We hear a lot of “debate” these days about social issues. Some are labeled “protests.” When peaceful protests are utilized, the message is usually clear. When lawlessness breaks out, the protests can turn into a mob. Mob rule is never fair and rarely brings positive change.
Sometimes a debate can be effective. But not all debates or discussions follow the same rules. Here are a few examples.
Winning by intimidation
The argument of the debate is no longer important. The weight of losing is the threat that may cause an opponent to give ground. A thought becomes less important than the thinker. If I can shout louder than you do or crowd your personal space, you may “give up” or surrender because I have succeeded in making you feel “less than” in the difference of opinion.
Winning by insult
If I am not a good debater when it comes to defining and defending my views of the issue, then one of the ways I can overcome you is by insulting you. I can then win by an insinuation of poor or bad character. If you have no integrity, then I have no reason to continue to listen to your presentation of the issues.
Can we debate civilly?
In my book, “Try Marriage Before Divorce,” I have outlined six ways to manage conflict. Conflict is a given: it is impossible to eradicate it. The body provides an appropriate illustration. We consume a variety of ingredients which are then converted to the energy we need for daily functions.
Creativity often results in the resolution of tensions in marriage. We can apply the principles to some of our present social debates.
First, we need to identify and handle issues as quickly as possible. The longer disagreements fester, the more difficult to heal they become.
Second, issues are most often resolved when common courtesy is maintained. Name-calling tends to destroy resolutions rather than moving the opponent toward understanding.
Third, good debaters stick to the issue. Avoid “and another thing” distractions.
Fourth, listen as much as you talk. Restate your opponent’s position to make sure he knows you understand. Then you will be able to point out the differences in your arguments.
Fifth, seek ways to a legitimate compromise if one is available. “My way or the highway” allows no room for compromise. Such disrespect disenfranchises your opponent and leaves little room for moving forward.
Sixth, anticipate reconciliation! Positive change is not about destruction; it is about construction. A solution to a bad highway is not to blow it up. Progress is rerouting or repaving for better traffic flow.
When married couples use these six principles, their serious conflicts can be resolved.
I believe that we need to resolve our conflicts in society not by raising our voices but by lowering them. After all, winning the argument is not the only possibility! Respect and positive relationships are of greater importance in the social realm.
Watch two children who have a disagreement and avoid each other for a while. In time they reach out to each other to be friends again. Even they realize that being friends is more important than avoiding each other. No wonder the Bible declares “A little child shall lead them.”
We need that kind of child-likeness, rather than selfishness, today.