How to have a healthy debate…


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The philosophy of “hate your enemy” means that your friends will probably need to agree with you on all the important things.  The philosophy of “love your enemy”, however, means you will have friends who have strong differences in opinion.  [Why?  Because you will be loving and befriending people who’s beliefs and actions sometimes oppose you… ] The path to genuine friendship, then, often means having healthy debates and disagreements.  The kind where you disagree strongly, and yet love and respect one another, and then walk away with a broader understanding and greater tolerance for people who think like your friend…  So how do you have a *healthy* disagreement?

It’s hard to have a healthy and fair debate with a sniper: someone who won’t tell you where they stand (exactly) but relentlessly criticizes your opinion.  So you think ZZZ is stupid, then tell me what you think is better…  So in the national health care “debate” don’t just say you think something is bad and point out its flaws, but point out what you think would be better!  Because the truth is, every idea will be flawed in some way, and so you want to find the least-flawed idea or opinion.

So instead of saying “that’s just wrong” why not say, “don’t you think it would be better if… ?”  Or instead of saying “that’s so stupid – ” why not say, “I think – – – would have been better.”  Or you can be brave and say, “my position is ZZZ – but if I hear you right, you’re saying YYY – don’t you think YYY makes more sense because of R?”

The goal of debate is understanding: if you walk away thinking “I don’t understanding how someone could think that!” then you have failed.  The point of arguing with friends about something is to coax out all the reasons and beliefs surrounding a position.  Many (if not all) of those reasons are valid just the way your reasons are valid.  What makes a “better” point of view is not that you have valid reasons, but that you have MORE valid reasons than the other side.

How to end a disagreement: people think a disagreement ends when everyone thinks the same thing.  Sometimes that’s true.  But MOST of the time a disagreement is over when you really know your friends point of view, and they know yours.  At that point there’s nothing more to say, and you go on being friends.  Most people can’t change their beliefs in the midst of an argument – but once you know your friend’s point of view and the thinking behind it, you have a choice… when faced with an issue you can draw from both points of view and see which fits reality better.

By the way, what makes me such an expert on this?  This is how one does the work of theology, resolving our disputes with God…  He always seems to have a different point of view.  And rather than ignoring our differences, the Bible challenges us with them, for our well being.

On the flip side, if you want to be arrogant and condescending, and never learn from other peoples’ points of view, then go ahead and criticize what someone says without putting into words what you think is a better opinion.  Or better yet, just shut down the conversation “you’re wrong” and leave it at that…don’t bother trying to understand what the person was saying or why he or she thinks that way.

Related posts:

  1. The Missional College Student
  2. How do you know if you suffer from intellectual pride?
  3. More thoughts on pride…
  4. The emotionally healthy church…
  5. Emotionally healthy evangelism
  6. Some more thoughts on dating…
  7. Being open minded…
  8. Why I debate with people about God (and why I sometimes shouldn’t)

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