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How to Disagree Productively

Julia Dhar | 14:58


Some days it feels like the only thing we can agree on is that we can't agree on anything.

Public Discourse is broken. And we feel that everywhere panelists on TV are screaming at each other, we go online to find community and connection. And we end up leaving feeling angry and alienated. In everyday life, probably because everyone else is yelling, we are so scared to get into an argument, the we're willing not to engage at all. Contempt has replaced conversation.

My mission in life is to help us disagree productively, to find ways to bring truth to light to bring new ideas to life. I think I hope that there is a model for structured disagreement that's kinda mutually respectful, and assumes a genuine desire to persuade and be persuaded. And to uncover it. Let me take you back a little bit. So, when I was 10 years old, I loved arguing this tantalizing possibility that you could convince someone of your point of view, just with the power of your words.

And perhaps unsurprisingly, my parents and teachers love this somewhat less.

And in much the same way, as they decided that four year old Julia might benefit from gymnastics to burn off some energy, they decided that I might benefit from joining a debate team that is going to go somewhere to argue with they will not.

Look for the uninitiated, the premises of formal debate are really straightforward. There's a big idea on the table that we support civil disobedience that we favor free trade, and one group of people who speaks in favor of that idea, and one against my first debate in the covenant auditorium of Canberra, Girls Grammar School was kind of a bundle of all of the worst mistakes that you see on cable news, that it felt easier to me to attack the person making the argument, rather than the substance of the idea themselves. When that same person challenged my ideas, you felt terrible, I felt humiliated and ashamed.

And it felt to me like the sophisticated response to that was to be as extreme as possible. Despite this very shaky entry into the world of debate, I loved it. I saw the possibility, and over many years, worked really hard at it became really skilled at the technical craft of debate. I went on to win the World schools Debating Championships three times. I know like, you're just finding out that this is a thing.

But it wasn't until I started coaching debaters, people persuade us or really at the top of their game, that I actually got it. The way that you reach people is by finding common ground is by separating ideas from identity, and being genuinely open to persuasion. Debate is a way to organize conversations about how the world is could should be.

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