The Strength to Learn

I don’t engage in deep political discussions too often because, basically, I don’t want to look stupid. I’m not a buffoon; I can generally speak to the current state of affairs and have a good idea where I stand on most issues and why. But when trying to follow conversations with political analysis prodigies who can drop names, dates, cite statistics and have an esoteric but completely poignant quote from a 19th century philosopher on the ready, I come off looking like Barney Fife.

But I recently had a debate with a close friend that had me clearing my throat and shuffling my debate papers. In a tiny nutshell, we disagreed on a chain email she had sent me. And because I initially had the privilege of arguing in my preferred form of a written response, (you get a moment to clear your head and do some research) I dove in.  

For the record, my friend and I bat for different political teams. We have some messy boundaries, but it’s pretty clear we’re voting quite differently behind the little curtain. And for two people who don’t often engage in conversations that reveal that blatant and potentially conflicting difference between us, I would say that we handled our debate with grace. Ok, so we’ve been friends for 27+ years and our sons and husbands play well together. But to our credit, I think it has more to do with our ability, and flexibility, to keep it smart and respectful. Of course, this speaks to how incredibly wise and cool we are.

The art of debating, at every level, seems endangered. I realize now that the debate class required for my major taught me some of the best lessons in life. If you’re going to run off your mouth, you better have something legitimate to stand on, even if it’s wobbly. Consider your sources and pick good ones. Don’t go off on vaguely related tangents or you will lose your audience. Speak only to the degree that you know your shit, or it will quickly become apparent that you are lost. And if you want to maintain some integrity, no personal attacks.

But as I have noticed on message boards and in comments to other bloggers (as well as from my own Feral Cat Controversy) no one follows those rules. We would rather remain inflexible. Stick to your agenda regardless of any new information to the contrary. Continue to swamp message boards with the same point repeated eight different ways. (yes, we heard you…stop typing) Attack the character of the person who god forbid, disagrees with you. Say things you’re too chicken to say out from under the safe guise of your username.

Now, I’m not claiming to be the most well-mannered arguer. I’ve stooped, oh yes. But it WAS nice to disagree with a friend because neither one of us spit out extremist dialogue. We were willing to listen. We may not have convinced each other but I did learn a few things. I did critically rethink how and why I stand where I do. It’s always nice to exercise the old rationale.

Ultimately, It’s hard for me to listen to anyone who is extremely anything…right, left, religious, angry, happy, hippy, or horny, because they allow the extreme to define who they are as a person and what comes out of their mouth. I like continuum scales. I like blends and shades and complicated layers. I respect people who are strong enough to change their minds.

So I may risk revealing my political weaknesses and start to engage in more debates. Because the flexible and willing to learn are sorely misrepresented out there.