The Forgotten Art of Progressive Debate


Everybody argues, whether or not out loud, it’s innate within all of us. We often perceive argumental connotations to be negative, but mainstream thought rarely resembles reality. If you remove the consensus of negativity from argumentation, debates become a powerful tool for self-improvement.

When debates are done right, our knowledge, experience, and intellect improve dramatically, because the ability to argue effectively is the elixir to continuous personal growth and development.

Contrarily, when done poorly, they are a detriment to society. Rows, quarrels, or shows of superiority don’t contribute anything of value; which begs the question: What really constitutes a constructive debate and how do we get the most out of them?

“Try to change yourself as well as your opposition.”

Whether you win or lose isn’t essential: It’s all about how you can grow as an individual. Feeling as though you’ve progressed as a person should be classed as a victory — sanity beats vanity any day.

To be triumphant, question yourself and your views because, inevitably, they will be challenged. Accepting that they may or may not be superior is a strong position to take, even though — in the context of a debate— it appears weak.

Positioning ourselves to benefit from debates is not an inherited ability; it’s a learned skill, therefore, the way we compose ourselves and how this reflects onto our opponent(s) will determine the extent to which we prosper and progress.

The Importance of Etiquette

A positive, open-minded approach is the only way to gain from arguments we engage in. The opposite ends in catastrophe: it only takes one slip for the debate to turn sour. When we let our emotions take control, the potential gains are lost forever.

Therefore, keeping an upbeat tone is essential, as behavioral scientist, Steve Maraboli once said, “The volume of your voice does not increase the validity of your argument.” It’s up to ourselves to keep composed when our ideas and views come under any kind of scrutiny.

When losing ground in a debate, an ad hominem is the built-in defense mechanism we use as a last-ditch attempt to savor our position. We employ this tactic because our biases have taken control and we are now in a unfavourable position.

“The ultimate sin we can commit during an argument is striking our opponents instead of their ideas.”

The common temptation, then, is to attack our opponent’s character instead of providing a counter-argument. Fight the urge to do so, because the ultimate sin we can commit during an argument is striking our opponents instead of their ideas. You’ve not only lost the debate but the respect of your opponent and possible gains are squandered. Superiority and self-righteousness are the deadly sins of a debate: They shouldn’t be used as a weapon to assert dominance over your opponent.

Engaging in conflict is vital for progressing as an individual, but you don’t have to turn it into battle. Rage, toxicity, and other negative sentiments are the precursor to a bad argument. While keeping cool, calm and collected are the emotions associated with a winning debating strategy.

Vital Mechanics Aren’t Self-Evident

Think of arguing as a tool to make a meaningful impact on how other people see the world, regardless of whether you believe they think your ideas are wrong, because to change society, you need to be heard.

Winning an argument is seen as the ultimate aim; ranking higher than any other. However, this approach only increases our sense of selfishness and superiority. By doing so, we are reducing the likelihood of understanding how our opponents view the world — which is key.

When experiencing the world through the eyes of another, we can try to make better sense of what we don’t understand. As Mark Twain cleverly stated: “It ain’t what we do not know that causes all our problems. It’s what we do know that ain’t so.” Knowledge isn’t limited to your own understanding; when we discover different perspectives it helps us reflect and develop our own views.

The aim of a debate is not to beat your opponent, but to gain from their knowledge, either to be proven wrong or increase the validity of your own ideas.

It’s commonly agreed that biases suck, but when it comes to arguments, they pose a bigger threat. Not only do you have to display tolerance and respect, but you also have to expect your opponent to behave the same way. It’s hard enough to persuade anyone to alter their opinion, let alone knowing whether you’ve actually convinced them or not. The hardest mechanic to master in debates is the removal of our biases; let your mind wander free from their influence.

As humans, we have a tendency to conform, so the majority tends to rule. The idiom of two’s company, three’s a crowd becomes relevant while debating. If it’s one against many, the singleton has virtually no chance of gaining from an argument as they will be overrun swiftly and systematically.

The optimal participation rate is two: Anything greater turns a debate into a complex exchange, as the social aspects introduced by the presence of an additional another reduces the quality of the debate; as demonstrated by any internet comments section.

To have a fruitful debate it should be close quarters between — only — you and your opponent. The more individuals added to the mix, the harder it becomes to arrive at a solid conclusion: it’s the illusion of variety.

Declaring an Impossible Victory

Why else shouldn’t we prioritize winning in debates? Because winning — in this case — is not only subjective but it’s hard to prove. To show our argument is factually correct, we need to provide evidence on the spot, but the modern way in which we store information has changed; it’s retrieved via an external source: electronic devices and the internet.

Our smart devices are an extension of our self, where all the facts and figures we use to support arguments now lie. We now know more than ever, but the ability to recover that information has diminished; we remember the concepts and ideas but fail to memorize the important details needed to support our argument.

“Winning should be classified as a bonus instead of being the focus of a debate.”

Let’s not forget that although all parties appear to be tolerant, when a debate finishes it’s very likely that nobody changes their mind, because, at the end of the day, all the hard work we put in is an attempt to prove others wrong.

Winning, therefore, should be classified as a bonus instead of being the focus of a debate, because in the end, how do we know if we’re right or wrong; can we really tell if our opponent’s changed their mind? It’s almost impossible to tell for sure. There are so many obstacles in the way of declaring victory that we might as well focus on other factors; prioritising the most meaningful one of all: progression.