There are varying degrees of truth that we discover in our lives. Usually the more we learn, the less we know. As we learn more about the many sides of an issue our convictions gets less intense. As you dig into the numbers and the facts, you might learn that something that you thought was foolish may actually impact someone close to you or even yourself. So the value of shedding light on the various sides of an issue for the sake of learning and growing is tremendous.
Two quick things that I want to get out of the way. The first item is that political debates are not what I’m talking about. Those are just an opportunity for two guys to ignore and interrupt each other. The second is that debate is not ideal while doing technical training. I suppose you could use it to explore alternative solutions to the topic or issue at hand. This could be a tool to demonstrate the validity of a technique or practice by exploring the alternatives but that’s a bit of a stretch.
As we see from the cartoon cell of Calvin above, debates help see both sides of an issue. Bill Waterson, the strips artist was amazing at looking at the world through the eyes of a 6 year old and then finding the ‘other side’ of an issue by the end of the story. In the case of something like a presidential debate, the value that I see is for the spectators and not the participants. Odds are they won’t change their mind about a topic because they are too caught up in trying to please their base and can’t afford to be seen giving the other person kudos but the viewers get to hear a bit of dialogue (mostly contradiction) on the topic. I think the real value comes learners having to explore the other side of the argument and presenting it in a genuine fashion.
It would go down like this – You bring up the issue, nothing too heavy, and you ask for where people stand on the issue b/c you’d like to debate it. Separate the room into For and Against. Then tell the For-side that they have 24 hour to research the Against side and vise versa. Sneak Attack! Tell them to anticipate all of the arguments they already know from their personal beliefs and prepare to refute them. There are certain topics (which I shall not even bring up) that might not lend themselves well to a little light-hearted debate, but many topics do. I remember in my grade 8 class having to pick a side of an argument as too whether Louis Riel was a Canadian Hero, criminal, or simply crazy. I can’t remember which position I took but it certainly made me more interested in Canadian history. And it made it kind of fun, too. Can you imagine? Fun while learning? Now that’s crazy!
Debate is a great way to get people beyond knee-jerk reactions and to a place where they understand why something is not ‘so stupid’. Too often we have conviction before we have understanding.