What’s the point of debates?

I once thought that the purpose of a debate was to convince the other side that you’re right.  That didn’t work out so well.  I’ve seen it happen, for instance that’s how I became an atheist, but that “oh shit, you’re absolutely right!” moment is rare.

What debates are good for, I learned, is not “winning”, but helping me to think about my views, and identify the weak spots.  I shifted from seeing debates as a battle, where you destroy the bad guys any way you know how, to more like a boxing match, where you test your strength in a controlled situation, a game.  There are rules.  There are only temporary victories.  And it’s not personal.

Many people don’t see it that way.  Sometimes I write a critical comment somewhere and the author reacts like they’ve been assaulted on the street by some crazy stranger.  Maybe they fight back, but it’s desperate and personal, or they run away, by not responding at all.

I understand why.  But here’s what I respect: I respect someone who defends themselves, and doesn’t make it personal.  Even if they’re not good at it.  It’s a sign of confidence, that they’re not just throwing bullshit around to see what sticks.  And it shows that they understand what the point of debates is: It helps us to think.

So the next time someone criticizes your views, try to think of it as a game, and keep it up for a round or two.  It’s more fun, and everyone may learn something.

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