Doing something unremarkable can sometimes prove to be one of the best things you have ever done. I have heard many people relate that taking high school typing class has paid life-long dividends. The same is true for me. At the time, pecking away on those clacking old manual typewriters didn’t seem to be of much value, but now I spend most of my time at a keyboard utilizing those learned skills.
The same is true for a debate class I took in college. I had never taken debate prior to my senior year of college. As a speech minor, it was an opportunity to knock out three hours in a required field so I signed up. Little did I know that I signed up for an adventure that has paid life-long dividends as well.
We had a visiting professor, a retired speech teacher from Texas Tech, who wanted to put together a debate team. He took some of us from the class and paired us together in teams of two and created four teams willing to travel and take on all comers. My unlikely partner was a fellow senior whose most striking feature was her good looks. She was not much of a debater, but she contributed to the success of our efforts in other ways.
At an all-day Saturday tournament in Lubbock, I remember one of the judges wrote on our critique, after some candid comments about our debating style, “A very pretty young woman.” This was back in the day when it was acceptable to compliment a woman on her looks. I also remember being destroyed by two guys from Houston, and after the debate, one of them asked my partner for a date.
The interesting thing about competitive debate is that you are assigned a subject that you argue for the entire year at every debate. However, you did not know which side of the issue you had to argue until right before the debate. In other words, you had to be equally prepared to argue both sides of the issue. During a tournament that required four or five debates a day, you would find yourself explaining something as a great idea and then an hour later presenting arguments to destroy that great idea.
That was a valuable lesson!
The semester prior to taking the debate class, I took a course in logic, a philosophy credit that applied to my major. Wow, was that an eye-opener. Especially memorable was leaning how to spot logical fallacies in arguments. It was an extremely valuable resource when it came to debate.
This was also a valuable lesson!
It is crucial to understand that there are two (or more) sides to every issue, and if you cannot understand how someone can take any position but your own then you are pretty narrow-minded. Yet, that is where most people find themselves when it comes to many issues, especially political.
Since many people cannot recognize logical inconsistencies, they often resort to attacking the person who presents a differing opinion on an issue. They are of the attitude that their position is strengthened if someone holding the other position is a bad person.
I thought about all of this the other night while watching a few minutes of a town hall type meeting on the issue of gun ownership with the President. It was a surprisingly civil discussion with many opposing viewpoints expressed. What struck me as unusual is that a room full of people could actually discuss this issue without shouting invectives at each other.
Obviously the President did much of the talking. It caused me to wonder how people can be so mean and angry toward him. If you just sit and listen to the man speak for several minutes it is difficult to ignore that he is reasonable, personable, intelligent, kind, sincere, and well-spoken. How did so many people come to the conclusions that you hear so often about him? If you know nothing about him, from the way many people speak, you would think he is an evil, godless, mastermind who is determined to destroy the world and everyone who would dare stand in his way.
It does not strengthen your position on an issue when you resort to name calling and slander of your opponent. If you disagree with the President on an issue, it does not make you look intelligent to try to make him appear stupid or evil. Learn the issue and strive to understand why someone might see it differently than you.
Let’s take the issue of gun control in this country. I understand that people want to maintain constitutional rights. I also understand how people who have been around guns all their life are very comfortable in that situation. It also makes sense to me that someone might feel safer having a gun in their home in case the need for protection arises. Again, I understand all of that, and I do not think it is foolish to hold to any of those positions.
However, if we are going to be able to discuss the issue intelligently, without resorting to name calling and other logical fallacies, then you need to understand something about me. We never had guns in our home when I was a kid. My dad, although he was raised on a farm, had been in the Marines, and had no doubt killed a few folks on Iwo Jima where he was wounded, had no interest in guns. I have always been a touch fearful around guns even though I worked for several years as a police dispatcher and was around guns constantly. I have seen a man accidently shot by a policeman, and actually subpoenaed to testify in court about the incident.
I feel much safer in a room of people without guns than I do in a room of people with guns. I don’t want a gun in my home and I’m not sure I could actually shoot another person, either physically or emotionally. The way I understand the teachings of Jesus is that there are better ways to feel safe and that human life (even another person’s life) is too valuable to risk taking.
These beliefs do not make me stupid, evil, or uncaring. If we are going to have a fruitful discussion about the issue it is important that you know these things about me.
When it comes to the issue of guns, I suspect both of us want the same thing – a safer world. However, we might disagree over the best way to make that happen, but that does not make either of us a bad person.
What does make us bad is when we are unwilling to accept each other’s differences and start throwing out baseless accusations. The President is not trying to take away your guns. He is not involved in a massive conspiracy to overthrow the government. He is not trying to pave the way for terrorists to be able to come into our country and destroy everything. He is simply advocating a different side of the political argument.
The subject for debate during the one year of my college debate experience was the energy crisis. It was a hot topic in the early 1970’s. One of the things I learned that year was the impossibility of making a persuasive case if I did not understand and appreciate both sides of the issue.
With the advent of instant social media platforms, polarized media sources, and dumbing down the education of our kids, it seems we have lost the ability to have civilized conversations and disagreements. The result is that we all sound mean and look stupid. Even the televised debates of our politicians often denigrate into school-yard type name calling.
If you have the opportunity, check with your local community college and see if they offer a course on debate. It might prove to be one of the best things you can do for yourself.