A friend of mine wrote a nice article on the meaningful debate last year: link. I’ll use the same definition of the topic here.
I think the meaningful debate is a lost art. In fact, I’m not sure if it was ever present anywhere except strictly scientific contexts. I crave for it. To me, it feels enriching to be able to discuss differences of opinion on a topic, while eliminating personal prejudices as much as possible. I think the number of such debates I’ve had in my entire life is far too less, the number of people I’ve had them with, even lesser. But every time, they left a lasting impression on my belief system, and in two specific cases, shattered it completely.
I’m not referring to the official debates held in public, where all points need to be politically and factually correct and need to be prepared with care. I’m talking about friendly ones, where people are allowed to make mistakes or have a slip of tongue, or in general, speak their minds without holding back.
I think a prerequisite to having a proper debate is knowing your opponent well, and knowing that anything you say won’t demean your image in his/her eyes (and vice versa). Even in such cases, an argument becomes inevitable sometimes. The problem lies on the immensely blurry line that separates a debate from a fight. Maybe, with adequate eloquence, one can stick to the proper side of that line, but having to put so much effort hampers the enjoyment of the entire process. I admit that there are topics where I can’t take an impersonal stance either, and when people bring them up, I just ask them to change the subject or pretend to agree with whatever they’re saying. But I really should have no excuse to rebuke the other person for stating his/her honest opinion.
Recently, I discovered the effects of sharing opinions with people whom I don’t know very well. These are people quite different from the ones I’m accustomed to being with, and I was appalled by the effect of a comment which would be harmless in my normal circle. I had mentioned that psychology isn’t a proper science without knowing that there was a psychology major in our midst. (Mind you, I never said that psychology is useless, I just said it is not a proper science as we define it. Read this article where the matter is presented thoroughly and far less delicately.) It led to a shitstorm, which ended with the conclusion that I’m a pompous ass and I think my subject is superior to everything else. Funnily enough, the fight was mainly with a person who wasn’t the psychology major.
The comments about me didn’t bother me as much as my inability to understand why the fight happened in the first place. This is not an isolated incident. Sometimes such things happen with close friends too, and I have to fake apologies since friendship always has the upper priority. But I really hate apologizing without knowing why. Why is it so hard for us to have a disagreement without resorting to hate?
Henceforth, I’ve decided to be really picky about the people I share touchy opinions with. In my version of a perfect world, any two people should be able to lay their differences on a table and play them out like a game of chess. Alas, the world is no wish-granting factory.