Hope for the Future?

November 02, 2005

Over the weekend I returned to my undergraduate alma mater for homecoming. The student newspaper included an article wondering if our usual style of aggressive rhetoric is a good thing. The American debate fetish - The Omnibus - Forum

After reading the article I began to think there might be some hope that the next generation of Christians will be more capable of communicating effectively. Here are a couple of highlights:

"We are addicted to arguing. …Compare this to the Chinese approach. Debating is generally frowned upon by the Chinese because publicly proving someone wrong would mean bringing shame to that person. According to Robert T. Oliver, a former professor of speech at Pennsylvania State University, the aim of Chinese rhetoric is to 'enlighten the inquirer,' not to 'overwhelm an opponent.'"

"Perhaps one reason that the argument culture is so widespread is that arguing is easy to do. One study found that speakers with language disabilities who had trouble taking part in other types of verbal interaction were able to participate in arguments. The researchers, Lynne Hewitt, Judith Duchan and Erwin Segal, concluded that the mentally retarded adults in the study could take part because arguments have a predictable structure and are a form of sociability."

"To help make dialogue more constructive between people with different opinions, it is helpful if we look at the whole picture. ...This is not to say that debating is all bad. I think that proving someone wrong can be very constructive if it motivates the person to do more research. But if winning an argument becomes a habit, an end in itself, then the results are far less rewarding. The important thing is to see not just both sides to an issue, but all sides."

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