Like to Debate, do you?

No.  The answer, for me, is no.  I don't like confrontation or conflict, so I'm not naturally inclined to debate.  It has been my experience that most debates, either while involved or as a spectator, turn personal in a red-hot hurry.  This violates one of my steadfast life rules; I will not personally attack or state negative judgments that will end up in another person's mental 'recording'. I certainly don't want to be attacked, either; therefore, debating has not been my forte or choice. I also strongly believe that everyone has a right to their opinion and I will wholeheartedly respect that, even if I don't agree.

However, it would seem that I am in the situation more and more frequently where I am debating issues; of Scripture, of halachah, of life philosophy. To that end, I clearly see that I need to know more about debating other than the fact that I dislike my past experiences.  You, too?  I found this article in my google surfing, and thought it worthy of sharing.  The article gave no credit as to author, I'm sorry to say.

Before reading the article though, one more thought.  A wise friend and I were discussing this very issue recently and he said something I truly want to wrap my head around.  We don't own the truth.  No one does. For when we believe that we 'own' (a) truth, then our debate becomes a competition, not a mutual exchange of ideas, nor a joint effort in finding the truth for the benefit of all listening.  I don't own the truth.  You don't own the truth.  Interesting to keep in mind, for sure.


Debating is not just knowing the issues. Debating is not just arguing. It is an exchange of ideas in which both sides try to make the case for their position.   Both the ability to debate well, and knowledge of the points of argument are essential to your ability to convey our issues to your audience.

To debate well, you must select relevant arguments from irrelevant content and rhetorical presentation. You must, most importantly, relate specific facts and data that directly combat point-by-point. Remember that debates are not a zero sum game - there is no winner or loser. A constructive debate generates critical thought in the audience. A constructive debate does not merely offer an analysis of problems but offers real solutions and alternatives.

It is our duty, as citizens and community members, to increase the awareness of the importance of rational debating. Constructive debating is an art.

Goal - The first rule is to remember that your goal is to persuade the audience, not to persuade your opponent. Do not become frustrated when your opponent is not convinced or does not respect your argument. No matter what your opponent says or does during the debate, it is your composure, confidence, open-mindedness, and points of debate that will convince the audience. If you become frustrated, the audience will view you as the losing side.

Clarity - Avoid using words that can be interpreted differently by different readers or that have different connotations to different users. A connotation is a feeling or definition that is attached to a word, yet not included in its dictionary definition. Often a word may have a positive connotation with one audience and a very negative connotation with another. Try to use words that are neutral to generic audiences, or tailor your words to your specific audience.

Quoting - Quoting an authority is not evidence*. Quoting a majority opinion is not evidence. Any argument based on opinion - expert, authority, or majority - is not objective evidence. Authorities, experts, and majorities can be wrong and frequently have been.

Emotionalism - Personal attacks on your opponent are an admission of intellectual bankruptcy. Keep attention centered on the specific point of debate - after all, the goal of the debate is to persuade the audience about your point, not about the opponent. Even if the audience dislikes your opponent because of your attack, it makes the opponent's argument no less credible in their eyes.

Causality - Avoid confusing correlations with causality. Just because two events or items are related does not mean that one causes the other. For example, people who drive Mercedes generally have higher incomes, but that does not mean that people's incomes would rise if we gave them Mercedes.

Innuendo - Do not make allusions to circumstance, popular belief, accusations, or other statements. Politicians and political pundits are excellent examples - they often make innuendos when they cannot prove a direct statement. Do not fall prey to this debate mistake. When you are called on an innuendo, your debate will ultimately fall through.

Sources - Quote your sources of information as often as possible. Be sure that your sources are credible and unbiased.

Understanding - Understand each of your opponent's arguments. The best way to practice debating is to ask a friend who is also passionate about the issue to debate with you while you take up your opponent's position. If you can successfully debate the position of your opponent, then you can successfully debate your own position.

Respect - Always respect your opponent in a debate. If your opponent does not deserve respect, it will become obvious to the audience. But if you, the speaker, disrespects your opponent, then it will be you who loses the respect of the audience, even if it is your opponent who deserved the disrespect.

Experience - Always relate relevant personal experience. An antedote or personal story always strikes a chord with the audience because they want to hear concrete, first-hand examples.

Open Mindedness - Always keep your mind open to learning from your opponent, no matter how wrong he is on the issues. There will always be a debate where your opponent hits you with new information or a new argument that you have not heard before. Keep your mind open to this new information. You will come across as more credible if the audience perceives you as having an open mind.

Stereotyping - Do not stereotype your opponent or his followers. Even if the stereotype usually holds true, there is always an exception that your opponent can trot out to damage your credibility.

Cliches - Do not use cliques in a debate. Cliques may be widely known, but they are not proven, and there are always exceptions to a clique. There are also cliques that are the opposite of other cliques.

Slippery Slope - Do not make statements that one thing is wrong because it could lead toward something else that is wrong. This is the old, "give them an inch and they will take a mile" rule. In law, limits are clear.

Correlation - Be careful when drawing conclusions. For example, I have heard people say, "A significant percentage of people in our prisons are illegal aliens, therefore, most illegal aliens must be criminals." Of course criminals always want to flee when being pursued, so criminals will also migrate here. But that does not mean that most illegal aliens are criminals. We know that the majority of illegal aliens are simply coming to the USA to work, primarily out of desperation.

Jargon - Use words that your audience would commonly use. Using big words or jargon will not make you seem like an expert. For example, why use the word 'utilize' when you could utilize 'use'?

Euphemism - Do not try to make words sound softer or more politically correct. Use the proper term. An example of this is "ethnic cleansing" replacing the word "genocide". Or "undocumented worker" replacing the legal term "illegal alien".

Raising the Bar - If your opponent proves one point, give him that point. Do not insist that he then prove another point in order for that point to be valid. Just move on to the next point gracefully.

Common Sense - Unfortunately there is simply not a common sense answer for most of the issues that we debate. There are many issues where even our allies disagree. Each side believes their answer is common sense. Clearly some of these people are wrong. If the answer were obvious, then there would be no need for debate because your audience would already be convinced.

Absurdism - When you show that one of your opponent's points leads to an absurd conclusion, it does not generally destroy his entire argument. Usually you only succeed in showing that that point does not apply in all cases.

“It is better to debate a question without settling it
than to settle a question without debating it.”
~Joseph Joubert

“Don't take the wrong side of an argument
just because your opponent has taken the right side.”
~Baltasar Gracian

*It is my opinion that absolute authority is found in Scripture and Scripture alone. However, interpretation of that Scripture is another issue altogether...and I suppose, up for debate.


Ari C'rona said…
Oh, man! Much to learn I have! Nicely done, my friend! :o)