Recently, debates have become fashionable. They are used in many different forums. In education, for example, their use is becoming more and more widespread. As a general rule, just two options are presented which, furthermore, are normally opposing. In favour and against. Each side has its arguments, and the intellect is extraordinarily adept at generating them, in ways that are sometimes as convincing as they are fallacious however paradoxical this may seem. Have you sometimes listened to one side and seen a degree of truth in it, only to hear the other side and think the same thing?.
Participating in a debate is a very interesting and even enjoyable intellectual exercise.
My French teacher sometimes created debates, and I still do not know whether she did it on purpose, but I nearly always had to defend a position that was, at heart, contrary to my convictions. The first time, I must admit that it seemed horrible to have to seek arguments to defend the opposite to what I considered correct. However, I then realised that it was a very interesting and even enjoyable intellectual exercise, and that perhaps I was even relatively good at it. Of course, it was a simple academic activity with no implications over and above improving our linguistic fluency.
Some people do not need to believe everything they say, what matters is that their arguments should be good and communicated in an attractive and convincing manner.
Today, debates are also held in the digital world. Some are very useful. I would particularly like to mention those promoted by people who have set a trend, selecting a particular posture that they defend through their disquisitions. I have read that some of them do not even believe what they say, and that they live differently from the way they advocate. To give an example, they may attack the idea of the family, pointing to thousands of reasons for which you should leave your own, and yet in reality they have a close relationship with theirs. What these people seek is to create a brand that defines them, a trend, a fashion, followers, to influence and become famous, and thereby earn money. They do not need to believe everything they say, what matters is that their arguments should be good and communicated in an attractive and convincing manner, even if to this end they have to use a dose of aggressiveness or provocative comments. Listening to some of these discussions sometimes generates excitement among their spectators that is not so different from that felt when attending a cock fight, which incidentally is prohibited in many countries.
The idea was to compete to see which one would beat the other dialectically or come out on top as the most astute.
Debates are also held with rap songs. I once witnessed one when travelling on public transport. I acknowledge that the creativity and intellectual capacity of those youngsters was more than impressive. They were able to link one word with another and, at the same time, maintain the rhythm. However, as the game progressed, they began to say increasingly wounding things and one of them even insulted one of the train passengers in an unpleasant and disrespectful manner, when the latter was unaware of the rules of the game and could do nothing to defend himself. The idea was to compete to see which one would beat the other dialectically or come out on top as the most astute, whilst I asked myself how far the enjoyment really went or whether it had become a cruel struggle and a disproportionate attack, where there were no limits apart from winning the challenge or achieving popularity among their group.
If the bad guy doesn’t cry, he is cold, if he cries he is false and a hypocrite. If the good guy cries, he is suffering and we should support him, and if he doesn’t cry he demonstrates great fortitude and equanimity.
Celebrity gossip shows have many followers, otherwise there would not be so many. It is disgraceful how aspects of people’s private lives are aired without shame and sometimes their lives are even destroyed, and the morbid pleasure that so many people find in this spectacle. I almost do not feel like mentioning them, although I will say that they are still debates. That is how I see it. One guy is bad, really bad, and the other is good, really good. If the bad guy doesn’t cry, he is cold, if he cries he is false and a hypocrite. If the good guy cries, he is suffering and we should support him, and if he doesn’t cry he demonstrates great fortitude and equanimity. At a given moment, there may even be changes, and the good guy turns bad and the bad guy turns good. And nobody knows what lies at the bottom of the hearts of all these lives exposed to debate.
Hitler came to power by means of elections.
Political debates also have their points of interest, but I do not much like talking about them either. The aim of the politician, like that of almost all those who take part in debates, is to win, to convince, to come out unscathed by the criticisms, to differentiate themselves somehow, to magnify possible achievements and win the votes of those who are listening. It is a task that is performed using the intellect and which, if done well, can convince millions. Hitler came to power by means of elections. He was a skilled conference speaker. The aim of the politician when debating is not to reveal the truth, but to embellish it and even manipulate it if necessary, to win votes, therefore in politics it is easy to resort to demagogy.
I find it amusing how we defend confidently, and sometimes even with arrogance and smugness, theories that subsequently fall out of favour when something new is discovered.
And scientific discussions? They are less enjoyable, aren’t they? Or maybe not. It is curious how opposing positions can be generated regarding any topic, and of course science is no exception. We can find great experts explaining sometimes opposing hypotheses and theories. And those of us who do not fully understand those topics end up not knowing what to think in that respect, or we simply follow our intuition, which is sometimes wiser and more sensible than many of those theories, which moreover change continuously. I find it amusing how we defend confidently, and sometimes even with arrogance and smugness, theories that subsequently fall out of favour when something new is discovered.
People argue without realising that at heart they agree on the fundamental issues.
In short, there are many, many types of debate, but there is one type that I do not wish to leave out, and that is the thousands of controversies posed by our friends and family. Without realising it, in many of our conversations we also debate. And like anybody who takes part in an argument, we normally want to win, to beat the other person. Sometimes, we know what we are talking about, but very often we see controversies in which neither of the parties really has any knowledge of the issue, as though two people were to face each other wearing blindfolds and hit each other with clubs. Just thinking about it I do not know whether to laugh or cry. On other occasions, and this happens far more frequently than it would seem, people argue without realising that at heart they agree on the fundamental issues. It is also frequent for each one to describe interesting aspects that each have a certain degree of truth and which, far from being contradictory, are points of view that complement each other or enlarge on the description of the topic being discussed, but likewise it is not unusual for this to go unobserved and they often end up arguing.
Very often when we argue we do not set out to find the truth about an issue, nor do we have any sincere intention of listening and learning from the other person, we simply want to be more “right” than our opponent.
And the fact is that debating, which is a frankly interesting and useful intellectual exercise, which can be greatly enriching for us all and sometimes even very entertaining, is not always used in the most constructive manner. It is usual to place more emphasis on what we are saying than on listening to the other person. Very often when we argue we do not set out to find the truth about an issue, nor do we have any sincere intention of listening and learning from the other person, we simply want to be more “right” than our opponent. To come out on top. More often than we would like, debate becomes a power struggle. The limits as to how far we can go to gain that power will depend on the person. Sometimes one person will blame, manipulate or discredit the other, or resort to blackmail, lying, anger expressed by aggression, insults, shouting and much more.
Behind many debates that appeared to be inoffensive major wars were waged.
Behind many debates that appeared to be inoffensive major wars were waged, but I am no longer referring to those that cause us to fall out with our loved ones, which without doubt are dramatic, but real wars in which people die. Thousands of innocent people perish owing to the persistence of just a few in imposing their truth, their ideas, their power. I am particularly, although not only, concerned by the xenophobic debates currently being spread by some sectors of the media and which foster in some people a conceited sense of superiority and make them think erroneously that they are better than others merely because they belong to a particular race or nationality. What most worries me, in reality, is the unconscious attitude with which we listen to them, since we often participate passively without seeing the crux of the matter, or the selfish (to say the least) interests that motivate such declarations.
It is necessary to hone our vision and to go further, not merely to swallow ideas deposited by someone else, without previously analysing whether those concepts are really good for us and for others.
When we participate in a debate by listening passively, are we capable of separating the grain from the chaff? Do we believe what they tell us, just because they have presented it in a way we find attractive or because it was said by somebody who is considered to have certain expertise? It is necessary to hone our vision and to go further, not merely to swallow ideas deposited by someone else, without previously analysing whether those concepts are really good for us and for others. What might be true in what I am listening to? Is it possible that there is a selfish interest behind it? Who benefits if I share that point of view? Observe and ask yourself how you feel about what you are hearing. Does it make you more open and tolerant with other people or is it awakening some kind of arrogant pride or reactive anger that separates you from others? Is it opening your heart or is it, on the contrary, closing it?
In such an intellectualised world, so much head needs to be balanced with the heart.
Ideas, arguments, intellect, all of that is fantastic, but none of it should take precedence over the heart. In such an intellectualised world, so much head needs to be balanced with the heart. Intelligence is so amazing that we could very well argue anything at all and convince half of humanity. We could debate endlessly, without getting anywhere. Now, this point of view that you defend, does it contribute to making a more peaceful and united world or is it sowing pain and division among us? Is it necessary to debate everything constantly and to demonstrate my truth at the cost of losing along the way people who are valuable to me? Can I simply express my particular truth with respect, without arrogance, without imposing, without hurting, without creating division? Can I even, should the situation so require, choose to keep silent sometimes, when it is more appropriate not to speak?
It is as though the way something is communicated were more important and attractive than the significance of what is being transmitted, and it is this superficial appearance that determines whether we believe the message and not a deep and honest analysis of what is being said.
I recall a great friend who tends to feel that people do not consider her. I sometimes ask her for her opinion, because she is extraordinarily wise and very intelligent, although I admit that not all of our mutual friends have realised this. The way she says things, somewhat lacking in confidence, perhaps with a quiet voice, sometimes causes others to pay her less attention. The truth is that sometimes we do not take the trouble to really listen to her, and there is an unconscious predisposition to simply not make room for observations that have sometimes surprised me with their relevance. It is as though the way something is communicated were more important and attractive than the significance of what is being transmitted, and it is this superficial appearance that determines whether we believe the message and not a deep and honest analysis of what is being said.
If we were to listen attentively to the other person and weigh up the value of what they were saying, instead of competing to be right, what would happen?
What would happen if, when entering a debate, you focused on what you could learn rather than on showing what you already knew? What would happen if, instead of competing to be right, we were to listen attentively to the other person and weigh up the value of what they were saying? Surely we would all win. It is possible that sometimes we do not agree on something, but that does not mean having to impose our truth on the other person, neither does it mean that I am right, even if I consider this to be so. The reality is that there is a source of wisdom in every one of us, and we would be surprised at how much we could learn from each other if we opened our ears, our eyes and, especially, our hearts.