I woke up this morning with the thought “every opinion has an opposing view”. The feeling from it was negative. I don’t remember the dream which preceded it, but this statement was like its conclusion, as if in answer to some serious communication problem.
Shortly after waking I remembered, of course, there are always two sides (or more) to any question. So how could this be negative?
After some thought, I eventually came to see it is not differing views which are the problem, but the way we address those differences. The most common way, communication-wise, is through debate. Yet, debate requires a premeditated position that necessitates both offensive and defensive tactics in the form of argument and rebuttal.
It’s also much more than that. “Debate is contention in argument; strife, dissension, quarrelling, controversy; especially a formal discussion of subjects before a public assembly or legislature, in Parliament or in any deliberative assembly.” (Wikipedia)
This old paradigm from the 18th century is counter-intuitive. Feet-on-the-ground problem solving doesn’t work like that when we are working with family, or friends. It often serves the interests of rivals, but otherwise, most people try to find the best way to get on, in the face of differences, without resorting to debate.
In fact communication begins to fall apart as people become more contentious. Sides become increasingly pitted against each other and it becomes more a question of winning rather than finding a solution. And it also becomes more about how well you can argue, strategize and out-maneuver the opponent… a game to see who can score the most points.
As far as games go, this opinion-rebuttal form is a good one- if you want to know who is the best debater. But it is definitely not the way to find the most appropriate solution.
An aspect we forget, too often, is that one important measure of intelligence is the ability to reconcile differing views and to draw relationships between seemingly unrelated factors.
Personally, I see very little relationship between intelligence and modern debate, however closely related we have been led to believe. To me, resorting to contentious debate is taking the easy way.
It’s much harder to reconcile, build relationships and work together than it is to argue and maintain intentionally disparate positions. Much harder.
During this period in our history we are seeing, on one hand, the devastation caused by contention and conflict, partisan manipulation and bullying, while on the other we are seeing countless numbers of people, everywhere, who want to learn about one another and who want to build friendships and agreements and simply stop fighting, stop hating, stop nit-picking, stop the b.s..
They don’t care about race or religion or culture or gender or any of the issues that divide people. They want a middle ground and as far as I can see, they are the majority… we are the majority.
But there are big obstacles in our path in the form of archaic ways of thinking, though they will pass.
I am reminded of Tahirih, Qurratu’l-’Ayn (the Pure One), the first suffrage martyr, the poet. I’m not sure why she comes to mind. Maybe it is because of her simple act of removing her veil, that sent ripples through the world and continues to do so.
Maybe it’s because I believe the equality she died for has a lot to do with finding a middle way, rather than some form of institutionalized oppositional defiant disorder.
Maybe I call her to mind because she was telling people to give up certain oppressive traditions, like I think we should give up the oppressive 300 year old tradition of debate games.
Or, it might be the voice from this poem by Tahirih:
If I met you face to face, I
would retrace — erase! — my heartbreak,
pain by pain,
ache by ache,
word by word,
point by point.
In search of you — just your face! — I
roam through the streets lost in disgrace,
house to house,
lane to lane,
place to place,
door to door.
My heart hopeless — broken,crushed! — I
heard it pound, till blood gushed from me,
fountain by fountain,
stream by stream,
river by river,
sea by sea.
The garden of your lips — your cheeks! —
your perfumed hair, I wonder there,
bloom to bloom,
rose to rose,
petal to petal,
scent to scent.
Your eyebrow — your eye! — and the mole
on your face, somehow they tie me,
trait to trait,
kindness to kindness,
passion to passion,
love to love.
While I grieve, with love — your love! — I
will reweave the fabric of my soul,
stitch by stitch,
thread by thread,
warp by warp,
woof by woof.
Last, I — Tahirih — searched my heart, I
looked line by line. What did I find?
You and you,
you and you,
you and you.