When I was in high school, I had more than one teacher tell me I should take debate. I declined on the grounds that I wasn’t interested in that kind of structured context where the winner wasn’t decided on the grounds of who was more correct or compelling. To this day, though I have come to highly respect that learning to debate in such a way builds valuable skills, I’m less interested in the act of sparring than in the actual sorting through of facts and ideas to come to a reasonable conclusion.
Because, while I don’t believe in absolute right and wrong, I do believe that in nearly all important debates there is an answer which contributes the most to the greater good.
And one thing debate class would teach more people is how to have these discussions without getting into personal attacks and logical fallacies. It seems we live in a culture wherein people are either eager to argue or loathe to do so, and the division does not fall on a fault line separating the competent and knowledgeable from the ignorant and misinformed. We also seem to have not learned how to examine our own stance, to concede points to our opponents when they make good sense.
It’s easy, then, to slide into the group who doesn’t argue their own point of view, who doesn’t speak up about their own strongly held beliefs and ideas, simply on the grounds that it doesn’t do any good. If those who don’t believe won’t change their minds, then what comes of the fighting?
Well, for one, the idea which is not shared does not spread. Those who are seeking truth, who are seeking concepts which make sense to them, won’t find truth if it is not spoken. While I would never advocate that anyone be so entrenched in their own beliefs and ideas that they are unwilling to entertain any other ideas, the things we feel strongly about make up such an important part of our identities and existences that they deserve to be put out into the world and logically defended to the extent that those arguments hold up.
And even more importantly, how strongly can we hold onto our beliefs, our points of view, our identities if we feel forced to hide them? Arguing our own viewpoints, defending the legitimacy of our own experiences, is as much about establishing our own identities, our own autonomy, our own strength as it is about convincing others to agree, and I would say even more so.
The greater good benefits especially from the unceasing voices of the minority, the oppressed, the underrepresented. It is those voices which promote change and inspire humanity to evolve and get better. If we don’t argue for ourselves, who will argue for us?