Depending on when you are reading this post, either the Republican primary debate is about to happen or has just happened. It’s been all over the news, possibly because there’s not a ton of other news, or maybe because there are 72 candidates. For all of their hype, political debates rarely deliver what they promise. The hope is that we would be able to get straight answers and information about candidates that would help us be more informed as voters. Normally the avoidance, posturing, and jabbing back and forth doesn’t give us anything we didn’t already know. But what about in our own relationships at home and with friends, is there a place for healthy debate? Can facing the issues we disagree on make us stronger? It can if we remember these three things:
Explaining Helps, Trying To Convince Does Not
There is a difference between explaining your thoughts and trying to force your opinion on someone else. The first inspires further communication, the second shuts it down. It’s human nature to want to convince someone of your point. After all, you are very convinced of its truth or merits. When you push too much without considering someone else’s thoughts you've made the argument more important than the person. Take a deep breath, explain yourself and what you think to the best of your ability and then give the other person a chance to do the same.
Focusing On The Issue Helps, Getting Personal Does Not
When we have heated opinions and disagreements it’s easy to stop talking about the issue at hand and to begin talking about the other person. This incredibly damaging practice is called an ad hominem argument. “What’s wrong with you?!” and “What kind of person could think that?!” are usually an indication that you’ve stopped debating the issue and are attacking the person. Nothing destroys relationship quicker than personal attacks.
Talking Helps, Ignoring Does Not
Disagreeing isn’t something to avoid. It’s an honest part of every relationship. If we are not disagreeing about something somewhere then we probably aren’t being honest. Healthy doesn’t mean sameness. It’s ok to have differing opinions. That sort of friction is often the cause of a lot of growth in relationships. Damage comes when we avoid talking about things that matter to us because we fear that we will disagree. That sort of stagnation leads to frustration and weakened relationships.
Debating ideas can be a good thing if you are courteous and have honest expectations. It can be a healthy tool for families and friendships. (Just don’t expect the politicians to be good role models for debate etiquette!)