You might not be keen on the idea of being torn apart in a debate, but challenging your belief system is intellectually expanding.
A few weeks ago, I got into two arguments simultaneously (bless the Internet) on the topic of racism. Surely, we can collectively agree that race-based violence and prejudices target ethnically marginalized groups in particular. Having said that, both of these friends decided to challenge a belief that I strongly hold: that racism cannot be directed towards a socio-economically dominant group, specifically white people.
As you can imagine, I became defensive and although I didn’t resort to finger-pointing and shaming, I did feel attacked in the most intimate way I could. My views were being challenged and I, as an individual, felt invalidated. I squirmed in the insecurity that surfaced and discomfort pervaded the atmosphere. I shut off my phone.
Later that night, I turned my phone back on. Both of these people had expressed views that I instantly disagreed with, but more importantly, views I hadn’t even considered before. One of the debates moved in the direction of semantics and I had yet to consider the significance of how the word “racism” was defined. More than anything, I felt defeat.
In retrospect, the both debates contributed to my knowledge base. When all was said and done, I had acquired new perspectives and my safely-guarded opinions were shaken up.
This is important and I cannot stress that enough.
Engaging in conversation is merely an exchange of information, with varying degrees of intimacy. Argumentation, however, has the added dimension of explicitly challenging the views and beliefs of the party with whom we are participating in an exchange with. In order to be a good argumentator, one must first demonstrate that the opinions they are defending are true. Then, they must study beforehand the arguments that their opponent might deploy.
Beyond argumentation, challenging your beliefs benefits you more than anyone else involved in the exchange. Often times debates are sparked when polar views are expressed. Two individuals can carry very different truths and most of the time, they will mutually discredit the validity of the other’s opinion.
To disprove a belief, the naive debater will seek to impose their position without justification on an empirical basis; on the other hand, the weathered debater will state the opinion of the other and proceed to dismantle it with tools such as statistics, scientific data and literature, historical context, as well as other methods of analysis relevant to the context of the debate.
As you can see, the wise and weathered debater possesses the knowledge necessary for conversion, but the humility to question themselves.
When argumentation becomes an exercise for the Self, it allows you to see that there are many ways to believe and directions of thought to explore. As a society, we should be more wary of deceiving ourselves than of being challenged by the positions of others. You just might surprise yourself.