Sometimes I think people have forgotten what it means to converse. Okay, not everyone has forgotten, but enough folks for me to take notice.
We all know that “debate” has largely gone down the tubes. All you get at a debate these days is one person stating a position followed by another person stating his or her position. It doesn’t really matter if they agree or disagree–how would they know?–their minds will never touch. No one ever changes his position, not even in the audience, because there is no fruitful examination of the merits of the ideas expressed.
But if we take these same ideas and put them in the context of a conversation or discussion, then in theory, the speakers’ behavior should change. It’s a different game. If good debate is about refutation and persuasion, then good conversation, it seems to me, should be about the refining of our understandings and solutions. Conversations should be the place where we work things out to our mutual benefit—the forum where we clarify our understanding. And while the process can be rough and tumble (“Are you guys fighting?” “No, we’re having a discussion.”), the shared committment to moving ahead makes it worth the effort to continue.