find is lacking in people but not that they could not learn this, is that it is ok to express your opinion but to consider the other person’s feelings or how your opinion might come across. Words need to be considered carefully to convey exactly what you mean so as not to mislead or offend unnecessarily. I try to say or write that this is my opinion and I will try to understand the other person(s) and will still respect them if I struggle or fail to see their POV.

    I feel most people have not learnt how to debate, just argue at any cost. We all need to learn to debate first and to consider arguing a sign to call the conversation quits. Too much damage is done and lost in relationships on any level when it either starts out as an argument or descends to this level.


    • Well said, Peter. Debate is something that is learned and unfortunately few people learn it now days. Arguing is something that is innate and driven by pride.


  2. Personally I can talk any subject, even politics and religeon. But these subjects are discussed with my friends. We can really try to get our point across but when we’re done, were done. We are still the best of friends. I could not do this with strangers and I couldn’t do it with someone that wanted to argue. That is something I cannot take. As I’ve mentioned before I am a sis. Don’t yell at me or belittle me for my opinion or I might just throw up on you. Yes, I get that upset with confrontation. It must come from being so shy and not talking when I was young. But I am certainly not afraid to voice my opinion if ask.


  3. No, I don’t think debate is dead at all. Debate doesn’t work as well online though, because for some reason, people tend to read text with the worst possible interpretation. Text is funny that way. Some people take everything extremely personal in text where they wouldn’t if the same conversation was verbal. They assume they are being personally attacked. A couple of years ago, a major argument took place on my Facebook over was supposed to be friendly ribbing / sparring about the Superbowl. I could care less about football, but my brother really loves it, so I posted something, I don’t remember what, about the game. My brother and I were having fun with it until one of my Facebook friends decided to take it personally and start calling names. The names weren’t in fun. He resorted to attacking my family and it got ugly. He “unfriended” me and my brother, and it took him over a year to apologize, but he still has not friended us again. All over what started as friendly sparring over something as insignificant as a football game. Something like that can tear apart friendships just because people assume the worst time in text.


    • Good point, Gregg, and I totally agree that Facebook and other online outlets are not the place to debate. Too much wiggle room for interpretation or misinterpretation of what’s being said.


  4. I enjoy a good debate, it’s stimluating! And hearing different sides of an arguement can broaden our horizons and knowledge of any subject. What happens sometimes is people let their personal emotions drive their convictions and roadblock their open channels for discussion, by pridefully thinking their side is the only side. We’re all human. But we should also be adults!
    Unlike school children on the playground fighting about which is better–peanut butter or banana sandwiches–which quickly turns into a fist fling, we should be able to agree or disagree, civilly. On line, we can’t fling fists, therefore we fling words. The result is the same–damaging and loss of control. Although it is oh-so-tempting to lash out when we see injustice, or an opinion that does match our own, let us consider: At what cost to our reputation do we chance this? What is the gain? Does the word BULLY have a meaning to us? Because no matter whether on the school yard or on the net, it really looks the same, doesn’t it?
    Mike, I so enjoy the opportunties you present to chime in or voice differing opinions, It’s mentally healthy for us. I do not agree with those who choose to name call or go past acceptable standards of communication. We see it far to much in our world these days.
    I will offer one problem I see happening so often to which we should all be a bit more sensitive. Reading people’s words rather than hearing them, we miss tone and so often the intention of the comment. And when we do not know the writer personally, we can often misinterpret so much. This has happened to me, where my words have been misunderstood, so I know I must be more careful in HOW I express myself in writing online. Let’s try to give the benefit of the doubt or ask for clarity. And above all, ask ourselves, “How would Jesus respond to this person on this subject?” I’ll bet the answer will always be: In Love.


  5. I don’t want to debate online. Gregg said it well. It’s too hard to debate via text for some people so I’d rather just avoid it. And Donna brought up a good point about tone: “we miss tone and so often the intention of the comment.” You are much braver than I am.


  6. I am actually feeling the need to debate whether debating is arguing and arguing is debating. LOL!!! Is it a coincidence that the first four letters of debate are D-E-B-A? Let’s see, what other words start with D-E-B-A? Debacle, Debauchery, Debarcation…….


  7. I think debate is healthy. At the core is obvious respect for the other person despite the disagreement.

    It really does take two to argue. I learned the hard way and from the example of a good friend. When things got to the name calling stage she more often than not apologized for any offense she may have given, imagined or not, and things almost always simmered down.



  8. Susan Snodgrass

    Mike, I find it very difficult to debate without arguing, so I try to keep my mouth shut. My pastor says if someone says something that we find offensive, pray for them and our own self. I’ve been trying to do that. If they need changing, let God change them. He can do a much better job of it than I can and He’ll love them into the change. And if I need changing, He can do that, too! I want Him to change me into the person He wants me to be.


    • It goes back to that old adage: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool then to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” How many people open their mouth when they shouldn’t?!


  9. It goes back to the issue of respect, in my opinion. As a society we are moving away from showing respect to others. If you respect someone else, you can have a healthy, respectful discussion/debate with them, even if you strongly disagree with their opinion. If you don’t respect them, then it turns into arguing and name-calling. As parents, we (myself included) need to do a much better job of instilling respect for others into our children.


  10. heatherdaygilbert

    I love debating things, but I often find that it’s a very polarizing experience to debate in the comments of blogs, for some reason. We all come into it trying to prove our own points, and very little, if anything, is going to change our views. I think it’s better debating in person, when you can catch the facial expressions and poignant pauses that tell you someone is actually mulling things over. When we’re writing things out online, I think we tend to pick a POV and stick with it. At least, I think I do, to be honest. Then again, I’m rather opinionated in general.


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