Have you ever disagreed with someone about a political or social issue? Chances are, if you found this article through social media- you have had more than one opportunity to express a differing opinion or debate with someone online. With the advent of the internet and social media, it is easier than it ever has been to communicate an opinion or perspective with people all over the world. It only takes a quick look into our history to remember that before the internet, people had to publish and distribute physical copies of their opinion, or simply express themselves vocally in the streets to be heard. Look at how easy it has become to share your feelings on any topic. According to a study shared by Statista in October of 2016, 40.41% of Facebook users have between 0 and 200 friends, and 38.35% have between 200 and 500 friends with the remainder of users over 500. Hiding safely behind a screen and keyboard any one of the nearly one billion active Facebook users can broadcast any opinion and reach hundreds or even thousands of real people without spending a penny.
Clearly, there is plenty of opportunity for people to disagree, debate, fight, and even insult and hurt one another. I am very active on social media and can offer my first-hand witness of the volatile yet genuine ignorance of people who do not know how properly share an opinion, have a discussion, or listen to and internalize the viewpoints of others. I am hoping this article will help you navigate the volatile social climate and online culture we share. I truly think that if people around the world apply the principles in this article, genuine change can happen in the everyday dialogue we have with one another even in disagreements. First, I will preface these principles with a very simple caveat; the ideas I am sharing today apply to everyone regardless of background or political leanings. If we are to make any progress in our efforts to make this world a better place we must learn to debate effectively.
- Know why you believe what you believe. Before even opening your mouth to share your opinion, you better know very well why you hold that opinion and be able to defend it. Many people all over the world only hold a certain viewpoint or opinion because of their upbringing or because it is the popular opinion in their social sphere. A belief expressed with no foundation in logic or research is nothing more than white noise in an already very loud room. It is always better to remain silent than to say something simply because your friends and family members around you say it. You should make time each week to take inventory of your thoughts and beliefs on controversial topics. Write down your opinions and the logical reasons you hold certain values and ideas above others. With the internet already saturated in a loud expression of opinion, DO NOT BECOME A PART OF THE NOISE, BE A PART OF THE DISCUSSION.
- Listen with the intent to understand, not to crucify. I always find it interesting to watch two people argue or debate because the way each party responds to opposing statements speaks volumes about the integrity and intention of that person. Too often I see people ignore the important parts of their opponent's argument simply because they are too eager to speak or comment again. This is evidence of someone who does not know how to debate effectively. Listening could be the most important thing that you do in any debate or discussion. While you are busy thinking about what you want to say next, your debate opponent has already expressed key points of their stance and given you a perfect opportunity to ask genuine follow-up questions. Don't ignore these opportunities to ask questions to better understand their point of view. Intentionally insulting anyone in a debate will do nothing but weaken your stance and validate theirs. When you express an opinion you are, in a way, representing all of the people on this planet that hold the same opinion and you need to be responsible for not giving them a bad name by calling someone's mom crude expletives on Facebook.
- Have a legitimate goal or purpose in engaging in debate and discussion. Never allow yourself to turn a discussion into a sport of roasting each other or simply trying to prove someone wrong because of the satisfaction you feel when you think you have cornered them or made them look foolish. When you decide to join a conversation and weigh in on a topic you should hope to help someone see the issue from your perspective, and appeal to the human empathy we are seemingly born with. Jumping in head first with the plan to turn a democrat into a republican is fool-hearty and impetuous. It is extremely unlikely that you will change someone's mind entirely over the internet or even face to face. Have you ever watched a presidential debate and seen a candidate change his stance on a topic because of his/her opponent's statement? I did some research and I can not find any instance where this happened because it simply isn't in the nature of debate as an activity.
- Make genuine concessions for the opposing side. It seems to me that in most issues debated today, the actual 'answer' or 'issue solution' is found somewhere in the middle ground between the two extremes of the spectrum. That is why we debate. We all have the common goal of general happiness, well being, and safety and this goal will only be achieved through cooperation. Google defines cooperation as "the process of working together to the same end". When you debate you must take time to recognize the legitimate points and perspective of the opposing side. This has two purposes; to prove to your opponent that you are listening and you truly understand them, and it acts as the first step towards a middle ground solution. This is an act of humility and maturity that I find terribly scarce in our society.
- Rid your argument of all illogical fallacies. Illogical fallacies are statements that unfairly compare data, pin the strong points of an argument against the weak points of another, or appeal to ignorance for leverage. These are rampant today in social media threads and are the most common cause of contention between people. A commonly used fallacy is called the "either-or" fallacy, for example, "we either ban trucks or the world will end". Though the speaker truly believes trucks have a negative effect on the atmosphere (and there is evidence to back that up) it isn't right to conclude that banning trucks is the only way to save the world. For more information on illogical fallacies here is a link to a list of commonly used fallacies http://www.myguruedge.com/our-thinking/myguru-blog...
In closing, I want to say that I think debate and discussion do have a permanent place in our society. I encourage people to speak a little slower, listen a little more, and respect each other when debating in all settings.