This is my favorite second question when deciding whether or not to debate with someone. My first question is, do you believe that there is objective truth, and if so, an opinion based on truth is more valid than an opinion not based on truth? If you get a negative answer to either part of that question, you can explore that question and their answer more deeply, or walk away and spare yourself considerable frustration. Most people, when confronted with such questions this directly, will agree with both parts of the question, but they might also believe that their opinion is based on truth and that those who disagree are stupid, evil, ignorant or liars. My second question, the title, will get at this attitude indirectly, since most people are not willing to call you to your face stupid, evil, ignorant or a liar. How many people, including the most smug, self righteous, or close minded, would say you have no right to disagree (even if they believe that)?
Now you can hope for a rational discussion or debate, until you “hit a nerve”, “wound a sacred cow”, or “touch the third rail” of their beliefs. Love those metaphors! At that point, their demeanor will generally change, and rationality will fly away, usually replaced by anger and accusations. Keep cool, suppress the instinct to defend yourself or counterattack. Just listen, say nothing until they have vented. A useful question to ask at this point is, ” and what else?” That may draw the rest of their issues out. Am I too optimistic that my opposition will be willing to engage? Sometimes they will sometimes they won’t. I personally don’t have a vested interest in being right, only getting to the truth. There is no shame in saying, “I am wrong”, or “I don’t know.” However, I never try to engage via social media of any kind, or text messaging, or email. Those media of communication are not favorable to rationality or in depth debate.
I don’t get much disagreement in my verbal interactions, and only a little in blog comments, but I used to, before I mastered the ideas above. Now to the most important point. Techniques will make you seem smart, and might score enough points to win the debate, but techniques will never reach the other person’s heart. Maybe nothing will, but this is for sure: The starting point of a worthy debate is searching your own heart, seeing clearly inward before you can see clearly outward. The Lord said, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” Luke 6:41-42.