How to debate to change the world

There are all sorts of tips and strategies about how to debate. I am not a debate coach, but from what I understand, at the cor, debates are something that is understood as something as you either win or loose. As we conclude the last Republican party debate for 2015, there is chatter about who won and who lost. The underlying assumption is that debates are to be done in a manner that if you "win" you change the minds of others and if you loose you failed to do that. 

Some in the Church feel like religion is a big debate. That is a series of conversations that happen in order to "convert" someone to their team through arguments. I have yet to meet anyone who has ever been persuaded to much of anything  though debates and arguments. And this is an unfortunate byproduct of the original goal of debates - that is to change the world.  

I would like to share with you a secret I learned from very wise clergy mentors on how to debate in order to change the world. It is easy to understand and yet perhaps the most difficult thing to do. I have learned through this practice however that this simple yet difficult act can and has changed people's minds and even the world. 

Here is what you do.

When you are in a debate with someone, stop for just one moment and try to hear what it is the other person values in their argument. Then, affirm that value. 

That is it. If you are able to affirm the value of the other person something happens. 

First, you have to listen, and I mean really listen in order to identify the underlying value. Second, you have to give your conversation partner credit for something that is, in your mind, good and valid. Giving credit to one you are in a debate with is often seen as weakness in a debate as though you are conceding the argument. Third, when you affirm the other person's value you are affirming them as a person of worth and value. You no longer see them as opposition but as equal peer. 

For instance if you are opposed to individuals owning a certain type of gun and you are en ganged in a conversation with someone who owns the exact type of gun you oppose and you wanted to create a change: try first to listen to the underlying value to their reasons for owning such a gun(s). Perhaps it is freedom or safety or a right. Whatever the value is, can you then make a statement that affirms that value. It might sound like, "I think your appreciation for personal freedom is really excellent and I wonder if you would be willing to share more about other ways you desire to safeguard freedom." 

And therein lies the way to debate to change the world. If we are able to listen to another, share in words of grace and affirm the "other" as a person and not an enemy, then the debate model is turned on its head. It no longer is about trying to get another person to come to your side as it is about you growing in empathy and compassion to try to see the world through their eyes.

And with more empathy in the world, the world will change.