Opinion: We need healthy debates


Five years into my debate career, I still cringe and roll my eyes whenever I hear someone say: “You’re in debate? You must be great at arguing.”

If you put opinionated college students on two opposing sides and tell them to convince a judge that their side is correct, expect an argument, a fight or an all out throw down.

Few people understand what a true academic debate should look like. It’s easy to take the term “debate” and turn it into a verbal smackdown where  both sides’ arguments quickly turn heated and personal. It’s becoming increasingly important in today’s social climate to understand how to have a healthy debate. Whether we are discussing politics or ice cream flavors, people being able to maturely discuss your differences in opinion in necessary to being an adult.

Without the ability to disagree civilly, we run the risk of becoming isolated.

Our instinct is to seek out people, activities and groups that mirror our own beliefs in an action media experts refer to as “selective exposure.” We deliberately avoid relatives with opposite political viewpoints at Thanksgiving, fearing an inevitable fight.

What does it say about our society when we actively avoid our relatives because we know that our disagreements could end in tears? It should not be this hard to have a polite, intelligent conversation when someone has an ideology different from our own. The ability to calmly converse is more important than ever, and I firmly believe that we are the generation to begin the conversation.  

I have been asked why I like debate, and what I have learned. I have the ability to look at all the facts, and when asked, elaborate my opinion in a polite, understandable manner based solely upon evidence and am able to entertain differing opinions.

No mind has ever truly been changed through fighting. In debate, we are taught to use facts and logic in order to sway the judge. Being rude, pushy and overbearing simply makes you look ignorant and unsure. Calm confidence often wins the round.

It is vital that we adopt that same mindset in our own everyday disagreements. Listen to what someone has to say so you understand their stance on an issue, analyze what was said and calmly make your own counterpoint. 

We have to be able to disagree and still coexist. In a world where political disagreements could go nuclear, understanding how to have a levelheaded clash is an integral part in advancing beyond hate, beyond intolerance, toward cooperation, collaboration and compromise.