By Samhita Misra

 

Debates freak me out. Way back in grade nine, I sat in one of my high school’s debate club meetings and watched a girl, red faced and impassioned argue about the merits of capital punishment.  “They committed a crime! They gave up their right to citizenship!  They should die!”

I never went back.

Four years later, I found myself in the same mess except this time the debate club is my first year Peace Studies class.

As my classmates quarreled over whether or not university education should be paid for by higher taxes, I sat in the front row, my head down, as people behind me yelled out their points and views as if they were facts.

Peace Studies class!” a girl emphasized ironically.

So here’s my problem with debates.  While they’re great for pushing boundaries, thinking critically, considering new alternatives and ways of thinking, or any other cliché you can think of, they don’t combine ideas.  When everything’s been said and the winner’s been announced, it’s still one side against another: black and white, clear-cut, well-defined sides opposing each other.

The final presidential debate last Monday night had me daydreaming about what-ifs.  What if Romney’s unnerving smile and Obama’s stubborn “That’s simply not true” were replaced with a cloud of collaboration and problem solving and humility?  What if, instead of fighting to defend his choices over the last four years, Obama put down his plan for the future?

And Romney, instead of arguing that America’s worse off than they were four years ago, said “Hmm, well I like this and this. I don’t think that will work for these reasons.

But hey!  I have an idea that I think would make that work.”

And it’s that idea – the idea of discussion – that makes me yearn for more, makes me want to listen, learn, try, work, get active.  Because discussions do what debates cannot: they consider the shades of grey.  Liberal arts teachers emphasize that there is no right answer. Debate forces people to argue as if there were—a right answer.

Romney’s foreign policy is wrong, Obama’s is right.  Prison time won’t work; capital punishment is the way to go.  Discussion takes away the pressure of winning and instead introduces shades of grey: multiple solutions that could work and multiple approaches to any situation.

Discussion builds on ideas in a way that debate cannot.  While debaters frantically scribble down rebuttals for every point the opposition makes, individuals in a discussion stop to consider the points.  Do they agree or disagree?

If they disagree, why do they disagree?

What part do they disagree with?  Can they modify a part of the argument to strengthen it?

A discussion involves collaboration and collaboration ensures that people are happy with the outcome, rather than just settling for the better of the two.

Of course, you may disagree with everything in this article.  But hey, let’s talk about it.

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