Lessons for Productive Conversation from a World Debate Champion

February 19, 2019

 

Julia Dhar is a world debating champion.  In a time when “contempt has replaced conversation," her professed “mission in life is to help us disagree productively.”

 

In this timely Ted talk delivered in October of 2018, Dhar describes how the rules of formal debate and the techniques of the most successful debaters can assist us in restoring respect and mutual benefit to our social and political discourse.

 

As a young girl first introduced to debate club in her school, Dhar felt it was “easier to attack the person making the argument rather than the substance of the ideas themselves.”  As she matured and eventually became world school debate champion three times, she discovered that “the way that you reach people is by finding common ground, by separating ideas from identity, and by being genuinely open to persuasion.”

 

The first step to successful discussion, Dhar explains, particularly of sensitive subjects that are most open to debate, is to establish “shared reality,” i.e. things that we can agree on.  “Shared reality is the antidote to alternative facts,” Dhar postulates.  It does not eliminate the conflict, but it provides a platform from which we can productively discuss it.

 

Also essential to the maintenance of fruitful discourse is what Dhar refers to as “the humility of uncertainty.”  Those who are the most intellectually honest and genuinely interested in arriving at the truth will be open to the possibility of being wrong.  

 

Unlike the competitive contest of scholastic debate, “winning” conversations in our personal, civic, and political spheres are not those in which one side defeats the other, but in which both sides are able to express their perspectives, to listen, and to arrive at a result that is more informed and more mutually beneficial on account of the communication of varying points of view. 

 

Watch Julie Dhar’s Ted Talk here, or by clicking on the image above.

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