The Untimely Death Of The Debate

I became intensely nervous when I had to debate classmates in high school, on a subject chosen by the teacher.

I knew I needed to find out as much as I could on the topic so I’d be well prepared. And remember, that was BG (before Google), so researching took loads of time. What’s more, we were told which side of the debate we were covering, so even if you didn’t agree with the position assigned to you, it was important to make a convincing argument.

I’m not sure debating is part of the high school curriculum in 2017, but if it’s not, it darn well should be. Civil and analytical discussions about serious subjects have become as extinct as the brontosaurus. They’ve been replaced by yelling. Cursing. Haranguing. Lecturing. Criticizing. Condemning. And bullying! Worse, many of us don’t have the foggiest idea what we’re  screeching about in the first place. We just figure that if we yell loudest, or get in the last comment on a string of Facebook comments, we’ve won.

Guess what. No one wins.

If you’re not willing to present informed opinions on meaningful subjects, as well as (patiently) listen to others’ (informed) viewpoints, you might as well talk to the wall. By the way, that’s what most of us are doing, anyway; talking to the Facebook wall. Both sides actually can ‘win’ in a good debate, because even the side who made the less persuasive argument can teach something to the side with the most powerful position. And vice versa.

Problem is, you can’t teach anyone about something if you don’t know about it yourself, and it seems as if we simply don’t want to spend the time learning about critical issues, whether they involve something happening thousands of miles away, or right next door. We’ve become too self-involved, and unless we’re personally affected, who cares, many of us believe.

As July 4th approaches, I think about one of my favorite Broadway musicals, 1776, which dramatizes John Adam’s tireless efforts to persuade his colleagues in the Continental Congress to vote for separation from England, and sign the Declaration of Independence. Without the rigorous debate among the representatives of the 13 colonies, I wonder if we’d be celebrating July 4th 241 years later.  

But continued freedom demands continued responsibility. That’s why I believe it’s the responsibility of each and every one of us to develop convictions based on reason and facts, not on pure emotion and a need to be right.  Then, if we debate our convictions with all our might, we’ll all be better off.

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