10 points to note about debates and discussions

Azuka

With the emergence of the presidential candidates of the Nigerian political parties for the 2023 election, politics is the hottest topic these days in face-to-face and virtual discussions. Given that the candidates of the frontline parties are from the three major ethnic groups, two major religions and three top political parties, the debates have become more charged. It is expected that passion will increase between now and the first quarter of 2023 when the elections will hold.

Political debates—like religious debates—are usually filled with passion which may make people lose self-control and say things they should never say. Many people even lose long relationships over political differences because of their inability to control their feelings.

In some extreme cases, people have resorted to violence during political arguments. It is, therefore, imperative that people know some points that will be helpful during political debates or discussions either in real life or online.

A debate is meant to be a discussion on an issue, to get as many perspectives as possible. It is simply an exchange of ideas. It is not a quarrel or a war.

Especially when others are reading or listening to the debate, it is important that you ensure that the debate is worth the while of the audience. Below are some points that should be noted during a debate:

First, don’t tell your co-debaters that they are wrong. You are a participant in the debate, and not the judge or the umpire. Leave that decision for the public to make. When you tell people that they are wrong, you diminish their personality and puncture their dignity. They feel wounded and react to you aggressively.

Rather than saying “You are wrong,” you can say, “That does not align with the facts at my disposal” or “Here are the facts I am aware of on this topic.” You will achieve the same result, if not better, of showing that you are right, without diminishing another person.

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Second, don’t tell people that they are emotional. It is an insult. Don’t even say that you are not emotional or sentimental. What you imply by that is that you are logical and rational while they are incapable of logic or reason. Just present your so-called logic and leave the public to decide who is sentimental or rational.

Third, don’t tell others that the point they are making is their own opinion. Your point is also your opinion.

An opinion is an opinion. There is no opinion that is the gold standard. The only difference is facts.

Fourth, don’t say that your point is the simple truth. Truth is relative. Everybody believes he or she is speaking the truth. Your truth is, therefore, not another person’s truth. Focus on facts and present them. Facts are indisputable.

For example, that China is the most populous country in the world is a fact. But that China is a better place to live in than Ghana is neither true nor false. To Mr A, it is the truth. But to Mrs B, it is not. Don’t force your view on people as the global standard.

Fifth, don’t directly or indirectly tell your opponents in a debate that they are lying or being dishonest. It is rude. Focus on their points and puncture them one by one with your points or facts. The audience will know who is speaking the truth or not.

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Rather than saying, “You are lying,” it is better to say, “That was not how it happened” or “That was not what I said.”

However, it will be a different scenario when someone is trying to tarnish your image by twisting facts to win a case. That is different from when you are having an exchange of opinions on political matters or other social issues.

Sixth, don’t present your opinion as facts and expect everyone to accept it. Back up your views with facts, figures, statistics, data, etc.

That way, you reduce a lot of arguments. You are not the one and only authority on the topic of discussion. People would rather believe facts and figures from trusted sources than information presented by you without any supporting evidence.

Seventh, don’t bully or blackmail the other side with your age, academic qualifications, sex, status and other achievements, except if such is needed to explain something relevant to the topic being discussed or the other party has turned the debate into a personal attack. Don’t bully your co-debaters into silence by telling them that they just love to argue. Don’t talk down on your co-discussants. Arrogance does not win debates. Keep your arrogance at home.

Eighth, don’t attack or malign the person you are debating with. Attack the points and keep the person out of the debate. Only uncouth and uncultured people engage in argumentum ad hominem.

Ninth, don’t jump to conclusions on behalf of other people by putting words into their mouths or reacting to issues they have not raised.

Allow them to complete their sentences before you react to them so that you can be sure of what you are reacting to. Focus on the exact issues they have raised and not on your preconceptions and assumptions about them and the groups to which they belong.

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Tenth, finally, don’t assume that every debate must end in a win and a loss, with the other party succumbing to your point of view. No.

Not all issues have simplistic good or bad sides or true or false angles. For example, men are not better than women and women are not better than men.

Pro-Life is not better than pro-Choice and vice versa. The Igbo people are not better than the Yoruba and vice versa. Except on issues about facts, most issues in life are simply a matter of perspectives, beliefs, ideologies, etc. Therefore, it is better that you just present your views and let the other side present theirs. People will understand the two or more sides better and choose the side to align with or even remain neutral. That is life.

On a final note, stop creating enemies over simple issues of perspectives. Stop displaying bad manners in public in the name of being fearless and blunt. There is nothing difficult about being rude and caustic. Share knowledge, share ideas, share information, share friendship, share smiles but don’t share arrogance and lack of manners.

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