Full disclosure to begin things. I have never been a member of a debate team. I have never participated in a formal debate. I have never read a book on debate techniques. My whole debate experience has been with friends, friends of friends, and family members.
Okay, so there are my credentials on this subject. Absolute zero. So with that in mind, here's my thoughts on what I have learned over the years.
There basically just two rules to be able to debate at least to a point where you can pull a good debate off.
First you have to know what you, yourself, believe. You have to know what your philosophy is and how to talk about it. This may sound easy but it isn't. If you are human, your philosophy continues to change as you progress in life and it is important to revisit your thoughts every once in a great while so you don't get yourself confused. Most time when I revisit my philosophy, it takes at least a week to feel comfortable with where I am at and make adjustments in my thinking.
Secondly, you have to know what your opponent believes and what the basics of their philosophy is. This isn't easy either. If someone were to look at my library, they would think I am nuts. I have read the "Communist Manifesto". I bought my own copy of Mao Tse Tung's little red book when I was young. I have read the Ku Klux Klan writings of Ben Klassey as well as Mein Kampf. I have read books on different religions and different philosophies. I have watched debates, mostly debates of William F. Buckley debating whoever wanted to take him on. I have read or watched the speeches of Adlai Stevenson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Harry Truman, John Kennedy and Barack Obama. I have listened to Martin Luther King, Jr, Malcolm X, Ayn Rand as well as the classic philosophers. I have read writings and histories from our founding fathers including the Federalist papers. Every American should be required to read the Federalist papers I think, along with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.
I learned this lesson one afternoon from my grandfather. I know I have written about this particular afternoon before because it was really a light bulb in my head going off. I grew up with a conservative bent on my think. I am not sure how that happened, but I did. The whole extended family was very liberal except for myself and my cousin Jerry. My grandfather was a Roosevelt liberal, an union organizer and president. He was liberal from domestic policy on through foreign policy. He use to enjoy talking politics if there wasn't anything else to talk about, i.e. football or baseball. Grandpa was sharp. He knew his own thinking and was able to express it very well.
He also knew what to expect me to say and he was always ready with any argument I might come up with and on this particular day, It dawned on me. I use to visit grandma and grandpa a few times a week. On a daily basis, grandpa would study the news paper and watch Walter Cronkite. He knew what the Republicans were saying and he definitely knew what the Democrats were saying. While he was reading the paper, if an article or editorial caught his imagination, he would clip it and put it in the pocket of his chair. He would use these clips to remind him of something that he wanted to talk about. On THE day, I showed up and sat on the couch next to his chair. He whipped out a newspaper clipping and, I will never forget this, the sound of his voice, he said "Here, read what your buddy Pat Buchanan wrote." and then he sat there and watched me as aI read it. When I was done I handed it back to him and he asked "Well?, What do you think?" And as I thought about how to answer him, I looked at him. He had a sparkle in his eye. He had me and he knew it and that was when the light bulb came on. The old man KNOWS what I am going to say! Why bother? I had been beat before I even started.
That was the day I figured out the key to debate. Know what you think, and know how your opponent is going to respond. It was shortly after that when I began reading about things I didn't really understand. Most of my reading in my teens up until today is about history and what other points of views that there are out there and I noticed that even if the old man and my uncles were still whipping up on me, at least I could carry on a debate for more than a second or two.
The third part of making a good debate is the toughest one to accomplish. To make a debate worthwhile instead of just a yelling match, There has to be some listening going on while the other side is making their case. In entering a debate you have to keep yourself firm in your own thinking while at the same time be willing to listen with an open mind and be able to accept a different idea from your opponent. This makes your philosophy more complete, makes your thinking clearer. You must be prepared to make subtle or even large changes in your philosophy. It is important to realize that you can always learn something new from somebody else.
I am not very good at this third part. I think I use to be pretty good at it but as I have aged, I think that my thinking has become kind of set in concrete and not willing to change. Instead of actually listening to an opposing point of view, my mind seems to jump on parts of sentences, take statements out of context and convince myself as to how little logic is being told me. It is a problem and one that I try to work on, but really I don't succeed much in it. Friends on social media will verify that about me. Then again, there are times when I think they don't listen either and when you have two opposing viewpoints with neither side listening, it turns into an excersize as though you both are spinning your wheels on an icy patch of road with dry land just to either side of that ice. Both sides get frustrated and to restart from before the debate and move on as if it never happened. That seldom happens either. Too often we hold on to what someone said and don't let them forget it and soon, what once was a friendship becomes a mind game that never ends.
Right now this country is a mess. I don't think you can blame it on the current administration or the previous one. It seems to be an over all society that has hardened the wills and the thinking of those that hold them. Right now, I think, this country has forgotten how to listen to each other. Without listening there can be no end to the debate that is raging. Without each philosophy taking a little from the other and giving a little, things start to spinning terribly out of control and our society is hurt by it. Our country is hurt by it and when the United States is in a war of words with ourselves, it effects the rest of the world. This isn't the first time our country was deeply divided, but it seems like it is the deepest divide we have had since the American Civil War. The art of debate has been lost and has turned into a huge power struggle.
This country needs to come together even if it is just a tiny bit. We need to start listening to each other. We need to strive to understand different ideas and thinking. We need to bring this great social debate that we find ourselves in toward an understanding that can bring respect from each of us to each of us. Everyone has their own thoughts, that is a truth as old as mankind has been discussing ideas. That is a given. You don't have to agree with a person to have respect for them. Only with a mutual respect that a vibrant debate can bring out in people can this country continue to grow and to lead the world.
I don't know about you, but that is what I want for this country. I want it to be strong. I want our allies to follow our lead. I want our enemies to respect us enough to be able to come to the table and work things out so everyone is safer in the world.
That is what The United States is supposed to be.