Conflict or Debate

Standard

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

Debate

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