I wasn’t on my high school’s debate team, but I had enough friends who were that I knew how it worked. Every debate season, a complex issue would be presented, and the team members had to collect and document every bit of information they could about it. They had to learn as much as they could about both sides of the issue.

When the actual debates took place, students needed to be able to argue whichever point of view they were assigned to present. It’s important to note that it didn’t matter what their own personal thoughts or beliefs were on the subject, or how strongly they felt about it. Pro or con, they would win the debate by presenting the most and best information in favor of their assigned viewpoint, by arguing it the most passionately and convincingly, and by doing the best job of countering the information given by the person presenting the other point of view. And in their next debate, they might have to do the exact same thing, but arguing for the opposite side.

I wrote about this once before, but it’s worth bringing up again, because I think it’s something that would help all of us right now. Especially now – when our country is so polarized, and when much of our information comes from social media and whichever news source aligns most closely with our own beliefs.

I think the most significant point in all of this is the importance of researching, documenting, and understanding all sides of an issue, as well as listening carefully to the information and viewpoints expressed by the “opposition.” In debates back in high school, insults, innuendos, and interruptions would not help your cause. In fact, they would work against you.

How refreshing it would be if that were the case today, too. And in real life.

Imagine how different life would be if we all worked with that in mind. Government and business leaders, certainly, but the rest of us as well. If everyone – Democrats and Republicans, men and women, Northerners and Southerners, members of all races and religions, and those for and those against any issue that we’re divided on right now – had to study, understand, and be prepared to defend a completely different point of view than the one they held most dearly, I think most of the problems and disagreements we have with each other would disappear. Partly from learning about the opposing viewpoint, but mostly from putting ourselves in other people’s shoes and taking the time to learn and understand how they feel, and why.

I’m not enough of an optimist to think that this could really happen in our society today, but I enjoy considering the possibilities and thinking about what it would be like – people listening carefully to each other instead of jumping to conclusions or making judgments.  Leaders objectively evaluating the pros and cons on all sides of every issue they were dealing with. And all of us taking the time to learn, understand, and respect the views and opinions of others, whether we agree with them or not.

It’s certainly something worth debating.

October 5, 2018
©Betty Liedtke, 2018

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