The more I teach rhetoric, the more I consider this issue.
Almost every student I teach sees the distinction in theory, but listening to arguments between loved ones, friends, politicians, and everyone else, I have begun to notice that few seem to see the distinction in practice.
A debate is healthy. It is open-minded. Its goal is to achieve understanding -- not that one's view is "right," but that one's view is valid. It does not require a consensus. It does not need a winner.
A fight is everything that a debate is not. It is spiteful. It is limiting. It takes grey areas and tosses them into the wind in favor of a black and a white, a true and a false, a good and a bad. Its goal is to dominate, humiliate, and defeat. In a fight, it does not matter if both sides are respected -- it matters that you score points and win. It may not require consensus, but it does need a winner.
Yet all too often, I hear people turning issues that are rife with possibilities for debate into one-dimensional fights.
Why are Jimmy and Janie fighting? Because she wants to be able to hang out with her male friends but he feels threatened. Discussing a solution -- in the future tense -- to these feelings is an argument, a debate. Telling Janie, "You are not allowed to do that" or telling Jimmy, "I should be able to do whatever I want"? Now we have returned to demonstrative language. It's less about solving problems and more about being right.
What is your goal?
How can you attain your goal?
If Janie wants to do whatever she wants, then perhaps being with Jimmy is wrong. If Jimmy wants to control a person who clearly doesn't want the same arrangement, vice versa. However, if the two want to work out a problem and maintain their relationship, the language must then shift. The goal is bigger than "being right" at this point.
So I guess that's what I am considering more and more lately. How can I assess my goals and work toward achieving them when interacting with others instead of settling for "scoring points" and winning fights?
This is my challenge to myself. I urge you to take it upon yourself, as well!
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