When debating, there is constant back-and-forth. The robust exchange of ideas naturally triggers our passions. Emotional responses are expected and perhaps are even required for highly productive debate. However, there is a point when debate devolves into bickering or arguing – there is an element of trying to get an upper hand on the other person, to trick them into a mistake or prove we are ‘right’. Much of modern “debate” on social media or cable is really about people lobbying their positions. We see it everywhere: which sports team is better; power struggles in national politics; local community policy-making; finger-pointing and blame in the board room; religious arguments; who is right, who is wrong.
A corrosive argument builds steam when each side believes strongly in his or her own point of view and stops listening. “I am sure I am right, and I must prove it!” But the other person is equally sure. So where is the space for listening? During the argument some of us don’t even bother to let the other person reply – we just speak right over them. And even when we’re not speaking we’re not actually listening; we’re preparing our rebuttal or next point of attack. Sometimes I’m angered but more often I’m saddened because such opportunity is lost! The most creative ideas – and the very best decisions – come when we debate relentlessly, but also respectfully. Great leaders surround themselves with diverging opinions; just ask Abraham Lincoln.
Debate is essential. It’s a required part of learning and growth, as individuals and as communities. We must continually discuss and try on different points of view. This is the best way to surface new ideas, uncover hidden solutions, and bring forth shared understanding and commitment. But to achieve the benefit requires maturity, too. It requires honest listening and a willingness to adapt.
When we find ourselves in a position of choosing whether to be right or to be kind, it’s far more productive to choose kindness. If you are right, then you will still be right after the argument. If you are wrong, then you will maintain, rather than toxify, your relationship with the other party.
When you find yourself in a position of choosing whether to be right, or to be kind, please choose kindness.