Debate, Don’t Hate



Today I’m proud to feature a co-guest post from Brett Hagberg (of Ask Experience) and Joel Runyon (of the Blog of Impossible Things), two talented and very intelligent bloggers who took part in a bit of a debate in the comment section of a post I wrote last week.

I asked them to put together a point-counterpoint guest post, and instead they came back with this, which I honestly believe is a lot more useful, and nicely expounds upon the point of the original post in question.

Joel’s words are in italic, and Brett’s are normal text.

Last week Colin wrote a post on a pretty hot topic. Well it actually wasn’t that terribly controversial but it seems that anytime someone says the word ‘gay’ there’s always some sort of an uproar. Colin meant the post to mean that we should take pride as well as responsibility for beliefs we hold. That is, we should understand our beliefs and why we have them — using a rational process to certify that our beliefs are, in fact, the truth. If we don’t know why we hold our beliefs, then why should we accept them as dogma? I agreed with Colin’s post wholeheartedly.

I on the other hand, raised a few issues with what Colin was getting at. I agreed with the basic premise of what I saw Colin getting at, but took issue with how it seemed Colin seemed to be taking sides in the situation. A few words in the comments set off quite the debate between Brett & myself (seriously, check out the comment section). The unique thing about this was that at the end of the argument, we didn’t hate each other. In fact, we realized that even though we disagreed, we actually still liked each other.

We both realized how refreshing it was to have an debate that didn’t end up in complete hatred, especially in society today that seems to have lost the the ability to disagree civilly, so we decided to break down 5 key things that allowed us to have a solid debate, minus the hate.


One of the first things I mentioned we we started to “debate” was that respect was paramount. Without respect, arguments escalate to yelling matches and fights. Here’s the thing about respect: in order to get it, you have to give it. So many times people demand respect while refusing to give the same to others. Rather than asking questions, they lash out. Instead of giving the other person the benefit of the doubt, they assume the worst.Without respect, arguments turn into fights and fights turn ugly. Pretty soon, whole groups of people hate each other. This all could be avoided if you simply start the debate with a healthy dose of respect for the other participants. Thankfully, both Brett & I started out with that attitude and that really paved the way for the rest of our discussion.

Thoughtful Responses

After Joel disagreed with the post, I figured I’d challenge his logic and his interpretation of the post. I didn’t think he was stupid or anything of that sort – I honestly thought he just read the post incorrectly, and I figured I’d try to clarify. Screaming expletives and insults at the other person does not get anyone anywhere in any type of debate or argument, so I automatically avoided going down that route. The best way to win an argument or a debate is to have a sound argument, and I presented mine in the most thoughtful, clear way possible (without bothering to edit it, admittedly). When people substitute shouting and accusations for an actual argument, as we’ve seen in countless examples (i.e. your government, wherever you happen to live), it simply doesn’t work.

A logical consequence of giving someone respect is responding to their reactions thoughtfully. If you respect someone, you should at least take the time to listen to what they have to say and respond accordingly. Too many times, instead of listening, people lash out. Lashing out isn’t usually the best method and responding to someone’s personal opinion with ‘you’re stupid’ isn’t one of the fast track methods for endearing you into someone else’s good graces. When you attempt to articulate intelligently what your viewpoint is, the other person at least knows that you’re trying to actually discuss the topic rather than simply being obstinate. When Brett responded to my mini-book of a comment, with his own mini-book, I appreciated the fact that he took the time to respond with a thought out response rather than just chew me out.

Admit Uncertainty

As much as I like to pretend I’m really smart, the fact of the matter is I don’t know everything. In my opinion, the world is far too big & complex for anyone to pretend they know everything or that one person has all the answers. It’s okay to hold certain beliefs and believe them strongly, but you need to come to a conclusion about which ones you really want to hold on to. If you’re bullish in everything and think every single thing you believe is so important that it has to be right, you’ll have a hard time discussing anything with anyone. It will come across like you’re pushing an agenda rather than holding a belief. You need to be able to give in on some beliefs where other people make valid points. This doesn’t mean you have to concede your entire arguments, but when you’re able to concede that your ‘opponent’ (for lack of a better word) is a thinking person and recognize that they have valid thoughts, you gain credibility, even if you still don’t agree with their end conclusion.

If you’re super Machiavellian, certainty will make your arguments more compelling. We’re biologically wired to respond to the person who’s the most certain; if we’re coming from a neutral spectator’s point of view in an argument, with no prior knowledge of the subject, we will likely agree with the person who is more certain of their point of view first.

However, in our debate, we sought to understand each other, rather than win at all costs. Since certainty and winning weren’t the end all, be all of the debate, we could afford to introduce a level of uncertainty in our debate.

Now, I’m normally very certain of my views, so writing this section was, admittedly, a bit of a challenge for me but the best way I can put it is this: be certain enough in your beliefs to make a good argument out of them, but willing to concede that your opponent is right if they use superior reasoning.

Use Humor

You always have the most fun in a debate where you don’t care whether you win or lose – and introducing a little bit of humor in the argument is a great way to make everyone relax. For all you hardcore debaters who are all about winning, let me ask you this – if you present your argument well, is there anything else you can do to win? No. So have a little bit of fun, argue well, but don’t get all bent out of shape if you don’t ‘win.’ And, by all means, laugh a little bit. It’s not war; it’s conversation with another human. Just don’t take things too seriously and you’ll be good. Your life doesn’t hang in the balance if you lose. Slow down. Breathe. Smile.

A debate isn’t a fight, remember? So why be angry the whole time? Humor is one of the fastest ways to diffuse anger & bring you back down to earth. After all, it’s just a debate. Early on in our talk, I jokingly challenged Brett to a duel & he responded by quoting the famous line from the sword fighter in The Princess Bride “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Later on, during one of our Skype chats, we were talking and he made a reference to one of Flight of The Conchords’ songs. How can you not like someone like that? I knew at that point, that even if we disagreed, I still thought he was pretty cool. Humor breaks the tension and reminds each of you that you’re both human & that life is too short to not laugh.

Find Common Ground

If you take the time to do all of the above steps, you’ll realize that you’ll find very few people who you disagree with completely. We certainly found that true in our situation. After talking thorough some of our points, we realized we not only had a very similar taste in tv shows, but also very similar world views. The things we did disagree on were fairly minor, so much so, that when Colin asked us to write a post defending our viewpoints, we realized we didn’t have anything left to argue. Sure we still differed on some points, but they were so minor that we didn’t even know if they were worthwhile rehashing again.

I got started in the argument because I found common ground in what Joel said. We both agreed that we had to & understand what the other person’s arguments before disagreeing with them. After talking  some more, we realized we agreed on a lot more than we thought, and, quite frankly, we were arguing semantics. Finding common ground in your arguments (and elsewhere in life) can make a friend out of someone you thought was an enemy. However, it’s up to YOU to find these similarities.

Wrapping It Up

You need to remember that in a debate that the other person is usually NOT trying to piss you off. Very often, they actually believe what they’re telling you. One of the things I appreciated about Brett was his honesty. We had a Skype call and I can remember Brett saying, ‘If I wasn’t certain that my beliefs were true, why would I even have them as beliefs?’ He honestly believes what he’s saying. He’s not just saying it to make me angry by disagreeing with me. Sure, there are some people that live to disagree and there’s really not much you can do about that, but the majority of people out there are honestly trying to articulate how they understand the world.

The point of Colin’s post was the importance of knowing why you hold your beliefs — so if you ever get into a debate like Joel and myself did, you can do it without looking like a total fool. Being able to present your points with respect and thoughtfulness and a good measure of lightheartedness, to boot – does wonders any discussion. Staying cool and collected allows you to look past your petty disagreements with your ‘opponent,’ come to an understanding and even befriend him.

There’s a lot of different viewpoints in the world & you’re not always going to agree with everyone, but you CAN start to understand each other. I don’t necessarily think I’ll ever convince Brett that he’s wrong & I’m right, but we can (and have) come to a point we can understand the other’s view in a respectful way and still get along.