Conflict or Debate

“Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.”
[Address at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Houghton, Johannesburg, South Africa, 23 November 2004]”
Desmond Tutu


Most of us dislike conflict and will do anything to avoid the unnecessary unpleasantness of raised voices and difficult conversations. There are those among us, however, who would welcome the opportunity to engage in an animated discussion. The late Christopher Hitchens wrote in Letters to a Young Contrarian, “Time spent arguing is, oddly enough, almost never wasted.” The Ancients would be in complete agreement.

Xeonophanes was a contemporary and outspoken critic of Pythagoras.  Heraclitus was quick to scorn Homer; even Pythagoras and Xenophanes did not escape his ridicule. Leontion’s audacious criticism of the celebrated and unassailable philosopher, Theophrastus, was still talked about centuries after her passing. Plato recorded the iconic debate on love in the famed Symposium. The fundamental standard within all of these historical scuffles was the subject matter.   The debate was about ideas, not about personal vendettas or trivial disagreements.

Great thinkers engage in debate, not conflict.  As Joseph Joubert, French moralist and essayist, once said, “It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it.”  Our world is in need of thinkers who look for solutions when they put forward their ideas in a way that welcomes an open dialogue.  Argue the merits of the position, rather than stooping to pettiness and vain posturing.  Recall Aristotle’s words, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

“In all debates, let truth be thy aim, not victory, or an unjust interest.” 
William Penn


Published by Rebecca Budd

Blogger, Visual Storyteller, Podcaster, Traveler and Life-long Learner

24 thoughts on “Conflict or Debate

    1. Absolutely! I confess, I have done exactly that! And the conversation did not produce any good results until I realized that I needed to listen!!!


  1. Love this, plus Corinne’s comment. It takes courage to be truly open minded, I think. The perceived wisdom – in business anyway – is that one has to have an opinion, and be able to express it cleverly. How much better it is if one can instead truly listen and contribute properly to a debate, perhaps by not saying anything at all.


    1. I remember when I was in one of those business meetings, where everyone strives for the competitive edge. It was something to do with marketing, if I remember correctly. That’s when I decided to spring one of my quotes on the 30 or so people in the room. (I was known to carry a stack of quotes with me, even back then) It was the Theodore Roosevelt quote: “No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” It was interesting how the thought of caring within a business setting changed the tenor of the meeting. We need to remind ourselves, as Charles Dickens wrote, “Mankind was my business…”

      BTW, I have learned in many situations, just to keep my mouth in the closed position…. 🙂


  2. Great topic! The world would be a Paradise if the aim , in all debates , was the Truth and not the Victory! I am afraid, in most cases, nowadays, it is the opposite.


    1. Thank you for joining the discussion. I agree – truth above all gives hope to our entire world.

      “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.”
      ― Mahatma Gandhi


  3. Good post.

    I agree with Corinne Shields that open-mindedness in dialogue is critical. For example, at the conclusion of a dialogue with Protagoras, as described in Plato’s dialogues, Socrates concedes that arguments offered by Protagoras have made Socrates change his mind on a point, and Protagoras acknowledges Socrates as a worthy opponent likely to become one of the wisest men alive. Such was the spirit of debate between Greek philosophers.

    Happy Mothers’ Day, Clanmother and participants in this discussion.


  4. Love your description of ‘historical scuffles’!!!
    And love William Penn’s words… one of my favourite people… words that politicians would quail before !!!


    1. I just got back from reading your amazing post!!! Truth will always come out in the end. Our actions have consequences! Thank you so much for your kind words of encouragement.


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